French bulldog | A Vet’s Definitive One-Page Breed Guide

Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM

FRENCH BULLDOG looking at the camera

Very few pet lovers can look at a French bulldog and not feel the draw to his oversized round head and flat expressive face. Bat ears and short legs give the Frenchie childlike qualities that last forever.

However, everyone knows that the responsibility of pet ownership goes beyond a cute face and stellar personality.

Using my experience as a veterinary doctor, I’ve put together this one-page guide for French Bulldog owners. Read on to learn more about this incredible breed and what you can expect from living with these versatile dogs. Here’s all the information you need to ensure a successful friendship!

Brief Introduction

The French Bulldog is indeed small in size and giant in personality.

He loves people and other animals, serving as the ultimate companion.

If you love to care for someone and shower lots of attention on them forever, the Frenchie is for you.

Before selecting a French Bulldog from your shortlist of possible family pets, ask yourself if it is a commitment you can handle.

Frenchies do not require as much exercise or grooming as many other breeds, but they need a ton of attention, lots of health considerations, and plenty of training.

About the French Bulldog

 

FRENCH BULLDOG  sleeping

Like its larger English cousin, the French Bulldog belongs to the non-sporting group of the American Kennel Club.

Number 4 most popular dog in the US as of 2020, the Frenchie is pleasant, charming, and adorable with its small rotund body, snub nose, round face, big eyes, and bat ears.

Not a guard dog by any stretch, the Frenchie gets along with people best and other animals second. He makes an engaged and loving pet.

The remarkable history of the French Bulldog

 If not for blood sports in England and their subsequent banning, the French Bulldog may never have come into existence. 

 The English Bulldog arose in England in the 1200s from Molosser or Alaunt ancestors.

Early fanciers bred them specifically to bait bulls, thus breeding a shorter muscular version of the before-used Mastiffs.

Dogs would develop a more pronounced jaw to grab the bull’s nose better.

Their shorter, more compact stature allowed them more agility to work underneath the massive animals.

Bull-baiting and other blood sports like dog fighting and ratting continued through a few decades into the 1800s despite a ban in 1802.

Serious enforcement of the animal humanity act in England did not take place until the 1830s.

This saw a dramatic shift in the English Bulldog that had just lost its primary purpose.

Three branches emerged from the ban, all involving a disruption of the purity of the Bulldog line.

FRENCH BULLDOG black and white picture
  • Pet English Bulldog: Exaggeration of musculature, dwarfed limbs, enlarged head, jowls, and prominent underbite; Aggression bred out as was functionality
  • Bull and terrier: Rat terrier introduced to increase breed’s proficiency in dogfighting which was easier to hide from law enforcement than bull-baiting; Gave rise to Bull terriers, Staffordshire terriers, and Pit Bull Terriers 
  • Toy English Bulldog: Miniature Bulldog from outcrosses with the Pug; Gave rise to French Bulldog

Lace-makers in Nottingham took to the toy-sized dogs like few of the “true” bulldog enthusiasts would.

When the Industrial Revolution displaced many of the artisan workers in the 1860s, they fled to North France and took their dogs.

Receiving some infusions from the local Rat terriers, French bulldogs quickly became overwhelmingly popular in Normandy, where they started and soon throughout the country.

They were especially favorites with workers, including “Les belles de Nuit” or Parisian prostitutes.

People knew the little canids affectionately as Bouledogues Français.

French breeders developed the breed into one with straighter legs and less of an undershot jaw.

The characteristic upright bat ear began to appear in a few litters, but the French public still preferred the rose-shaped ears.

It is unclear when the first French Bulldogs began arriving in the US, but it was well before interested parties started a breeding program in 1885.

The general public saw their first French Bulldog at the Westminster Show in 1896.

After that, the little dog received its nickname Frenchie.

FRENCH BULLDOG licking her face

In 1896 the French Bulldog Club of America was also formed.

American fanciers would be the ones to insist on and establish as standard the bat ears of the French Bulldog. The Frenchie joined the AKC in 1940.

