Ruby is an approximately 1-year-old bulldog and, aside from her health issue, is one of the most physically fit English bulldogs I (Henri Bianucci) have ever seen.
In past centuries, English bulldogs were used for medieval blood sports, including bull and bear baiting. As cruel as these events were, it took dogs of exceptional athletic ability to participate. Strength, speed and intelligence were prized attributes of these canine combatants.
One could debate whether bulldogs have maintained their IQ level over the years, but there can be little doubt that their vaunted physical traits have been diminished by breeding for appearance, rather than ability.
As barbaric practices like bull baiting fell out of popularity in England, bulldogs, like the royals themselves, assumed a more ceremonial role.
Though no longer active in the ring, they have come through their appearance to represent characteristics for which the English are famous. Certain attributes are exaggerated to the point that bulldogs have become living caricatures of themselves.
Their formerly short, muscular faces, which were so well-suited to absorbing blunt trauma and delivering a vice-like bite, have been reconfigured by radically shortening the nasal bones. The resulting prominence of the lower jaw confers an air of toughness, resoluteness and defiance reminiscent of the late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
This image is far from the reality. This distortion sacrifices mechanical efficiency, and the extreme compacting of the nasal apparatus presents a major obstruction of airflow. This limits their ability to cool themselves by panting and restricts their ability to exercise. They can die from heatstroke or suffocation as a result.
Their formerly athletic, compact frames and short, muscular legs imparted the ability to launch quick and powerful attacks to the vulnerable undersides of the bull’s neck and abdomen while presenting a smaller target for the bull. These traits have been exchanged for a barrel-shaped body prone to obesity and exaggerated short legs, which are often plagued by orthopedic problems.
Obesity is a common problem as well due to airway and orthopedic limitations for exercise. It’s actually to the point where most bulldogs are not capable of giving birth without a C-section due to issues such as disproportionately large heads.
I will be the first to admit that bulldogs are extremely endearing and the puppies are irresistible. But as a surgeon, I find them to be a source of major anxiety. Their faces are so scrunched in that their nasal passages are collapsed, and everything is crowded at the back of their throats. When the involved tissues swell, as often happens after anesthesia, it creates a potentially life-threatening obstruction to breathing.
Ruby is a rare exception, with wide nasal passages and only a moderately scrunched face. Her legs are relatively long for her frame and free of developmental orthopedic problems. She can breathe like a greyhound and run like a deer, albeit a very stocky deer. She is in excellent shape, and her mom showed me a video of her playing a masterful game of tetherball. Ruby is a near perfect mix of the neo-bulldog form and medieval bulldog function. She is truly a model to which breeders should strive.
On top of this, Ruby has the perfect family dog temperament. She loves to play, adores kids, is friendly to strangers; you name it. Furthermore, central casting at Disney could not have come up with a cuter family of young beautiful kids who also adore Ruby.
Despite the superlatives, Ruby had a problem that threatened to put an end to this beautiful relationship. It was not life-threatening, progressive or debilitating. In fact, she couldn’t have cared less that she had it. But for the family it was incompatible with keeping Ruby at home, and that was killing them. The problem was that she smelled bad. Really, really bad.
The reason was a condition called “Screw tail” or “ingrown tail.” Like all problems, this, too, is borne of intense breeding for recessive traits. The result is a tail that corkscrews and twists back toward the body. It is so tightly twisted that it creates a deep pocket, which invariably becomes infected, fills with pus and exudes an odor that could gag a buzzard.
It hit me as I entered the exam room. The owner looked at me with an apologetic expression while my technician tried to minimize inhalation by breathing only through the mouth.
The stench was not only strong but unrelenting. They had made intensive efforts to keep the tail clean, but it took only a couple of days until it was back. They were truly sad that this had become a major obstacle to keeping Ruby. The pathetic thing was to see poor, sweet Ruby trying to get people to play with her, while for reasons she could not understand, they went to lengths to avoid her.
Fortunately for me, this was the ideal bulldog surgery. Her risk factors were low and she had something I could cure. Surgery involves amputating the tail at its base, while excavating it from its deeply recessed position. With a little nip and tuck, we created a “new” tail, and the odor is gone forever.
Within a day, Ruby was back home and enjoying a closeness with the family like never before. This was truly the perfect case for me, and if you don’t believe me about the tetherball, look at my Instagram page (drbianucci) and watch her crush it.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.