There is a prominent genetic component with bulldogs and spina bifida.  In our opinion, expression of the disease is exacerbated by breeding to attain certain desireable traits. Buster is a tri-color, green eyed English bulldog. Bulldogs with these traits are very rare and can command thousands of dollars.  Gidget was an exotic mini-bulldog.

The Bulldog Club of America discusses the issue of breeding standards and known genetic issues with the breed here:
They defend their position against a study done at UC Davis, A Genetic Assessment of the English Bulldog:
"Dr. Pedersen makes the statement, 'Indeed, English Bulldog breeders appear to be more interested in adding recessive coat color mutation to increase puppy value than eliminating known deleterious mutations…"  "The English bulldog is the most egregious example of getting carried away with oneself in actually designing a dog that’s as far from nature as you can possibly get,” said Pedersen, whose study was published last week in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology. Breeders have, he said, “created a dog that basically has been bred into a corner.”

Bulldog Club of America response:
"BCA is aware of breeders who promote non-standard colors as desirable and “exotic” and who are breeding for an extreme “Bulldog” which does not resemble the approved standard of excellence. One example of an extreme trait that seems to be highly prized in some of these commercial sites is an overly large nose wrinkle. The BCA condemns an overly large wrinkle which could constrict the air flow to the nostrils. These commercial breeders generally refer to the breed as “English Bulldogs” instead of the more proper designation in the United States as “Bulldog.”  The breeders who are working to produce these undesirable colors are color testing their dogs so that they can produce with some certainty these “exotic” colors. In order to produce these undesirable, recessive colors, they must closely inbreed.”

Some further information from an article on the study done at UC Davis:
“Loss of genetic diversity is also pronounced in the region of the genome that contains many of the genes that regulate normal immune responses. The loss of genetic diversity and extreme changes in various regions of the genome will make it very difficult to improve breed health from within the existing gene pool. Loss of present genetic diversity is further threatened by rapid integration of new coat color mutations, increased wrinkling of the coat, and attempts to create a more compact body type. Contrary to current beliefs, brachycephaly and the resulting breathing problems in the breed are the result of complex changes in head structure, and cannot be corrected by merely lengthening the face. Furthermore, other issues in English bulldogs need to be addressed, including many serious health problems that are not associated with brachycephaly, but are intrinsic to inbreeding.”

A movement within dog competitions to promote the health of breeding would send a strong message to breeders that creating "exotic" dogs will not be tolerated.
"Crufts, the world’s largest dog show, had taken bulldogs as well as the Westminster winner, the Pekingese, out of competition, because they had failed veterinary inspections. When I asked my bulldog-owning friends, they all said they weren’t surprised. While they loved their bulldogs, they had all endured health problems with their pets and incurred large veterinary bills." 

"The litany of health problems common to the English bulldog, as the breed is formally known, has been at the center of a controversy over breeding in Britain since 2008. That year, a damning BBC documentary on purebred dogs’ poor health and welfare, “Pedigree Dogs Exposed,” prompted several independent reports and caused the Kennel Club — the British counterpart to the American Kennel Club — to modestly revise its standards for several breeds, including the bulldog."

Similar to Bulldogs bred for "cute flat faces" regardless of health concerns, a recent article also discusses a similar situation with over breeding of French Bulldogs and known breathing issues.

In addition there is a disturbing trend in regards to horses bred to look like cartoon characters:
"Since humans first domesticated animals, they have been selectively breeding for desirable characteristics... In more recent times, this has expanded to include animals with certain aesthetic qualities, resulting in very deformed examples being lauded as having an “ideal” look, despite suffering from serious health and welfare problems. The most obvious examples of this problem are dogs with flat faces – such as pugs and French bulldogs. These brachysephalic dogs have soared in popularity in recent years, but are at high risk of breathing problems, often requiring surgery to improve airflow to the lungs, sometimes an emergency tracheotomy due to acute respiratory distress. As Pete Weddburn, veterinary columnist for The Telegraph, has pointed out, it would be illegal to smother a dog so it could barely breathe, but it is perfectly legal to breed a dog that collapses, unable to get sufficient oxygen due to narrowed and compressed airways.  Snuffling is not cute. And now the trend for exaggerated facial traits appears to be taking hold in horses as well."

To foster responsible breeding and learn more about genetic issues, the Bulldog Club of America has created the BCA Ambassador for Health Awards Program. More information on the program can be found here:; the program encourages Certificates for BAER hearing testing, and participation in the CHIC DNA repository and OFA Spinal Database for the breeder to receive “Health Pioneer” designation.

The following article from 2010 also acknowledges the importance of breeders health testing and registering with the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC), a central database and DNA bank that collects health information about individual dogs, for the betterment of the breed.
"The Bulldog Club of America Charitable Fund is considering funding research of cleft palate, spina bifida and brachycephalic airway syndrome. 'The parent club aims to aid researchers studying these congenital diseases in hopes of finding the genetic mutations," says Hughes. "Cleft palate and spina bifda affect all breeds of dog, as well as humans, and may be preventable with careful breeding.' Cleft palate and spina bifida are developmental defects that occur when puppies are in the womb. Cleft palate is caused by an opening between the nasal and oral cavities, and spina bifida is due to an incompletely formed spinal cord. Health research and the subsequent genetic tests that may result are imperative, says Hugo-Milam. "It is so important for a parent club to stay on top of diseases that affect a breed. Funding research and tracking health test results through CHIC ultimately will help make Bulldogs a healthier breed."

Personally, we don’t think there is any coincidence that Buster is an exotic, recessive, tri-color bulldog and Gidget an exotic mini-bulldog are afflicted with spina bifida. We see it as a breeders responsibility to first produce HEALTHY dogs, not EXOTIC (and more valuable) ones. These dogs are living things, not inventory!

We applaud the BCA’s stance on intentional recessive trait breeding, but would like to see a more aggressive stance taken to limit these practices – up to and including mandatory participation in the CHIC program.