Interesting facts about this furry friend

  • BouBoule, one of the most famous Parisian French bulldogs, was said to have urinated on patrons of Madame Palmyre’s restaurant if they petted him.
  • Frenchies cannot swim because of their confirmation
  • Boston Terriers outcompeted the Frenchie in popularity during the next few decades after World War I
  • In the 1940s, French Bulldogs were a rare breed

French bulldog Characteristics

The French Bulldog is easily recognizable because of its overwhelming popularity and unique features.

Resembling a miniature Bulldog, Frenchies have a broad, square head, shortened face, and a stout and robust body with a wide-based stance.

Despite their sturdy build, Frenchies have a compact frame.

The breed has a short tail that varies from straight to almost corkscrew.

Its neck is visibly powerful, and dogs should appear to have disproportionately large heads relative to their bodies.

Their ears should be bat-shaped and upright.

Rare dogs may have the throwback rose ear but are disqualified from showing in sanctioned conformation competitions.

There is significant gender differentiation with females not as true to type as males.

Although quite similar to the English Bulldog, the Frenchie has a few distinguishing characteristics.

French BulldogEnglish Bulldog
Height at Shoulder11 to 12 inches14 to 15 inches
Weight16 to 28 pounds40 to 50 pounds
HeadSlightly rounder with more compressed snoutLarge jowls and protruding lower jaw
EarsBatRose

Colors

French Bulldogs can be a wide range of colors. Rare colors are controversial because the AKC and other registries do not recognize them.

FRENCH BULLDOG with two people

The selection process to produce rare colors in litters of puppies is often challenging, and some breeders achieve with unscrupulous practices.

Standard Colors

  • White – Solid white dog with dark eyes and a black nose
  • Brindle – Piebalds are mostly white dogs with brindle patches; Can appear to have tiger stripes or may have just a hint of brindle, appearing almost solid black
  • Fawn – May or may not have a dark facial mask; Base color varies from nearly yellow to tan to reddish
  • Cream

Rare Colors

  • Blue: Dilute gene mutes the color black; Dogs appear gray or bluish, and the color is called mouse gray; Blue is a disqualified color and appears wherever black would be on the dog, including facial masks and the black on brindle dogs
  • Liver: Similar in color to a chocolate lab; Involved complete suppression of pigmentation responsible for black; Dogs have light-colored eyes and liver nose leather
  • Black and tan: Similar to German Shepherds in markings; Black and tan is recessive to brindle
  • Lilac: Dilution of the liver color so dogs appear almost lavender or champagne depending on the shade; Color is called lilac in Frenchies or sometimes Isabella
  • Merle: Marbling of black and white hairs makes dogs appear bluish or gray; Many have blue eyes

Keep in mind the dilution genes turn off pigmentation in all hairs that would be ordinarily black.

That is why you will see blue and liver manifest in all possible coat patterns that would ordinarily show black.

  • Black and tan –> Blue and tan or liver and tan
  • Fawn dog with blue facial mask
  • Brindles can be blue
FRENCH BULLDOG on the grass

– How adaptable your little friend is?

If you ultimately decide on a French bulldog, she will be a delightful and adaptable companion.

The breed is very easy-going except if you leave it alone for too long.

+ Good for novice owners

Frenchies are fantastic for beginners because they are small and amiable.

Your biggest challenge will be training as they have a substantial stubborn streak.

+ Adapts well to apartment living

Frenchies adapt quite well to apartment living.

Not only are French Bulldogs a smaller breed, but they do not require much exercise.

Some can have a relatively high activity level, but they have no tail and do not have the size or rambunctiousness of many working breeds.

+ Sensitivity level

Frenchies, like many dogs, are very sensitive to their owner’s moods and feelings.

French Bulldogs react negatively to criticism or harshness, becoming dejected.

FRENCH BULLDOG  running

They also are very sensitive to heat and cols and being apart from their families.

+ Tolerates being alone

The French Bulldog is a Velcro dog that needs to be near you most of the time.

