Common French Bulldog Health Issues and How to Help

Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM

Most people consider raising a French Bulldog after falling in love with his cute, affectionate nature.

With such a tiny body, this breed can be perfect for people living in small apartments.

But unfortunately, these advantages may make Frenchies more prone to many health issues. 

The most common French Bulldog health issues are related to airway obstruction. Most Frenchies are born with narrow noses or constricted windpipes, which increase the risk of airway infections. Skin, ear, and eye infections are also common, and with age, Frenchies may encounter herniated discs. 

As a licensed veterinary doctor, I’ll explain how each of these French Bulldog health issues develops, the symptoms you should look for, and how your vet will likely treat the condition. 

Luckily, your vet can treat most of these diseases without leaving permanent complications, but early diagnosis is essential.

Top 10 French Bulldog Health Issues


Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)

Throughout time, selective breeding gave French Bulldogs their flat-face appearance, making their skulls narrower and broader.

Although the bones shrank, the soft tissue didn’t, which explains why French Bulldogs seem to have excess skin folds. 

The shorter airway with the excess soft tissue puts French Bulldogs at a high risk of many respiratory conditions, all of which are grouped under the brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome, aka BOAS.

The most common conditions include: 

  • Stenotic nares
  • Elongated soft palate
  • Everted laryngeal saccules

Because these conditions have different symptoms and require varying treatments, I’ll discuss them separately down below.

Keep in mind that most vets will use the term “BOAS” as a simple way to mention one or more of these conditions. 

Elongated Soft Palate

Elongated Soft Palate french bulldog

Your dog’s roof of mouth consists of two parts: an anterior bony part (hard palate) and a posterior muscular part (soft palate). 

Dogs that suffer from BOAS may have an abnormally long soft palate that protrudes posteriorly into the throat, which is detrimental to breathing and feeding.

As you might’ve guessed, the elongated soft palate is a genetic condition that appears at birth.

Still, your pup may not have any noticeable symptoms until after his first birthday. 

Symptoms

  • Difficulty or noisy breathing
  • Snoring
  • Wheezing
  • Gasping
  • Reverse sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Gagging
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Vomiting
  • Bluish gums
  • Frequent collapses (in extreme cases only)

Sadly, many owners already notice some of the previous symptoms in their French Bulldog.

Yet, they don’t typically visit the vet, thinking that it’s normal for this breed to have such symptoms.

If your French Bulldog starts making any breathing noises, consult your vet as soon as you can — treatment could be easier in milder cases.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Because your French Bulldog probably has a thick tongue, your vet may not be able to depress it to evaluate the soft palate’s length while your dog is awake, meaning that general anesthesia is the only choice.

Upon anesthesia, if the vet finds out that the soft palate is too long, they’ll remove the excess tissue with a surgical laser.

The operation is relatively simple, and it typically requires zero sutures. 

If the surgery is performed early enough, your dog’s symptoms will gradually subside.

However, if left untreated for too long, your dog may have developed some complications like the everted laryngeal saccules, which may or may not require a second surgery (more on that later).

Stenotic Nares

Stenosis nares french bulldog

Although the name may seem too complicated, stenotic nares simply mean narrow or pinched nostrils.

It’s another genetic condition that your Frenchie may have at birth. 

With narrow nostrils, your Frenchie will have a hard time breathing through his nose, which will affect his sleep quality, exercise stamina, and heat tolerance. 

Symptoms

  • Difficulty or noisy breathing
  • Snoring
  • Wheezing
  • Gasping
  • Bluish gums

Again, these symptoms aren’t normal for any French Bulldog.

Book an appointment with your vet as soon as possible, or else you may have to deal with chronic complications. 

Diagnosis and Treatment

Any vet can instantly diagnose stenotic nares on physical examination.

After confirming the diagnosis, the vet will reshape your dog’s nostrils with surgery, which is often performed together with a spay or neuter.

