A couple of months ago the Journal of the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) ran a cover illustration of three English bulldogs. In response, last month’s JAVMA featured a finger-wagging letter (written by a veterinarian AVMA member) accusing the AVMA of supporting the cruelty inherent to breeding such malformed creatures.

In many ways I couldn’t agree more. And the problem isn’t confined to English bulldogs.

Though the English variety of the bulldog is probably the world’s most egregious example of breeding for canine unthriftiness, we all know other breeds that raise similar concerns: shar-peis, French bulldogs (full disclosure: I keep two) and pugs, to name a few.

Still, nothing beats an English bulldog for its intentionally diseased conformation. Here’s a couple of traits they’re specifically bred for:

Chondrodystrophic conformation (dwarfism), in which limbs are intentionally shortened and rotated and where the skull is disproportionately enlarged.

The consequences of this deformation process include joint disease (almost uniformly present), spinal malformation (very common), extremely difficult natural delivery of pups (extremely common), and the production of skin folds that lead to severe, chronic skin disease (also very common). The fact that bulldogs are genetically predisposed to allergies through irresponsible breeding practices doesn’t help any.

Brachycephalic conformation (short-snoutedness), in which the skull is compressed.

Respiratory and dental malformations are a necessary consequence of breeding for this trait. Tissue folds accumulate in the upper airway, leading to overlong soft palates (a flap of tissue that occludes the opening of the larynx), heat intolerance, stenotic nares (tight nostrils), tiny windpipes and sometimes even more catastrophic internal diseases (like hiatal hernias, the result of all the huffing and puffing they have to do to get enough oxygen to their lungs.

Both of these built-in major malfunctions also lead to a greater than average susceptibility to a wide variety of diseases (if you’ve ever nursed a bulldog pup through kennel cough you’ll know what I’m talking about).

And then there are all the diseases so common to English bulldogs as the result of modern over-breeding practices:

Allergic skin disease, intervertebral disc disease, dry eye, gastrointestinal sensitivity and dietary intolerances, among many others.

Is it any wonder that JAVMA is willing to print a letter like this from a veterinarian concerned about the inescapable realities of building dogs for conformational extremes?

Those veterinarians deeply devoted to animal welfare principles (an increasing percentage of us) are rightfully starting to speak out about not just the ear crops and the declaws we do to animals once they are alive, but also the very act of building such an inhumane body for the animals we have taken an oath to protect and care for.

What kind of a welfare-minded veterinarian wouldn’t have qualms about bulldogs, especially if you work in a practice like mine where they’re frequent-flier patients (we see at least one a day)?

Case in point: My hiatal hernia case. Apart from suffering a stomach that keeps prolapsing into her chest (sending anything she eats or drinks flying, projectile-style across the room), this ten year-old bulldog has severe elbow, spine and knee arthritis, a couple of malformed vertebrae, interdigital cysts, completely calcified ear canals, severe allergic skin disease and a bad case of dry-eye.

It’s a pitiful sight. Her airway is about as tiny as it gets for a dog her size and it’s beginning to prove incompatible with life. She may even be euthanized by the end of the day because of the expense her treatment entails (it’s a surgical fix only a specialist should handle).

Knowing that we intentionally build dogs to suffer like this, never to see the inside of a dog park or enjoy a walk on the beach for all their infirmities, I have to ask…is it fair?