If you leave your dog alone, she might become anxious, neurotic, or depressed.

Your pet may suffer separation anxiety without your attention, which can result in obnoxious barking and whining, urinating and defecating in the house, and frantic running or pacing.

+ Tolerates cold weather

French Bulldogs do not tolerate cold weather. Their fur is somewhat thick, but their undercoat is thin or almost nonexistent in some individuals.

In addition to an insufficient coat, Frenchies are small and low to the ground.

This sets them up to quickly lose body heat due to their large surface area: body mass ratio.

Finally, the Frenchie’s brachycephalic features ensure that it cannot reliably regulate its temperature through respiration.

Nonexistent nasal passages and chronic hypoxia in most dogs mean the respiratory system cannot cope with the additional stress of cold weather.

You can dress your Frenchie in a coat, but your best recourse is to bring your dog inside when it is cold outside. 

+ Tolerates hot weather

FRENCH BULLDOG at the beach

Despite having a relatively thin coat, Frenchies do not fare particularly well in hot weather because of their shortened faces. 

A dog’s sinuses have a bonus effect of cooling air during inhalation as it makes contact with the mucus membranes.

With the exaggerated shortening of their faces, especially their muzzles, Frenchies do not have the cooling surface that a dog with an average snout would.

Moreover, the struggle to breathe every day only becomes worse with the heat.

French Bulldogs, like the larger Bulldog, are vulnerable to heatstroke.

You should always bring your Frenchie indoors in the heat. Always be vigilant for signs of the diverse effects of hot weather.

  • Excessive panting
  • Bright red or bluish mucus membranes
  • Lethargy – Sluggish
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, or refusal to eat or drink
  • Drooling – Ropey saliva

– Friendliness of the French Bulldog

 Frenchies are among the friendliest dog breeds.

+ Affectionate with Family

You can expect the Frenchie to be as loving as she is loveable.

The breed is kind-hearted if a bit naughty. French bulldogs love to be close to their family and like to cuddle.

+ Kid-friendly

Frenchies are kid-friendly because children give the little dogs the audience they so often crave.

Moreover, Frenchies love antics, capers, and romping. You should supervise all canine-kid interactions, although French bulldogs are small and tolerant.

Young puppies can be vulnerable to the clumsiness of kids.

+ Friendly with other pets?

FRENCH BULLDOG playing with other pets

Frenchies are friendly with other dogs and cats. You should introduce them to cats slowly and use caution with larger dogs as your Bulldog could suffer injury.

+ Friendly towards strangers

Well-socialized Frenchies will be extremely friendly with any company you decide to have.

They flourish around people and love being the center of attention.

Like any breed, neglecting your French Bulldog’s social skills can lead to undesirable behaviors.

Without socialization, a Frenchie may become fearful and suspicious of strangers, possibly displaying territorial or defensive aggression.

– Health and grooming needs

Your furry friend will have minimal grooming requirements.

+ Amount of shedding

Frenchies have low shedding for most of the year. They have an undercoat that they shed twice a year.

This will increase the amount of hair you see in the spring and fall.

+ Drooling potential

With their rather loose-fitting lips, Frenchies drool more than the average dog breed, albeit not as much as the larger mastiff-types like Newfoundlands.

+ General Health

Because of their exaggerated features, French bulldogs are among the unhealthiest dogs.

Dwarfism makes them susceptible to orthopedic issues, while their cute stumpy tails can leave them with spinal abnormalities.

By far, their most formidable obstacle is their breathing apparatus, under siege from a demand for an adorable flat face.

FRENCH BULLDOG looking at the camera
Orthopedic

Like many other breeds, one of the Frenchie’s most likely orthopedic challenges is hip dysplasia.

The joint problem in Bulldogs usually stems from one of two physiological issues. 

