12 French Bulldog Health Issues Pet Parents Should Know

Veterinarian examines French Bulldog

They’re affectionate, intelligent, and full of personality. If you ask them to play, they will likely say, “Mais oui!” (French for “of course!”). Who are these charming pups? French Bulldogs, of course! According to the American Kennel Club, French Bulldogs, or “Frenchies,” have become the most popular dog breed in the United States (1). But, as the breed’s popularity grows, so does the spotlight on French Bulldog health issues.

Studies add to the mounting evidence that French Bulldogs, and other flat-faced breeds, are much less healthy than other dogs (2). The plight of flat-faced breeds has spurred veterinary associations and animal welfare groups worldwide to push for changes to how these breeds are promoted and bred (3, 4, 5, 6).

Despite health and welfare concerns, the beloved Frenchie has won their place in the hearts and homes of countless families, and their popularity continues to soar. Given the extent of French Bulldog health problems, pet parents need to be familiar with these issues and carefully consider whether a Frenchie is the right choice for a pet.

Common Health Problems for French Bulldogs

The term brachycephalic refers to dogs with flat faces. Breeding dogs for specific traits creates this appearance. For Frenchies, this includes a broad, rounded head with a drastically shortened snout. Other brachycephalic breeds include Pugs, English Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers.

While this wide-eyed, wrinkled, flat-faced appearance has fueled their popularity, these features come at a high cost and have led to disastrous health issues in French Bulldogs. Here are 12 common health problems for French Bulldogs you should know about:

1. Brachycephalic Obstructive Airways Syndrome (BOAS)

Have you ever noticed a Frenchie snort, gasp, or gurgle their way through their day? While sometimes viewed as “cute” or just a normal part of the breed, these noises are red flags for the most notorious Frenchie health problem: Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) (7).

BOAS occurs due to the extremely shortened facial structure of brachycephalic breeds. Narrowed nostrils and an elongated soft palate partially block their airway, and in some cases, their entire windpipe is smaller than it should be—it’s as if their airway is boobie-trapped to keep air from flowing, leading to a lifelong struggle to breathe.

Dogs with BOAS may:

  • Have noisy, labored breathing
  • Snore and have disturbed sleep
  • Tire easily
  • Develop respiratory distress, a potentially fatal condition, if they get too hot, stressed, excited, or exert themselves

While common, BOAS doesn’t affect all Frenchies. Those affected are usually diagnosed between the ages of 1 and 4, and symptoms worsen with age. All brachycephalic dogs should be screened by a veterinarian for this condition.

Surgery is often needed to correct BOAS and can drastically improve quality of life; however, not every aspect of BOAS is treatable. To reduce the chance of passing on BOAS, affected dogs should not be bred.

2. Heat Stroke

Other than from their footpads, dogs don’t sweat. So, how do they keep cool? They pant. And when you’re a Frenchie with BOAS, panting enough to stay cool is an arduous task! Because of this, French Bulldogs are much more sensitive to the effects of heat and have an increased risk of heat stroke.  

Heat stroke occurs when the body’s temperature becomes dangerously high. Most people imagine this happening when a dog is left in a hot car; however, for a Frenchie, heat stroke can occur in much less extreme conditions—such as exercise on a moderately warm or humid day.

Dogs with heat stroke may have:

  • Heavy panting or labored breathing
  • Bright red tongue and gums
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Confusion
  • Collapse

Dogs with heat stroke must be cooled safely and require immediate veterinary care. Even with treatment, heatstroke can be fatal, so prevention is paramount.

3. Corneal Ulcers

A corneal ulcer is a painful sore on the thin, clear surface of the eye, typically caused by an injury or irritation. Frenchies are very prone to corneal ulcers—yet another condition related to their head shape. Prominent, “bulgy” eyes, rolled-in eyelids (entropion), and nasal fold hairs that rub against the eye (trichiasis) all increase their risk of developing corneal ulcers.

Dogs with corneal ulcers may:

  • Hold their eye closed
  • Have a red eye
  • Have tearing or discharge
  • Develop a cloudy-looking cornea

Corneal ulcers are typically treated with eye drops to prevent infection and reduce pain. Uncomplicated ulcers usually heal quickly, whereas deep or infected ulcers require more advanced treatment and may lead to permanent vision loss.

4. Cherry Eye

Dogs have a third eyelid that provides an extra layer of eye protection. Quick as a blink, this special eyelid sweeps across the eye like a shield when needed. A tear gland is attached to this eyelid and is normally hidden from view. In cherry eye (known medically as “prolapsed gland of the nictitans), this gland pops out of its normal position and rests on the eye’s surface. The gland looks like a pink, fleshy mass—hence the name cherry eye.

Over time, cherry eye can lead to chronic dry eye, eye infections, and corneal ulcers—all of which are painful and can threaten vision. Cherry eye usually occurs in dogs younger than 2 years old, and because it runs in some families, affected dogs should not be bred.

