Certain breeds of dogs are prone to specific diseases, and French bulldogs are no exception. Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is one of the conditions seen in French bulldogs. It is painful and uncomfortable for the dogs and distressing for the owners. As with all diseases, prevention is better than trying to cure or correct IVDD once it has occurred.
Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is common in French bulldogs and can be prevented by choosing dogs without the genetic predisposition to IVDD. Managing weight and exercising correctly is critical. Dogs should not jump or negotiate stairs; ramps should be used instead.
It is important to understand IVDD and why French bulldogs are prone to it to know how to prevent the condition.
IVDD in French Bulldogs is Genetic
Intervertebral disc disease occurs largely in chondrodystrophic dog breeds. These dogs can be clearly identified by having legs that appear too short for their body. French bulldogs fall into this category.
Chondrodystrophy refers to an abnormality in cartilage development that affects long-bone growth. The bones in the legs do not grow normally, resulting in the short legs typical of French bulldogs.
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FACT: Severe forms of IVDD In French bulldogs are associated with mutations in the canine 12 chromosomes.
There is premature aging, degeneration, and cartilage calcification in these dogs. The spinal discs that form cushions between the vertebrae are a gel-like fluid surrounded by a fibrocartilaginous shell.
When the dog’s cartilage begins to degenerate, the discs are affected. The calcification and degeneration make them fragile, and they lose their elasticity.
In Type I IVDD, there is a rapid onset of symptoms when the disc ruptures. In Type II there is a slow deterioration as the disc becomes non-functional. The result is the same as the intervertebral space is lost. The vertebra touches the neighboring vertebra, trapping nerves and affecting blood supply.
French bulldogs have been bred with a predisposition to IVDD because of their general shape. You can reduce the chances of your French bulldog getting IVDD by choosing a puppy from a breeder who genetically tests their dogs for the more severe form of the disease.
NOTE: Ethical breeders will not breed from dogs with an increased chance of developing IVDD.
Keep Your French Bulldog Lean
The spine is largely the structure that supports the body. Any extra weight will place additional stress on the spine. It is vital to keep your French bulldog at optimal weight.
Many people cannot be objective about their pet’s weight. It is crucial to consult with your veterinarian to determine the ideal weight for your Frenchie.
NOTE: Many veterinarian practices run free weight management clinics where the dog comes for a weekly or biweekly weight check. Veterinary technologists, nutritionists, or nurses will assist you with dietary advice.
Various dog body shape charts help to assess the dog’s weight. A score is given based on features described in the chart.
At optimal weight, your French bulldog’s ribs, shoulder blades, spine, and hip bones should not be seen but easily felt. This condition is seen in slim to ideal body shape. It is better to keep your French bulldog in the slim category to limit excess strain on the spine and legs.
Diet Can Help Prevent IVDD
The appropriate diet can help to reduce cartilage degeneration and improve muscle development. Muscle, cartilage, and bone rely on adequate amino acids to generate new cells and tissue as old cells die and are discarded in the body’s natural cycle.
Amino acids are the basic building blocks of proteins. It is, therefore, necessary to have a diet that is high in protein. Most commercial kibble is too low in protein. Even high-end diets seldom have more than 30% protein.
Increasing the protein content of your French bulldog’s diet is beneficial.
- Consult a veterinary nutritionist that can develop a specific diet for your dog.
- Add good quality protein to your dog’s kibble to increase the protein content.
- Use one of the prepackaged frozen dog food options. These diets offer pet food prepared according to balanced meal plans. The food is frozen and delivered on order, this one from Amazon is a good choice with different options. You can often choose the amount of protein in these meals.
Many people feel that giving their French dogs supplements such as glucosamine (like these tablets from Amazon) and chondroitin will reduce the dog’s chances of developing IVDD. Studies have shown that these supplements have little impact on IVDD, although they may help leg joints.
Strong Muscles Can Help Prevent IVDD
The spine benefits from strong musculature surrounding it, and firm, well-functioning stomach muscles reduce strain on the spine. The type of exercise done by your French bulldog is critical. It must be low impact and limit concussive forces that jar the spine.