  • Bone does not lay down evenly in the acetabulum or cup of the ball and socket joint, and thus the femoral head does not fit right > incongruence
  • The fibrous capsule that encloses the hip joint and the ligament that binds the femoral head does not produce fiber or collagen properly, leading to a lax joint

These growth abnormalities are not unique to French Bulldogs, but the breed’s conformation can hasten development and worsen symptoms.

Other environmental factors such as weight can exacerbate pain and dysfunction.

French bulldogs can also suffer from elbow dysplasia, but at under 6% of the population affected, the breed does very well compared to herding dogs. 

FRENCH BULLDOG with a girl

All Frenchies have chondrodysplasia, a breed standard of their dwarfism.

Therefore, many suffer from shortened limbs and problems associated with abnormal cartilage growth.

Eyes

In addition to their bulbous eyes being vulnerable to corneal scratches, ulcers, and other injuries, French bulldogs can suffer from hereditary ocular problems.

They suffer most commonly from cataracts and multifocal retinopathy 1.

Multifocal retinopathy, as the name suggests, represents retinal detachment at several locations.

Luckily, the disease results in complete blindness, but specific individuals may experience some vision loss.

It is a disease that affects young puppies before they reach four months of age and may present as spots in the eye that look like multicolored blisters in orange, pink, or gray.

Frenchies can also suffer from a cherry eye. A cherry eye does not affect the eye but the nictitating or “third eyelid.”

It is a prolapse of an inflamed tear gland, and veterinarians may recommend surgical repositioning.

Neurologic

French bulldogs had up to a 20% occurrence rate of degenerative myelopathy in 2020. DM progresses to eventual paralysis of affected dogs.

FRENCH BULLDOG biting a branch

Also common is early degeneration o vertebrae, which can lead to disc disease.

IVDD causes pain and sometimes paralysis. Dogs with IVDD may require surgical intervention or potent anti-inflammatories.

Last among common problems is hemivertebrae, whereby half one or more vertebrae may be absent.

Dogs with hemivertebrae may be asymptomatic or suffer severe neurologic abnormalities. The condition links closely to short screw-type tails.

Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome

Many Frenchies cannot breathe efficiently, as illustrated by their snuffling, heavy breathing, exercise intolerance, and inability to withstand heat or humidity.

Dogs usually have one or more structural abnormalities.

  • Stenotic nares – Nostrils too small
  • Hypoplastic trachea – Trachea underdeveloped
  • The soft palate too long
  • Laryngeal collapse

All of the above physical features are common obstructions to breathing.

In some cases, your veterinarian may have to intervene surgically.

+ Potential for weight gain

Since they cannot exercise to the extent more athletic dogs can, Frenchies are prone to gain excess weight and become obese.

Being overweight puts your Frenchie at increased risk for joint problems, heart disease, stress on the kidneys, musculoskeletal injury, respiratory issues, and a decreased life expectancy by up to two years.

+ Easy to groom

Frenchies require minimal grooming as they have short, fine coats. Their undercoats are thin to sparse.

You probably will find you do not need to brush your dog very often.

You should brush your pet’s fur at least weekly to distribute skin oils through the coat and stimulate circulation.

Frenchies have sensitive skin, so it is essential to limit baths as much as you can and use a mild shampoo. For some dogs, you may need to administer medicated baths.

+ Size

Frenchies are small dogs with both males and females only 11 or 12 inches tall.

Males are usually heavier, weighing 20 to 28 pounds relative to the female’s 16 to 24 pounds.

FRENCH BULLDOG licking another french bulldog

– Trainability

 As charming as the Frenchie is, she can present training challenges. 

+ Easy to train

 If you are looking for a pet that learns tricks quickly, you may want to consider options other than the Frenchie.

French bulldogs can be stubborn, even difficult to house train.

Most pet owners will concede that a Frenchie’s personality more than makes up for any shortcomings in obedience.

+ Intelligence

Stanley Coren, a renowned canine psychologist, ranked Frenchies low in working intelligence.

However, French bulldogs were bred to be loveable companions and not necessarily obedient. They are brilliant in manipulation.

