Common health problems with French Bulldogs

24 May 2024 - 5 min read
A French Bulldog

Frenchies are one of the most popular dogs around thanks to their calm temperament, adorable looks and distinct, bat-like ears.

But like all pedigrees, they're prone to some health issues. Below, we discuss the most common health issues in French Bulldogs, how they're diagnosed and how to care for one.

Most common French Bulldog health issues

French Bulldog sitting

Patella luxation

For some Frenchies, the groove their kneecap (patella) usually sits in doesn’t develop properly. This causes the kneecap to dislocate, preventing the knee from extending properly.

Dogs with patella luxation have a characteristic ‘skipping’ lameness. Vets grade the condition from one to four. But all grades can lead to osteoarthritis in the knee, which puts extra stress on the cruciate ligament.

A low grade means the dislocation is temporary, and vets can replace the patella easily. A high grade means the patella remains dislocated, causing pain and inflammation.

Vets treat lower grades medically, while higher grades require surgical correction.

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)

BOAS commonly happens in breeds with a short skull and nose. It means the tissues within the skull have to fit into a very small space. A mix of narrow nostrils, a long, thick soft palate, a thin trachea, excessive tissue at the back of the throat, and short nasal passages cause breathing difficulties.

Common BOAS symptoms include:

  • Difficulty exercising in hot weather

  • Noisy breathing or ‘snoring’ that's often exacerbated by exercise

  • Regurgitation

  • Vomiting

In severe cases, it leads to collapse. Owners can manage some symptoms conservatively, but most dogs require surgery to widen the nostrils, shorten the soft palate, or remove the laryngeal saccules.

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)

A long body and short legs predispose the breed to Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD). Degenerative changes in the disc make it more likely to herniate or bulge.

A bulging disc causes compression of the spinal cord and leads to loss of use of limbs. It can also affect bladder and bowel function. IVDD can only be diagnosed with an MRI scan in dogs with symptoms.

Symptoms are painful and can lead to paralysis. Disc disease can be mild or severe and involves one or more discs.

Mild cases are treated medically with anti-inflammatories and rest. A vet may recommend surgical treatment for severe cases to regain limb, bladder and bowel function.

Allergies

Allergic skin disease is common in Frenchies. Vets call this atopic dermatitis, and it develops between six months and three years of age. It's an exaggerated immune response to food or environmental allergens, leading to abnormal reactions in the body.

Dogs become itchy and have patches of sore, red or abnormal-looking skin, often on the belly and feet. They may also get an upset tummy and are more likely to get skin infections.

Allergy testing and diet trials help understand what triggers a dog’s symptoms.

Treatment is lifelong. It might involve:

  • Anti-allergy medication

  • Antihistamines

  • Diet changes

  • Medicated shampoos

  • Immunotherapy

  • Steroids

Eye problems

A short skull means that Frenchies have exposed eyes. While it makes them look cute, it does mean they're more vulnerable to damage, namely corneal ulceration and infections.

They can also get hereditary cataracts, which causes the eye to appear cloudy. The condition is usually spotted in puppies. Cataracts prevent light from getting through the eye, leading to vision problems and eventually blindness.

Many dogs manage well with restricted vision, but surgery can be performed to remove cataracts.

Dry eye is a common hereditary problem. Insufficient tear production causes it. The surface of the eye becomes red, inflamed and irritated, leading to infections and ulcers.

How to care for a French Bulldog

French bulldog looking left

Genetic testing and responsible breeding

Most of the health problems affecting French Bulldogs are inherited, so it’s important to screen the health of any potential breeding dogs and look to a pup’s parents. It's why picking a responsible breeder is one of the most important things you can do as a pet owner.

For example, with BOAS, Frenchies with particularly severe symptoms or who have required surgery should not be bred as they'll pass their traits down to their puppies. As the condition affects their breathing, breeding severely affected dogs could be considered a welfare concern.

Responsible breeders will want to make sure their puppies are healthy, so always look at the parent dogs, and find out if they’ve had to have BOAS surgery. Again: you should always buy puppies from a responsible and registered breeder, and check the dogs have had the appropriate health checks.

Health screening

There are several important health screening schemes recommended for Frenchies, and which must be complied with for registered breeders.

For example, The Kennel Club’s Respiratory Function Grading Scheme assesses the severity of a dog’s respiratory problems. There's also a genetic test available to check for hereditary cataracts.

Check your Frenchie has had all the necessary health screening.

Careful exercise

You can prevent acute or sudden breathing difficulties by avoiding exercising your dog in hot weather and preventing them from becoming over-excited or stressed.

You can protect your dog’s back by being careful they don’t jump or climb too much, and avoiding activities like agility.

Exercise is still important to keep dogs healthy and to stave off obesity, but you just need to be a touch more careful with Frenchies.

Our article on pet nutrition can help too.

Allergen avoidance

Sometimes, it can be difficult to pin down what's causing a dog's allergies. For skin issues, allergies are usually diagnosed by exclusion once other causes of irritation are ruled out.

There are allergy tests available, and sometimes a diet trial is required too to determine what triggers it.

Allergy avoidance like avoiding long grass in summer, washing your dog’s feet after a walk, keeping up to date with parasite treatments, and avoiding foods that set your dog off will help control symptoms alongside medication.

How dog insurance can help

French Bulldog insurance can help you prepare for unforeseen health issues.

Dog insurance helps with up to £15,000 vet fee cover, unlimited 24/7 vet calls with FirstVet and a host of other perks.

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Get £15,000 lifetime vet fee cover with our Complete policy.

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