Studies find French bulldogs are at greatest risk of complications during birth

Dogs bred to have flat-faces are significantly more likely than their long-nosed counterparts to suffer from complications during birth, according to new studies.

Using data from Vets Now, researchers found that so-called brachycephalic breeds are more at risk of birth difficulties, often resulting in caesarean surgery or even death.

French bulldogs, Boston terriers, pugs, and chihuahuas are particularly badly affected.

Image of a French Bulldog for Vets Now article on French bulldog health issues and birthing problems
The study found that French bulldog health issues include a greater risk of problems during birth than any other breed

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The studies, conducted by the Royal Veterinary College’s VetCompass programme, found that:

  • Across all breeds, 3.7% of female dogs experienced difficulties giving birth
  • French bulldogs were, on average, 15.9 times more likely to have problems than long-nosed or crossbreeds, with Boston terriers 12.9 times more likely, pugs 11.3 times more likely and chihuahuas 10.4 times more likely.
  • 48.6% of female dogs needed caesarean surgery, with flat-faced breeds 2.4 times more likely to need a caesarean
  • 25% of puppies and 1.7% of mothers didn’t survive a difficult birth

The findings were produced from a study of 20,000 dogs requiring emergency treatment at 50 of Vets Now’s nationwide network of out-of-hours clinics, between 2012 and 2014.

The results show a clear correlation between brachycephalic dogs and complicated births, which is significant given the rising popularity, and consequent overbreeding, of flat-nosed breeds.

One of the research authors, Aoife O’Sullivan, Vets Now’s head of Edge programmes, said the findings would help owners and breeders make more responsible choices to improve the health of brachycephalic dogs.

She added: “This study has been carried out in first-opinion emergency practice and may help inform veterinary surgeons when offering advice on breed choice for new owners or compiling breeding recommendations for breeder clients.

“I hope the findings will encourage pet owners and breeders to contact their vet for advice and treatment if there are problems associated with breeding.”

Image of a chihuahua for vets now article on flat-nosed breeds and birthing problems
Chihuahuas are among the breeds most at risk of problems during birth

Kennel Club Charitable Trust chairman Steve Dean said: “These current findings demonstrate the importance of understanding the risks associated with breeding a litter and the importance of planning a pregnancy carefully to ensure that you fully understand the journey for your dog from conception through to birth and beyond, including some of the potential complications that might be experienced, especially those occurring during the whelping process, as highlighted in this research.

He added: “The Kennel Club recognises the rewarding experience of breeding a litter of puppies successfully, nevertheless breeding dogs comes with a fundamental responsibility for supporting the bitch and her puppies throughout the breeding process and this responsibility should not be taken lightly.”

RVC veterinary epidemiologist and VetCompass researcher Dr Dan O’Neill said: “This new research is another piece of evidence suggesting that mankind may have gone too far in modifying dog breed shapes towards extreme conformation that can interfere with basic biological functions. We all need to fall back in love with dog-shaped dogs and move away from the current fascination with extreme-shaped dogs.”

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