+ Prey drive

Frenchies have a low predatory drive. They may chase the occasional cat or squirrel but usually will lose interest quickly.

Their breeding was for companionship and little else.

+ Tendency to bark or howl

This breed is relatively quiet. Frenchies have a loud voice but do not use it without reason unless they are bored or feel neglected.

Some are good watchdogs, announcing visitors and intruders and barking at suspicious occurrences.

+ Potential for mouthiness

Beyond puppyhood, the French Bulldog is not a mouthy breed.

Breeders have largely eliminated aggression from the breed, and therefore, individuals typically bite from fear or lack of socialization.

– Physical needs

 The Frenchie has low physical needs and high emotional ones.

FRENCH BULLDOG with a toy

+ Intensity

The Frenchie is a laidback breed as long as you meet all her needs for attention and affection.

She does not have a strong work drive. She will content on the couch, by your side, or in your lap.

However, if you leave her alone or punish her, she will like to experience intense emotions of betrayal, depression, and separation anxiety.

+ Energy level

Despite their physical challenges, Frenchies have a moderate energy level.

However, their stamina is low, so their bursts of activity tend to be short-lived. Puppies can be very energetic and playful.

+ Exercise needs

Surprisingly, French bulldogs require moderate exercise to maintain a healthy weight and their mental well-being.

You should exercise your dog 30 minutes to an hour per day but in multiple short sessions.

Frenchies cannot tolerate excess exercise because of their short noses and dwarfed limbs.

Take special care in the summer months because all bulldogs are particularly vulnerable to the effects of heat.

+ Potential for Playfulness

 Your French Bulldog will be very playful, especially as a pup.

However, adults also like to frolic and clown around, especially if they can keep your attention.

Size of the breed

Frenchies are diminutive, but they become sturdy and physically resilient when they mature. 

Temperament

Most Frenchies have a sweet, gentle, endearing, and lively temperament.

Children

Your Frenchie may see children as kindred spirits.

The breed’s playful nature makes it a hit with kids, and its small size may be less intimidating to some.

It would be best if you still supervised all play involving children and dogs.

Other Pets

Frenchies tend to get along with other dogs and likely will be fine around your cat.

Because of their history of possibly hunting rats, do not expose your dog to rodents like hamsters, gerbils, or Guinea pigs. 

Health

Your breeder can be vital in the future health of your Frenchie.

FRENCH BULLDOG on the street

Conscientious breeding programs help prevent some hereditary issues and decrease the likelihood or severity of others. 

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Multifocal retinopathy
  • Brachycephalic airway syndrome
  • Heart disease secondary to brachycephalic stress
  • Allergies
  • Corneal ulcers and conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Degenerative myelopathy

Grooming and care

French bulldogs do not require much grooming but require considerable care in the areas of training, socialization, attention, and love.

  • Brush weekly to maintain health and shine off the coat
  • A shortened face makes dental care with multiple teeth brushings a week crucial
  • Wipe facial folds and check for signs of irritation or infection – Not as bad as English bulldog
  • Clip nails every 4 to 6 weeks
  • Bathe every 4 to 8 weeks with a mild shampoo
  • Check eyes every day for signs of injury
  • Check ears at least weekly – Ear infections in the breed are rare except if allergic

How to feed your French Bulldog

Puppies under four weeks of age should free feed.

Hopefully, you are bringing your pup home at the age of eight to ten weeks, and he will eat three or four times a day.

Once your pup reaches six months old, she can go down to two feedings a day.

Weight control is crucial for any Bulldog. Count on 25 to 30 calories per pound of body weight per day for a standard Frenchie split into at least two meals.

FRENCH BULLDOG drinking from a mug

Feed exceptionally active pets a little more and couch potatoes less.

Consult with your veterinarian about any weight concerns because judging body conditioning a Frenchie can be a challenge.

Like any dog, a high-quality, animal-sourced protein should ideally be in the first few ingredients with a healthy fat.

Breed-specific diets may conform better to your do’s mouth.

References

See more dog breeds

Marcelle Landestoy