2 January 2020

Breeding French bulldogs so that they breathe well—A long way to go

By E.-M. Ravn-Mølby, L. Sindahl, S. S. Nielsen, C. S. Bruun, P. Sandøe & M. Fredholm (2019) 


Brachycephalic syndrome (BS) is a pathophysiological disorder caused by excessive soft tissue within the upper airways of short-nosed dog breeds, causing obstruction of the nasal, pharyngeal and laryngeal lumen, resulting in severe respiratory distress. As the prevalence of BS appears to be high among some of the affected breeds, there is an urgent need for breeding efforts to improve the health status of those dogs. In the present study, we evaluated correlations between morphometric and other phenotypic characteristics and BS in a population of 69 French bulldogs from Denmark to identify parameters that could serve as a basis for breeding against BS. Furthermore, the genetic variation was monitored to determine whether it would be possible to breed based on these characteristics without simultaneously causing a critical reduction in genetic variation. Six phenotypic characteristics were correlated with the Brachycephalic Syndrome Functional (BSF) score. Among the morphometric risk factors, nostril stenosis (NS) and neck girth (NG) had the highest impact on the BSF score, accounting for 32% and 4% of the variation, respectively. The genetic variation in the population was comparable to other pure breeds, i.e. estimated and observed heterozygosity was 0.60 and the average inbreeding coefficient was 0.01. If only dogs with Grades 1 and 2 NS (no or only mild NS) were selected for breeding the mean BSF score would be reduced significantly. However, it would result in the exclusion of 81% of the population for breeding and this is not prudent. Excluding only dogs with severe stenosis (Grade 4) would exclude 50% of the population without any adverse impact on genetic variation within the population. Although exclusion of dogs with Grade 4 would result in an apparent reduction in the mean BSF score, this reduction is not significant. As NS accounts for 32% of the variation in BSF score, a possible long term strategy to reduce the prevalence of the BS in French bulldogs would seem to be a selection scheme that first excluded dogs with the most severe NS from breeding, gradually moving towards selecting dogs with lower NS grades. According to our findings there is no viable short term solution for reducing the prevalence of BS in the French bulldog population.

Full text (pdf)