While the lab is still our most popular dog breed, the French bulldog is catching up fast. Think twice before buying one, says David Tomlinson

Dogs with breathing difficulties are currently experiencing a huge growth in popularity. Pug registrations are up five-fold and the French bulldog is now the third most popular breed in the UK. But, as David Tomlinson warns, their flat faces come at a heavy price. We need to think twice before buying dogs with such basic health problems.

This is not to say that our favourite working breeds are perfectly healthy. In fact, years of selective inbreeding to achieve pedigree pups has unsurprisingly resulted in many health problems. Read gundog hereditary diseases, as David Tomlinson investigates the plight of the pedigrees.


We are a nation of sporting-dog lovers. According to The Kennel Club, out of a total of 219,995 dogs registered in 2015, more than half (119,099) were what it calls sporting breeds. This term embraces all the gundogs, as you would expect, but also the terriers and hounds. These include breeds such as miniature dachshunds and West Highland white terriers, the sporting ancestry of which is so distant it’s virtually forgotten. However, the gundogs dominate with no fewer than 83,918 registered, of which 32,507 were labradors.

This makes the labrador far and away our most popular breed. Next in the popularity stakes is the cocker spaniel (22,577) but in third place, and making up ground fast, is the French bulldog (14,607). But while the labrador still dominates, its popularity is declining. Ten years ago 45,700 labs were registered. In contrast, just 526 French bulldogs were registered in the same year. If the labs continue to decline at the same pace and the French bulldogs maintain their rate of increase, how long before the latter becomes this nation’s favourite pedigree dog?

As the French bulldog isn’t a member of the sporting group but comes under the utility group label, it’s not really of any concern to this column. If people would rather have a French bulldog than a labrador that’s probably no bad thing. It might even result in the labrador becoming a proper working gundog again, with much less emphasis on breeding for the lucrative pet market. Popularity as a pet hasn’t done the lab any favours. Modern labs suffer from far more than their share of hereditary diseases, while most have lost the athletic build that makes them so successful in the shooting field.


However, while labradors may have problems with their hips, their elbows and their eyes, they can at least breathe properly. That, alas, is more than can be said for French bulldogs, which are dogs with breathing difficulties. That flat face comes at a price. There’s simply not the room in the skull for the dog’s breathing apparatus to function properly. It suffers from brachycephalic syndrome. Brachycephalic means short-headed and the dogs included in the brachycephalic group include pugs, Pekingese and bulldogs.

Brachycephalic syndrome refers to the combination of elongated soft palate, everted laryngeal saccules and stenotic nares, all of which are endemic in these breeds. Everted laryngeal saccules are as nasty as they sound: it’s a condition in which tissue within the airway, just in front of the vocal cords, is pulled into the windpipe and, as a result, partially obstructs airflow. Stenotic nares are simply malformed nostrils: they are too small and, as a result, tend to collapse inwards when the dog breathes in. The elongated soft palate also interferes with movement of air into the lungs.

Dogs with breathing difficulties and brachycephalic syndrome tend to huff and puff when being exercised and are rarely capable of walking far. It could be argued that such dogs are perfect companions for our increasingly obese population that also dislikes exercise, but is it fair for us to breed animals that are so patently unfit? Dogs with breathing difficulties are also impressive snorers.


Why anyone should want to own dogs with breathing difficulties is a mystery to many of us but fashion has a great deal to answer for. Madonna, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lady Gaga and David and Victoria Beckham are just a few of the “celebrities” who own French bulldogs; at least they all have the money to pay their pets’ hefty vets’ bills.

It’s not just the French bulldog that is experiencing a huge growth in popularity. Last year 10,877 pugs were registered in the UK. That’s 631 more pugs than English springer spaniels registered in the same period. English springer registrations have dropped by a third in a decade, while those of the pug have risen almost five-fold.

Incidentally, if reading about dogs with breathing difficulties makes you feel depressed, not all the UK’s dog lovers have gone mad. The Kennel Club’s registration figures refer to pedigree dogs and there’s no official record of crossbreeds such as labradoodles, sprockers and springadors. There’s also evidence that suggests that Britain’s second most popular breed is the Jack Russell, a dog that until the start of this year couldn’t be registered. With some breeds, such as English springers, a high proportion of pups aren’t KC registered, while we all know that despite only eight foxhounds being registered last year, the breed is doing well. Working foxhounds are registered with the MFHA, not the KC.

Most buyers of dogs with breathing difficulties buy them because they like their cute, boggle-eyed looks and don’t consider the potential health problems that come with them. If you’re under familial pressure to buy a companion for your lab or spaniel, think twice before buying a pug or a bulldog, French or English. You have been warned.