You’ll need to book follow-up visits to remove the sutures and make sure the tissue isn’t regrowing to block the nose again. 

FRENCH BULLDOG licking another french bulldog

Everted Laryngeal Saccules

If your French Bulldog has stenotic nares and elongated soft palate, he’ll have to pull the air into his lungs on every breath forcefully.

With time, that forceful breathing will create abnormal levels of negative pressure.

To understand why that pressure is bad, we can use a simple analogy.

When you drink something through a straw, your cheeks naturally get pulled inwards.

Similarly, the lining of your dog’s windpipe will gradually bulge inwards due to the difficult breathing, forming a group of small bags, which are known as everted laryngeal saccules.

With these saccules protruding inside the windpipe, it’ll be even more challenging for your Frenchie to breathe.

If left untreated, these saccules may completely block the airway.

Unlike the previous conditions, the everted laryngeal saccules don’t have anything to do with genetics; they won’t be present at your dog’s birth.

Instead, these saccules will form as a result of previous airway obstruction. 

Symptoms

In mild cases, these are the symptoms: 

  • Loud breathing 
  • Snoring 
  • Sounding “wet” after exercise
  • Coughing 

As the saccules grow bigger, you may notice:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Gagging and vomiting
  • Windpipe collapse 
  • Heart and lung diseases
  • Heat intolerance
  • Limited stamina 
  • Frequent fainting

Visiting your vet as soon as the mild symptoms appear will protect your dog against more severe complications. 

Diagnosis and Treatment

Marcelle Landestoy with a french bulldog patient

It’s impossible to diagnose everted laryngeal saccules without general anesthesia, simply because your dog won’t allow the vet to look down his throat while conscious.

The good news is, if the diagnosis is confirmed, your vet will remove the abnormal saccules at the same time, meaning that your dog will be anesthetized only once. 

Keep in mind that general anesthesia can be dangerous for French Bulldogs, owing to their abnormal anatomy.

So, your vet may need blood tests and chest x-rays to ensure that your dog is fit for the surgery.

Skin Fold Dermatitis (Intertrigo)

Your dog’s skin is home to different types of friendly bacteria that don’t usually cause any diseases.

However, if your Frenchie has lots of skin folds, those bacteria will have all the moisture and warmth they need to multiply and cause skin infections.

This condition is known as skin fold dermatitis, but some vets may call it intertrigo. 

Skin fold dermatitis may affect any skin fold in your dog’s body, but the most common areas include the face, lips, armpit, groin, and tail.

Chances of infection may increase if your dog is already suffering from environmental or food allergies that have accentuated the skin folds. 

Symptoms

  • Red, excessively moist patches on the skin
  • Loss of hair at the affected area 
  • Itchiness
  • Foul odor
  • Presence of pus-filled pimples
  • Pain when skin folds are cleaned or moved
  • Yellow or white discharge inside skin folds

Typically, skin fold dermatitis isn’t a serious issue. However, if you wait for the condition to improve on its own, your dog’s skin may ulcerate, which will require a longer time to heal.

So, contact your vet once you notice anything abnormal in your dog’s skin. 

Diagnosis and Treatment

Most of the time, your vet will diagnose skin fold dermatitis based on history and symptoms only.

However, some vets will perform a skin cytology test to determine the bacteria responsible for the inflammation, helping them choose the most effective medication. 

After confirming the diagnosis, your vet will start cleaning the folds to remove the infected cells and musty discharge.

They’ll then prescribe topical antibiotic ointments and pain medications. 

The skin folds may take up to two weeks to heal up completely. During that period, you must keep the infected area clean and dry, or else the bacteria will reinfect the folds.

If the condition keeps coming back regardless of the treatment method, your vet may suggest removing the folds surgically. 

SURGERY ROOM GOLDEN RETRIEVER

Ear Infections (Otitis Externa)

The long, erect ears of French Bulldogs can easily collect dust, bacteria, and fungal spores.

