Several pedigree dog breeds have hereditary health concerns that can adversely affect their quality of life. For example, they may have orthopedic conditions or eye diseases that can be passed from parent to offspring.
One breed that has been in the spotlight recently is the English Bulldog. These dogs suffer from a number of serious health issues that are associated with the physical characteristics that are considered desirable in the breed. The main one is brachycephalic airway disease and associated respiratory difficulty and susceptibility to heat stress. This stems from the short muzzle, elongated soft palate, and a number of other abnormalities of the upper respiratory tract that can interfere with airflow. The English Bulldog also has skin folds that can harbor infection, joint disorders due to their bulky size and conformation, and are usually unable to mate or give birth naturally.
With other dog breeds, the solution to genetic health issues is to incorporate the genes of other individuals without these issues to reduce their incidence in the offspring. For example, choosing dogs with less skin folds and longer noses for a breeding program could reduce the severity of these genetic health conditions in future generations. However, it appears that this is no longer possible in the English Bulldog.
Scientists from the University of California have published a study into the genetics of English Bulldogs to see if there was sufficient variation in their genetic make-up to breed away from their health issues. They found that there was very little variation in genes between existing registered dogs, so breeders won't be able to change their physical characteristics through breeding with existing dogs.
A suggested solution to this problem is to introduce genes from other breeds to minimize genetic health issues in the breed. One option is to breed English Bulldogs to a relatively new American breed known as the Olde English Bulldogge. This breed strongly resembles the English Bulldog but they have a longer muzzle and therefore less breathing issues. They also have fewer skin folds and are less likely to need assisted reproduction. The idea behind combining the genes of these two dogs is to maintain the English Bulldog "type" while reducing the incidence and severity of their health problems.
It's a controversial solution. Breed fanciers aren't happy with this approach because they're concerned that the English Bulldog will lose those characteristics that are unique to them and that make the breed so popular. A similar response from breeders was seen in 2009 when the UK Kennel Club changed breed standards to promote the production of healthier dogs. Unfortunately, the charming and popular English Bulldog is at a crossroads where if the breed continues on its current path, there will be continued concerns about the health of these dogs. It is no longer acceptable to compromise a dog's health for the sake of appearance and tradition. It may become essential to introduce new genetic material to save this national breed and to have a positive effect on their well-being.