America has a favorite new dog breed, and it’s slightly problematic

French bulldogs pushed the Labrador retriever out of first place this year, but the breed isn't without controversy.
A French bulldog puppy running.
While the most popular dog breed in the United States, French bulldogs are also susceptible to specific health problems. Deposit Photos

After a 31 year reign at the top, the Labrador retriever is no longer America’s favorite dog breed. Coming in at number one for the first time is the French bulldog. The breed was not even in the top 25 percent of favored breeds 75 years ago, and went from 14th place in 2012 to number 1 in 2022. Additionally, registrations have increased over 1,000 percent over 10 years, according to the American Kennel Club.

“The French Bulldog has seen a surge in popularity over the years, and for good reason,” said American Kennel Club Executive Secretary Gina DiNardo, in a press release. “Frenchies are playful, adaptable, loyal and outgoing. They make wonderful companions for a variety of people, but it’s extremely important to do your research to not only find the right breed for your lifestyle, but to ensure that you’re getting a well-bred dog from a responsible breeder.”

[Related: How breeding dogs for certain traits may have altered their brains.]

In regards to their popularity, French Bull Dog Club of America spokesperson Patty Sosa told the Associated Press, “They’re comical, friendly, loving little dogs. City-friendly, with modest grooming and exercise needs, they offer a lot in a small package.”

Known for their flat faces, pointy ears, and weary looking expressions, the dogs have also become a celebrity staple, loved by the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Megan Thee Stallion, and Lady Gaga. They have also been targeted in high profile thefts, including the 2021 shooting of a dog walker with one of Lady Gaga’s dogs and another a shooting in South Carolina in February

As with many breeds, French Bulldogs are susceptible to specific health problems. As with other flat-faced, or brachycephalic, breeds (Pugs, English Bulldogs, etc.) they are particularly prone to breathing troubles due to their smaller airways and narrow nostrils. Bulldogs have it particularly hard, as breeding for selective traits has dramatically changed them over the past 100 years, with some breeders being accused of selecting the more “cartoonish musculature” as the desirable ones to breed despite the risks.  

A 2021 study published in the Canine Medicine and Genetics journal compared the health of random samples of 2,781 French Bulldogs and 21,850 non-French Bulldogs and put together a list of the 43 most common disorders in both groups. The French Bulldog’s “extreme” body shape was causing many of the differences between the two groups and the study found that they have a higher risk of 20 out of the 43 common disorders and a lower risk of only 11 out of the 43 disorders. French bulldogs were 42 times more likely to have a disorder called narrowed nostrils (stenotic nares) and also faced a high risk of skin fold dermatitis, brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome, ear discharge, and difficulty giving birth.

Their signature scrunched faces leave little room for breathing. “The skeletal features have changed, but the soft tissues haven’t adapted with them,” veterinarian Shaun Opperman told The Guardian in 2019 while giving a play-by-play of the surgeries needed to keep many of these dogs alive.

[Related: Can The Bulldog Be Redesigned?]

The British Veterinary Association has urged people to not buy flat-faced breeds. The Netherlands has gone as far as prohibiting breeding very short-snouted dogs. Dutch Minister of Culture, Nature and Food Quality Piet Adema is also aiming to outlaw owning French bulldogs and other “designer pets” such as cats with folded ears.

“We make life miserable for innocent animals, purely because we think they are ‘beautiful’ and ‘cute,’” Adema said in a statement in January.  “That is why today we are taking the big step towards a Netherlands where no pet has to suffer from his or her appearance.”