English bulldog lacks genetic diversity for improved health

The popular but characteristically unhealthy English bulldog lives to be only a little over eight years old. Can its health be improved? Not according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) conducted the first broad-based assessment of the breed’s genetic diversity using DNA rather than pedigrees. The researchers concluded that as a result of extreme inbreeding, the breed now lacks the diversity in its gene pool to make much-needed health improvements.

The study was published in the journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology on July 28.

The researchers examined the DNA of 102 English bulldogs, including 87 dogs from the United States and 15 dogs from other countries. These dogs were genetically compared with another 37 English bulldogs that had been brought to UC Davis to determine that the dog’s genetic problems were not the fault of commercial breeders or puppy mills.

The study confirmed earlier assumptions and provided a new glimpse of how many large regions of the genome had been altered over more than five centuries of breeding that focused primarily on changing the dog’s appearance.

“We were taken back by how little ‘wiggle room’ still exists in the breed for making additional genetic changes,” said lead author Niels Pedersen, BS, DVM, PhD, of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s Center for Companion Animal Health.

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