What to Know About Bichon Frises

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on April 24, 2022
7 min read

Bichons frises are small dogs with curly white coats and lots of personality. They originated around the Mediterranean and were favorites of Renaissance royalty. They came to the United States around 1950 and have become popular as show dogs, companion dogs, and therapy dogs.

Bichon frises are small, compact dogs. The official standard of the American Kennel Club (AKC) states that they should be between 9 and 12 inches at the withers. They have a white coat that curls softly and a dense undercoat that gives the whole coat a springy, plush feel. 

Their round, dark eyes look directly forward and are surrounded by dark halos. They have drop ears covered with long hair. 

Bichons have a proud posture, with their heads held erect. Their tails curve over their back. Their most common expression is alert and inquisitive. 

Bichons move with an easy, graceful trot. Overall, they give the impression of being cheerful, playful, and sociable.

Bichon frise life expectancy is like that of other dogs of similar size. They usually live from 12 to 13 years, although there is a reliable record of at least one bichon living to 19. 

The bichon frise temperament makes them excellent pets. They are: 

  • Playful. Bichons are active, moderately high-energy dogs. They love to play. They also require some mental stimulation, but not as much as some dogs. 
  • Easy to work with. Because they like pleasing their owners, bichons are easily trainable. They are also flexible and handle change well. They seldom overreact to loud noises, weather, and changes in their environment.
  • Moderately protective. Bichons are curious and notice everything, but they aren't particularly protective or territorial. They also aren't wary of strangers, so you shouldn't have to worry about having guests in your home. 

Coat care. Bichons don't shed because dropped hairs stay in their coat. They need frequent brushing, however, to prevent their coats from matting. Mats can cause dogs to develop hematomas, their blood collecting in one spot and clotting. Bichons may get ear hematomas in particular if the hair on their ears forms a mat. 

Most owners take their bichons for a professional grooming and clipping every month or two.

Feeding. Bichons do well on any high-quality dog food that is appropriate for their life stage. Some dogs become overweight, so be sure your dog isn't eating too much. If you use treats during training, bear in mind the calorie count of the treats. 

Exercise. Bichons are moderately active. Typically, they alternate between long periods of inactivity and bursts of energy. They will need regular walks and additional playtime. 

Protection against fleas and ticks. Yes, fleas and ticks are a nuisance. Because they transmit disease, they can also be a threat to the health of you and your pet. Many products on the market can control these parasites, though. Your pet's breed, age, and state of health will determine the best product. Ask your veterinarian how to protect your bichon. 

Protection against wormsYour bichon can get hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, and whipworms. These parasites can enter dogs' bodies when they drink water or walk on soil that contains the worms. Mosquitos can transmit some parasites. Your vet can test your bichon regularly and advise about treatment if necessary.

Tooth and nail care. Dental issues are a major health problem for dogs, and bichons may be more prone to tooth problems than some other breeds. Some bichons start losing their teeth around age 7. You can minimize dental problems by brushing your dog's teeth daily. Your bichon should also have an annual dental exam and cleaning. Be on the lookout for signs of tooth problems, such as loose teeth or red gums. You should also trim your bichon's nails regularly.

Best Home Environment. Because bichons are sociable, they are well-suited to indoor life and make good city dogs. The Bichon frise size allows them to live comfortably in apartments. Living outdoors, in fact, can be a problem because their coats get dirty and matted.

Vet visits. Puppies will need to see a vet for shots several times during their first year. After that, they should see the vet once a year unless they have a problem. Some recommend that senior dogs should go twice a year. 

The law requires that dogs get certain vaccinations. Others can be requested following more of a judgment call. Dogs that spend a lot of time in the outdoors and with other dogs may need more frequent boosters than dogs who stay at home.   

The Bichon Frise Club of America states bichons are a healthy breed. With proper care, they should live long lives. 

While serious health issues are rare, though, bichons may be susceptible to the following conditions.

AIHA. In cases of autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA), the body's immune system attacks the red blood cells. Dogs with AIHA become weak and lethargic. They may have dark urine, pale gums, rapid heartbeat, vomiting, and diarrhea. AIHA can strike a dog at almost any age. Steroid therapy is the main treatment. Blood transfusions may also be necessary.

IPT. In cases of immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (IPT), the immune system attacks blood platelets, causing hemorrhages. This disorder is like AIHA and sometimes appears with it.

Liver shunts. Bichons can be born with a condition in which some blood vessels bypass the liver, leaving toxins in the blood. Dogs that have a severe form of the defect are often diagnosed early. Others may be diagnosed later. This condition can cause distinctive symptoms, including walking in circles, drooling, and seizures. Corrective surgery is the best treatment.

Eye problems. Bichons are at risk of developing eye problems such as glaucoma and cataracts. Cataracts usually happen in older dogs. Other eye problems can occur at any age. Surgery can correct many eye problems. If they are not corrected, they may lead to blindness.

Joint problems. Bichons can have problems with their knees slipping out of place. They can also have hip and elbow problems and can develop arthritis. Young bichons can have Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease, a condition that also affects the hip. 

Other bichon frise health issues include:

  • Are bichons good with other pets? Bichons get along well with other dogs and are a good fit for families with more than one dog. 
  • Are they good with children? Bichons frises are well-suited to family life. They are good with those of all ages, including children, although you should always supervise dogs around young children.
  • Do they cause allergies? Bichons don't shed because dropped hairs stay in their coat. This characteristic causes some people to label bichons as hypoallergenic. People who are allergic to pets usually react to hair, saliva, and dander (skin flakes). Bichons still produce these, so an allergic person could still react to them, but the bichon's dense coat traps many allergens.
  • Do they bark a lot? Although there can be differences in individual dogs, most bichons aren't problematic barkers.
  • Do they drool a lot? Most dogs that drool excessively have a lot of extra skin around the muzzle. That's not true of the bichon. You'll get some drool, but it shouldn't be excessive.
  • Are they high-strung? Bichons can be snappy if stressed, but normally, they are happy-go-lucky dogs. That said, they can have separation anxiety when their owners are away too long. 
  • Are they easy to housebreak? Although bichons are easy to train, they can be hard to housebreak. 

The breed we know as the bichon frise originated around the Mediterranean Sea. They were popular with sailors, who bartered them for goods. Bichons eventually made their way to the largest of the Canary Islands, Tenerife, where they developed as a more distinctive breed. 

Beginning around 1300, bichons became popular with the royal families of Europe. Bichons often appear in their portraits. When the French Revolution threw the aristocracy into chaos, street entertainers adopted the clever little dogs. Soon, they appeared in circuses as well.

The two world wars threatened the bichons again. A few people who were fond of the little dogs, though, saw to their survival. The French canine club recognized them in 1933, naming them “Bichon a Poil Frisé,” or "bichon of the curly hair".

In 1956, a couple brought six bichons to the United States and began breeding them. The AKC added the breed to its Miscellaneous class in 1971. Full recognition came in 1973, when the AKC added the breed to the Non-Sporting class. Bichons quickly started claiming medals. 

In 2001, a bichon known as JR won Best in Show at both the Westminster Dog Show and the AKC National Championship. In 2018, a second bichon claimed top honors at Westminster. 

The bichon frise ranks #47 on the AKC's 2021 list of the most popular breeds.