Dogs with cherry eye require surgery to secure the gland back into position.

5. Ear Infections

Ear infections, especially recurrent ones, can be frustrating for you and your pup! They are painful and can require many veterinary visits. Because of their skull shape, Frenchies have a narrower ear canal than non-brachycephalic dogs, which can predispose them to ear infections.

Dogs with ear infections may:

  • Shake their head excessively
  • Avoid having their head or ear touched
  • Have a red, painful ear
  • Have ear discharge and odor

Ear infections are treated with a combination of ear washes, topical, and sometimes oral medications that clear the infection and reduce pain and inflammation. Recurrent ear infections may indicate underlying skin allergies and require further investigation.

6. Skin Fold Dermatitis

For many, a French Bulldog’s skin folds and wrinkles are part of the breed’s allure; however, these skin folds are prone to painful inflammation and infections, a condition called skin fold dermatitis.

Skin fold dermatitis usually affects the face and tail areas, ranging from mild redness and odor to deep sores and infections. Dogs prone to skin fold dermatitis may require daily cleaning of problem areas.

Milder cases may be managed with topical medications and wipes, while more severe cases require additional oral medications to treat infections and decrease inflammation. If the problem persists, your veterinarian may recommend surgery to remove the excessive folds.

7. Atopic Dermatitis

French Bulldogs are prone to a common allergic skin condition called atopic dermatitis, which can significantly impact their quality of life.  

Dogs with atopic dermatitis may:

  • Scratch, chew, and lick their skin excessively—they’re itchy!
  • Lose fur
  • Have rashes, scabs, and open sores
  • Be prone to skin and ear infections
  • Have an odor

It can take some detective work to determine the cause of the allergy. Food and flea allergies, hormonal conditions, and mites must be ruled out before a diagnosis of atopic dermatitis can be made—and sometimes, a combination of these allergens is at play. Many effective treatment options exist to manage allergy symptoms; however, treatment is usually lifelong and can become very costly. Atopic dermatitis is thought to be genetic, so affected dogs should not be bred.

8. Spinal Problems

A genetic mutation is responsible for French Bulldogs’ short corkscrew tail variations. This mutation also predisposes Frenchies to several spinal malformations, some of which are associated with Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD), a serious and painful neurological condition.

Intervertebral disks are cushion-like structures between the vertebrae that give the spine flexibility. In IVDD, these disks become unhealthy and pop out of their normal position, placing pressure on nerves and the spinal cord.

Signs of IVDD include:

  • Pain
  • Reluctance to jump or go down stairs
  • Trouble walking
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control
  • Paralysis

IVDD can progress quickly, so immediate veterinary care is vital for the best outcome. Milder cases may respond to conservative treatment, including prolonged strict rest, supportive care, and medications for pain and muscle spasms. More severe cases may require surgery by a veterinary specialist.

9. Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a well-known cause of pain and lameness in some larger dog breeds; however, it also affects the French Bulldog.

Like us, dogs have a ball and socket hip joint. The “ball” at the top of the thigh bone should fit snugly and glide fluidly within the socket (where the thigh bone joins the pelvis). With hip dysplasia, the ball and socket don’t grow at the same pace as a dog develops, resulting in excessively loose hip joints and arthritis over time.

Dogs with hip dysplasia may: 

  • Have pain and lameness in the hind end
  • Have a “bunny hop” gait
  • Avoid exercise, playing, jumping, or stairs

Hip dysplasia is usually genetic, and lifestyle factors influence its progression. Fortunately, X-rays can detect this condition early, so affected dogs are not used for breeding and can receive proactive care.

Controlled exercise, physical therapy, weight management, pain medications, joint supplements, and other treatments targeting joint pain and inflammation are all used to manage hip dysplasia. In some cases, surgery provides the best chance for pain relief and return to function.

10. Luxating Patella

A luxating patella is a kneecap (patella) that pops in and out of its natural position. Small breeds, including the French Bulldog, are more prone to luxating patella(s), and one or both knees may be affected.

Often, the first sign pet parents notice is that their dog skips a few steps with a back leg while walking. Early on, the condition might not be painful; however, repeated dislocation leads to arthritis and can cause significant pain and lameness.

In milder cases, a weight management plan, joint supplements, pain-relieving therapies and medications are recommended as needed. In more severe cases, surgery is the treatment of choice.

11. Digestive System Issues

Flatulence, belching, and other digestive problems are common in French Bulldogs. Their struggles to breathe can cause them to swallow excessive air—and there are only two ways for this air to get out, giving Frenchies the reputation of having a gassy gut.

BOAS can also make Frenchies prone to acid reflux and hiatal hernias. A hiatal hernia is a condition in which the stomach partially slides up into the chest cavity, leading to chronic regurgitation and vomiting.