Without proper cleaning, these pathogens accumulate inside the narrow ear canal, causing all sorts of painful infections. 

In some cases, ear infections can happen on top of food or environmental allergies.

These cases usually worsen faster than usual since the ear canal will be already narrowed. 

Symptoms

  • Inflamed ears
  • Head shaking
  • Scratching at the ear
  • Foul-smelling black or yellowish discharge 
  • Painful to touch
  • Crusty patches inside the ears (in chronic cases)

Keep in mind that the previous symptoms may also indicate ear mites infection.

Contact your vet if you’re not sure about the diagnosis. 

When left untreated, the causative bacteria can creep deeper into the ears, causing inner ear infections, which will cause:

  • Head tilting
  • Loss of balance
  • Vomiting
  • Partial deafness

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your vet will use an otoscope to look inside the ears and evaluate the condition of the eardrum.

Afterward, they’ll take a swab and send it for lab analysis to identify the bacteria behind the infection. 

Your vet will then clean your dog’s ears with a medicated ear cleanser, which should remove most of the pathogens.

They may also prescribe a topical medication for you to apply at home. 

The symptoms should resolve gradually within 1–2 weeks. To prevent future re-infections, ask your vet to show you how to clean your dog’s ears.

Entropion

FRENCH BULLDOG looking at the camera

Entropion is a common eye condition describing eyelids that have rolled inwards.

This inversion will force the eyelashes to rub against the eyes, causing inflammation and ulcers.

Entropion usually affects the lower eyelid, but it can also occur at the upper eyelid. 

Symptoms

  • Rubbing at eyes
  • Squinting
  • Tearing
  • Yellow discharge
  • Swelling around eyes
  • Excessive blinking 
  • Eye ulcers (in chronic cases)

If you notice that your Frenchie’s eyes have turned red overnight, do not wait for them to heal on their own.

Even if entropion isn’t the cause, an eye infection requires immediate treatment to prevent scarring and partial or total vision loss.

So, contact your vet as soon as you can. 

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your vet can spot the inverted eyelids by visual examination, even before the inflammation starts.

If the eyes have already inflamed, the vet will use a fluorescent dye to visualize any small abrasions or ulcers. 

Entropion usually requires surgical correction to prevent a recurrence.

However, because not all French Bulldogs can withstand anesthesia, your vet may prescribe antibiotics and artificial tear lubricants to alleviate the symptoms.

If all else fails, surgery will be the only answer. 

If your vet decided to postpone the surgery, they might recommend purchasing dog goggles to shield your dog’s eyes against dust and bacteria.

Cherry Eye

Marcelle Landestoy with a french bulldog patient 2

All dogs have a third eyelid impeded in the lower eyelid. Inside that extra eyelid lies a tear gland that produces a considerable part of your dog’s tears, which protects the eyes from dust and bacteria. 

In French Bulldogs, the tissues holding that tear gland in place can be weaker than average, primarily due to genetic factors.

As those tissues get weaker with time, the tear gland may pop out of its place, appearing as a round bulge at the inner corner of the eye.

After the tear gland becomes inflamed, it won’t produce enough tears, which will ultimately cause dryness and ulcerations.

Symptoms

  • A pink bulge in the corner of the eye
  • Rubbing at the eye
  • Itchiness
  • Pain to touch 
  • Eye dryness (in chronic cases)

In some cases, the cherry eye may appear as a small bulge that shrinks on its own.

That condition still requires treatment because it’ll gradually worsen with time. 

Diagnosis and Treatment

The cherry eye’s striking appearance makes the diagnosis fairly easy for your vet, but the treatment won’t be as straightforward. 

If the condition is diagnosed early, your vet can just push the gland back to its original place.

On the other hand, chronic cases will require surgical correction. If the gland pops out again after successful surgery, your vet will have to remove it.

In that case, you’ll have to regularly lubricate your dog’s eyes with artificial tears for the rest of his life. 

