For the first time in 31 years, the U.S. has a new favorite dog breed — the French bulldog. Despite the fact that these push-faced little dogs are now more popular than Labrador retrievers, controversy has swirled over their continued rise. Here's everything you need to know:
Why has the French bulldog gotten so popular?
For one, they are undoubtedly cute, "comical, friendly, loving little dogs" that "offer a lot in a small package," as French Bull Dog Club of America spokesperson Patty Sosa tells The Associated Press.
The breed has seen a meteoric rise in recent years, with AP noting that Frenchies "[weren't] even a top-75 breed a quarter-century ago." The American Kennel Club (AKC), which puts out the official rankings of dog breeds, reports that the French bulldog's small form-and-function body type, along with its companionship, makes it a popular dog among city dwellers.
The AKC says that Frenchies evolved in the 19th century because breeders "wanted to maintain the good qualities of the fighting dogs — brains and loyalty — in miniature." More than 200 years later, the result, AKC says, is "an active, intelligent creature, 'of heavy bone,' with a smooth coat." These traits have endeared them to many, and AKC reports registrations for the breed have grown more than 830 percent since 2009.
Why are they controversial?
Centuries of breeding to tailor the French bulldog's specific look have caused the breed to develop many inherent health problems, and AP notes there is a "sharpening debate over whether there's anything healthy about propagating dogs prone to breathing, spinal, eye, and skin conditions."
Vox reports that Frenchies are among the most expensive dog breeds in the world, but part of this cost is because "the dogs' heads are so large that litters usually have to be delivered via C-section, an expensive veterinary procedure." The outlet notes that the dogs often have issues common to all "brachycephalic breeds — those with flat faces." RSPCA Australia reports that Frenchie breeding "results in breathing difficulties and significant compromise to their welfare and quality of life," with their health problems often affecting their "ability to live comfortably and engage in normal animal behaviors."
Many animal activism groups have urged people to stop breeding French bulldogs — or at the very least, stop buying them. Gudrun Ravetz, former president of the British Veterinary Association, writes that "despite increasing warnings from vets and animal welfare charities about the many health and welfare issues of flat-faced breeds ... they continue to rise in popularity and visibility, fuelled by their prominence in the media and at high profile events." Ravetz adds that "we need to put a stop to these dogs' wrinkly faces, big eyes and curly tails — which can cause so many life-limiting health problems — being seen as appealing characteristics," and says that the BVA does not suggest buying brachycephalic breeds.
PETA Senior Vice President of Cruelty Investigations Daphna Nachminovitch feels similarly, and writes that "French bulldogs ... can suffer from an uncomfortable, debilitating, and sometimes fatal condition called brachycephalic syndrome that makes them struggle to breathe, run, play, or experience the joys that make a dog's life worthwhile and make hot weather hell for them." Nachminovitch adds, "PETA urges people not to breed or buy any dog, let alone those who are physically punished by breeders."
What do the proponents of the dog say?
The AKC has mostly stayed out of the controversy surrounding the French bulldog, but does have a list of positives it feels the breed inhabits. This includes Frenchies being good watchdogs, being adaptable to different environments, and being good companions, among other things.
Even so, the Richmond Valley Veterinary Practice in Staten Island, New York, writes that "it is important to be aware of the breeding frequency of the breeder," as overbreeding can cause additional health problems. Pushed-face dogs are already known to suffer from problematic pregnancies, the practice notes.
In addition, Richmond Valley reports that genetic conditions in Frenchies usually "do not present [themselves] until they are 2-3 years old." As a result, it is "important to ask the breeder whether the parents are in that age range," and perform all necessary due diligence.