Swimming is an appropriate exercise as there is no impact on joints or strain on the spine. Swimming is tiring for dogs, and it is essential to build up the time spent swimming very slowly.
Brachycephalic (squashed face) breeds such as French bulldogs must be carefully managed while swimming to ensure they do not inhale water. French bulldogs must never be left unsupervised in water as their short legs and heavy bodies are not well suited to swimming, and they can easily drown.
Walking on flat surfaces such as in parks or on the sidewalk will also help to keep French bulldogs fit and help maintain an ideal weight. Running and jumping over obstacles should be avoided.
If you wish to exercise your French bulldog in your backyard, you can build obstacle courses for the dog to negotiate around rather than go over. This backyard dog obstacle course kit on Amazon is a good place to start. Healthy treats can be hidden in places to encourage the dog and allow it to use up excess energy by doing brain work through scenting.
NOTE: A veterinary physiotherapist can help you to develop a doggy home gym. Exercises designed for your dog will help strengthen specific muscle groupings, reducing the chances of IVDD developing.
It is beneficial to develop a relationship with a veterinary physiotherapist who can check your dog regularly for muscle spasms and imbalances that may pull the spine out of alignment. Physiotherapists can perform spinal manipulations if vertebrae become misaligned or locked.
Most dog owners only consider consulting a physiotherapist once a problem, such as IVDD, has already occurred. Prevention is a much better option, and a veterinary physiotherapist is a key professional in achieving this.
Harnesses Are Better For French Bulldogs
Collars are the traditional means of handling and restraining dogs, but they are not ideal for all breeds. Collars can be detrimental to the health of French bulldogs and increase the chances of IVDD.
Dog collars place pressure on the cervical (neck) vertebrae. If the dog lunges or the owner pulls a little too much, excessive strain is placed on the vertebrae and discs of the neck. This alone can cause a disc to rupture or exacerbate degeneration.
Harnesses are a better form of control and restraint for French bulldogs. Ensure the harness fits correctly and is not too loose or tight, as either can be detrimental.
Well-fitting harnesses spread pressure over the body and do not place any pressure on the back. The chest and belly absorb most of the pressure. This harness on Amazon has many color choices!
NOTE: French bulldogs typically get IVDD in the cervical and thoracic spinal vertebrae. Harnesses are therefore much better than collars.
Prevent Your French Bulldog from Jumping
If you decide to purchase a French bulldog, you must be aware of the risks of IVDD. It is best to train the puppy not to sleep or sit on human beds or chairs. A natural consequence of this habit is that the dog will jump off and on, placing severe strain on the spine.
FACT: Many dogs have an acute IVDD event caused by jumping on or from the furniture.
If you already have a Frenchie used to using furniture or want your dog to cuddle on the couch, you will need to install ramps. Your dog must be trained to use the ramps when accessing the furniture.
Stairs are also problematic for French bulldogs. Some pet owners might feel that two or three steps are insignificant, but if your Frenchie is predisposed to IVDD, those few steps can be the tipping point.
NOTE: Ramps can alleviate the need for the French bulldog to use the stairs and help prevent the onset of IVDD.
Sterilizing Too Early Increases The Chances Of IVDD
For many years veterinarians and welfare associations have been encouraging dog owners to sterilize their pets at six months, regardless of breed and size. Subsequent research has shown that sterilizing a dog too early can be detrimental in many ways.
Most people think testosterone and estrogen are hormones that only affect the sexual reproduction system. The truth is that these hormones play crucial roles in many different systems in the body, including growth.
Removing testosterone and estrogen too early can cause abnormal or insufficient bone growth, significantly affecting joints, the length of bones, and the closure of growth plates.
FACT: It is better to wait until your French Bulldog has finished growing before sterilizing it. This will reduce the risk of IVDD.
French bulldogs are predisposed to IVDD because of their body shape. Steps can be taken to prevent IVDD from occurring. This terrible painful condition should be avoided by limiting the dog’s activity, strengthening muscles, ensuring optimal weight, and using harnesses instead of collars.
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