I was working at a booth at some sort of animal expo for my employer years ago. I was the only veterinarian there, so even though my specialty is cancer surgery, I was fielding all sorts of animal questions. A couple came up to me very deliberately and asked, “What do you think about AI for bulldogs?”. To which I replied, “I don’t.” Because it’s true. I honestly never think about artificially inseminating bulldogs. Most veterinarians don’t, but maybe we should.
As a veterinarian, I am saddened and sometimes horrified by English and French bulldogs. I know that they are so very cute, and I love every dog that I meet. But it is hard for me to see the cuteness of bulldogs, because all I see is a dog that can’t breathe or walk very well. All I can think of is the long list of devastating health problems that this poor dog and its owner are going to have to face in its lifetime. A bulldog can be a very expensive heartbreak wrapped up in a very cute package.
Celebs are a big part of the problem. The French bulldog has been a hot accessory item lately, with Frenchies blowing up the Instagram accounts of The Rock, Gaga, Reese, Hugh Jackman, Chrissy Tegan and Madonna. I’m sure they mean well, or maybe they don’t, but there are some serious unintended consequences to popularizing this breed. If you are not a multimillionaire, or even if you are, I don’t recommend getting a Frenchie. Imagine if these celebrities had rescued puppies from a shelter instead of buying themselves an animate designer handbag, and posted images of mutts instead of Frenchies? That would have been so cool. Frenchies are now being bred in puppy mills and they have become a commodity traded by the mafia, surpassing drugs in popularity for mafia-related commodities. (It’s true. Google it.) Imagine the welfare of the puppies in mafia-run puppy mills. Thanks a lot Madonna.
Many veterinarians caring for these dogs are frustrated. It is hard to watch one of these puppies just try to breathe. Lay people and their owners think it is cute and “normal” that they make those funny noises. It’s not. That is a dog with an upper airway obstruction. It’s a dog that can never get enough air. (Side note: If you own a bulldog and you don’t already have pet insurance, please stop reading this and get good pet insurance for your dog right now.)
Back to what I think about AI in bulldogs, here is a fun fact: most English and French bulldogs need artificial insemination to get pregnant, and then need a C-section to give birth. When veterinarians are getting frustrated about the popularity of these breeds and their health problems, maybe we should, instead, reflect on the fact that these breeds literally would not exist without us. As a profession, we are complicit. Maybe we could start there.
Veterinarians are not powerless in these situations, we just fail to harness our power. What if veterinarians stopped doing AI on bulldogs? What if with every C-section in these at-risk breeds, veterinarians were required to do a concurrent ovariohysterectomy? I don’t think it is a stretch to make “being able to reproduce without assistance” and “being able to breathe normally” things we could aspire to as dog breed standards. What if every time we did an upper airway surgery on a brachycephalic dog to help them to breathe better, it was required to do a concurrent spay or neuter? It seems to me that this problem would resolve itself rather quickly.
If veterinarians don’t do this, who will? Celebs? The Mafia? Breeders? Instagram? Who should take charge of this situation? I think it’s the professionals who have used their skills as doctors to allow this slippery slope to get us where we are today. We are the only group with the education and skills to try to turn this ship around. If celebs want to help us out, that would be great too.