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)

Your dog’s backbone vertebrae are separated by soft discs that allow for seamless, flexible movement.

With age, these discs may rupture, leaving their contents to bulge into the spinal cord space, which will cause pain, nerve damage, and paralysis.

That condition is known as intervertebral disc disease, or IVDD in short. 

Although IVDD is a degenerative condition that worsens with age, genetics may also have a role.

If your dog’s rear legs are shorter than the front ones, his discs may degenerate faster due to the higher strain loaded over the backbone. 

ivdd french bulldog

Symptoms

The symptoms of IVDD depend on the ruptured disk location. If it’s in the lower back, your dog will seem to have normal front limbs but weak hind legs.

If the affected disc is in the neck, all four limbs will be affected equally, and the following symptoms will also appear:

  • Lameness 
  • Flipped paws 
  • Unwillingness to jump
  • Pain and weakness in rear legs
  • Tucked abdomen
  • Trembling
  • Hunched back or neck with tense muscles
  • Inability to control urination or defecation

Keep in mind that IVDD is a serious condition that can lead to permanent paralysis.

Call your vet immediately if your Frenchie suddenly starts to drag a limb. 

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your vet will suspect IVDD upon physical examination and sensory evaluation.

Still, they’ll need x-rays, MRI, and CT scans to get a definite diagnosis. 

If IVDD is confirmed, surgery will be the only treatment. Your vet will cut through the skin and muscles to expose the backbone, drill through the vertebrae, and remove the ruptured disk.

Your dog may then need professional physical therapy to recover completely. 

Patellar Luxation

Patellar luxation is a genetic condition that happens when the kneecap (or patella) slips out of its place.

The bowed legs of Frenchies make them more susceptible to this condition than other breeds. 

DOG PATELLAR LUXATION XRAYS

Symptoms

At first, a luxated patella will force your dog to hold up the affected limb while walking, but he’ll use the leg again after the patella returns to its position within a few strides.

You may also notice the kneecap shifting back and forth underneath the skin, especially in old dogs. 

With time, that constant movement will irritate the bones and cause pain, permanent limbing, and unwillingness to walk or jump. 

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your vet can diagnose patellar luxation with a simple physical examination.

Still, they’ll need x-rays and CT scans to reach a definite diagnosis. 

Mild cases usually resolve with physical therapy, whereas severe cases warrant surgical correction.

Your vet will determine the best treatment based on your dog’s history and general health condition. 

Final Thoughts

As a French Bulldog owner, you shouldn’t ignore symptoms like loud breathing and red eyes.

Even if these problems heal on their own, you have to visit your vet to identify and treat the root cause. 

If you’re still planning to buy a Frenchie pup, look for a responsible, reputable breeder who regularly screens the breeding stock to make sure the puppies aren’t genetically predisposed to develop serious health issues.

Sources

  • University of Cambridge: About BOAS — Department of Veterinary Medicine
  • American College of Veterinary Surgeons: Brachycephalic Syndrome
  • Wikipedia: Elongated Soft Palate
  • Wikipedia: Stenotic Nares
  • Wikipedia: Laryngeal Saccules
  • VetFolio: Brachycephalic Breeds and Anesthesia
  • VCA Hospitals: Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome in Dogs
  • Today’s Veterinary Practice: Skin Fold Dermatitis (Intertrigo) in Dogs
  • PDSA: Skin Fold Dermatitis in Dogs
  • American Kennel Club: Dog Ear Infections: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention
  • American Kennel Club: How to Clean a Dog’s Ears
  • VCA Hospitals: Eyelid Entropion in Dogs
  • The Spruce Pets: How to Spot and Treat Eyelid Entropion in Dogs
  • Wikipedia: Cherry Eye 
  • VCA Hospitals: Cherry Eye in Dogs
  • American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine: Intervertebral Disk Disease in Dogs
  • The Spruce Pets: Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) in Dogs

Read more about the French Bulldog on my one-page breed guide

Marcelle Landestoy

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