Symptoms of digestive issues—gas, regurgitation, vomiting, and diarrhea—have many different causes and treatments, so it’s always best to discuss these concerns with your veterinarian. In some cases, BOAS-related digestive issues improve after surgery for BOAS.

12. Dental Disease

Dental disease is one of the most common health conditions in pets. As plaque and tartar build, gingivitis and more advanced dental disease develop. Dental disease causes bad breath, pain, chronic infections, and difficulty eating, making it a significant health and welfare issue. Over time, it also negatively affects the heart, liver, and kidneys.

More unique to brachycephalic breeds—their teeth are crammed into a very condensed space, and many have an “undershot” jaw (the lower jaw is longer than the upper jaw). The result can be a dental nightmare. Teeth may be misaligned, overcrowded, rotated, or fused and may not erupt from the gums fully. These abnormalities can lead to problems chewing food, jaw joint dysfunction, mouth sores, and early tooth loss.

Assessing and treating oral health problems is a routine part of veterinary care and is vital to a pet’s health and well-being. To learn more, read Dog Teeth Cleaning: Procedure, Costs, and What to Expect.

Tips for Keeping Your French Bulldog Healthy

While many French Bulldogs suffer from health issues, healthier versions of the breed are possible. Responsible breeding practices decrease the chance of passing on specific inherited health issues. If you are getting a Frenchie from a breeder, choose a reputable breeder that prioritizes animal health, welfare, and temperament.

The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) offers screening for several health conditions, including a recently added screening test for BOAS. Always inquire about screening test results and OFA health certificates. For additional tips on finding a responsible breeder, see here.

Regular checkups with your veterinarian are essential for your Frenchie’s health. Veterinarians provide extensive preventative care, including vaccines, parasite control, weight management, and oral care plans tailored to your pup’s needs. They can monitor your pup’s growth and development and detect problems before they become serious.

Here are some more tips for caring for your Frenchie:

Appropriate Exercise

Exercise and play are vital for health and well-being; however, Frenchies require extra precautions. Activity in warm weather, or that is too strenuous, puts Frenchies at risk for respiratory distress and heat stroke. Keep activities short and use a body harness rather than a neck collar to avoid added pressure on the upper airway.

Healthy Weight

Maintaining a healthy body weight is essential! Even a little extra weight can exacerbate inherited conditions like BOAS, hip dysplasia, and skin fold dermatitis. Avoid overfeeding your Frenchie and ensure they get an appropriate amount of exercise. 

Hydration

Always have water available and keep your dog out of the heat—these tips may seem basic but are lifesavers for Frenchies! For more hot tips on keeping cool, check out How to Keep Dogs Cool in the Summer.   

Grooming

Wipe skin folds regularly and be vigilant for signs of skin fold dermatitis. To learn more about dog-safe wipes, see Can You Use Baby Wipes on Dogs?  

Feeding

If your pup gobbles their food, consider a slow-feeder bowl. These can reduce the amount of air your dog swallows while eating, which may minimize gassiness—just ensure it’s not too challenging or frustrating for your dog. 

Supplements

Speak with your veterinarian about supplements such as omega fatty acids that support skin and joint health.

Making an Informed Decision

With their colorful personalities, calming presence, and loyal companionship, pets enrich our lives in many ways. But having a pet is a two-way street, and as pet parents, we must understand our pets’ unique needs and protect their health and well-being.

Empowered with a clearer understanding of the French Bulldog’s complex health issues and care tips, you can decide if they are the right pet for you and know how to keep them as healthy and happy as possible.

References

  1. Haid, Melanie. “The Most Popular Dog Breeds of 2023.” American Kennel Club. Updated April 2024. Retrieved from https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/news/most-popular-dog-breeds-2023/
  2. O’Neill, Dan G et al. “French Bulldogs differ to other dogs in the UK in propensity for many common disorders: a VetCompass study.” Canine medicine and genetics vol. 8,1 13. 16 Dec. 2021, doi:10.1186/s40575-021-00112-3
  3. “Extreme Conformations.” Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. Retrieved from https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/policy-and-outreach/priority-areas/extreme-conformations/
  4. “Breeding for extreme conformations: what is the problem?” Federation of Veterinarians of Europe. Jan 2020. Retrieved from https://fve.org/publications/breeding-for-extreme-conformations-what-is-the-problem/
  5. “The Cost of Cuteness: Health and Welfare Issues Associated with Brachycephalic Dog Breeds.” Humane Society Veterinary Medical Alliance. Retrieved from https://www.hsvma.org/brachycephalic
  6. “Brachycephalic dog breeding.” Australian Veterinary Association. July 2023. Retrieved from https://www.ava.com.au/policy-advocacy/policies/companion-animals-health/brachycephalic-dog-breeding/
  7. “Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS).” Cornell Richard P. Riney Canine Health Center. Retrieved from

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