What to Know About French Bulldogs

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen Claussen, DVM on May 19, 2022
8 min read

French bulldogs are recognizable by their small stature and large ears. They have an affectionate nature and make wonderful companions and good family dogs. However, they can be prone to canine health problems and require some special care. Talk to a vet or breeder to get complete information about French bulldogs before deciding if it’s the right kind of dog for you. 

French Bulldogs, sometimes called Frenchies, are easy to recognize. They have a distinctive appearance that's a big part of their appeal, along with their outgoing personality. They don't have a breed-specific history of illnesses. However, they commonly tend to have orthopedic issues and respiratory problems. The average lifespan of a French bulldog is 10 to 12 years.

Physical characteristics. French bulldogs are small dogs, though solidly built. The breed standard specifies the maximum French bulldog weight is 28 pounds. They have a large, squarish head, with a short snout and large eyes. Their large bat-like ears are their most distinctive characteristic.

Show quality French bulldogs are white, cream, fawn, or some combination of those colors. If you're looking for a companion Frenchie who doesn't need to meet the strict show dog guidelines, you can find them with black, tan, liver, or merle-colored coats. All French Bulldogs have short, smooth coats over loose, wrinkled skin.

Personality. The French bulldog personality is friendly and affectionate, making them good family dogs. They were bred to be lapdogs suited to life in the city. They love people, and they are usually good with children. They are described as playful and comical.

Frenchies may or may not get along with other household pets. Some Frenchies may be territorial and may not want other dogs or cats in their home. Talk to a dog trainer about how to introduce a French bulldog to your other pets.

They don't bark a lot, but they are protective of their homes and families. They'll raise the alarm if they think something is wrong. Despite their loyalty to their owners, they usually warm up to new people easily.

They are very playful, but their energy level is moderate, so they're happy to get a lot of rest. They only need a moderate amount of exercise. Too much exercise can even be hard on their delicate joints. They're easy to train and eager to please.

French bulldogs don't require specialized grooming but need other care due to their physical characteristics.  

Grooming. Frenchies have short, smooth coats that don't require complicated grooming, so they shed only a moderate amount. Since they're not dogs that run around and wear down their toenails naturally, they usually need regular nail trimming. Their large ears and wrinkled faces require regular, careful cleaning. If dirt and debris get trapped in their ears or skin folds, it can cause irritation or infection.

French bulldogs are prone to dental problems, so you should brush their teeth regularly. Your vet can perform complete dental cleanings as needed. Trim your pet's nails as needed or take them to a groomer to get it done professionally.

Diet. You can feed French bulldogs quality dog food unless they have a known health issue that requires special food. Your vet can recommend appropriate food. They are prone to being overweight, so don't overfeed Frenchies.

Exercise. Most French bulldogs don't require much exercise. One or two short walks a day is enough, though you may need to take them outdoors more often if you don't have a yard. If you have a yard, make sure it's secure, and your dog can't run off if you let them out alone. Frenchies should not be allowed to jump on and off furniture since that can cause joint damage.

Your Frenchie will be happiest in mild temperatures. Like many short-nosed breeds, they can have breathing difficulties that allow them to overheat easily, which can lead to a medical emergency. They should not be outdoors for too long in high temperatures, and they shouldn't over-exert themselves during exercise. During warm weather, keep an eye out for  signs of overheating such as panting and excessive thirst. If your dog shows symptoms such as drooling, dizziness, changes in the color of their gums, lethargy or sudden collapse, call the vet immediately. These are signs of heatstroke, which is a medical emergency.

Vet Care. Like all dogs, you'll need to take a French bulldog for regular vet visits. They are prone to infections like rabies, parvovirus, or kennel cough, so you should keep their vaccines current. Annual vet exams can detect health concerns before they become serious problems.

All dogs are susceptible to fleas, ticks, and heartworm. Talk to your vet about flea and tick risks in your area and what measures you should take to avoid them. Your vet can prescribe heartworm preventatives that your dog can take once a month, as well as injectable forms that last for 6 to 12 months.

Like a lot of purebred dogs, French bulldogs are prone to a range of health problems. Most problems crop up when a Frenchie is 2 or 3 years old. The types of health problems that affect Frenchies may be chronic. Your dog may require specialized care for the rest of their life. This is an important factor to consider if you are thinking of getting a French bulldog. 

Orthopedic Problems. Frenchies tend to experience:

  • Patella luxation. Your dog's knee caps can become dislocated and affect their ability to walk. There is surgery to correct the issue and prevent permanent joint damage. 
  • Hip dysplasia. This is a genetic condition where a dog's hip joint doesn't develop properly. Over time, the condition can lead to mobility problems for a Frenchie. You can prevent hip dysplasia from getting worse by limiting exercise and keeping your dog at a healthy weight.
  • Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD). This spinal condition causes the discs between vertebrae to bulge into the spinal cord space. The effects are pain, nerve damage, and paralysis. This can be a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment from a vet who specializes in IVDD. Symptoms include difficulty walking, inability to support their own weight, reluctance to move, changes in posture, crying out or whimpering from pain, or incontinence. The symptoms may appear suddenly after something as normal as jumping off a couch. If your dog has symptoms of IVDD contact a vet immediately. Without prompt treatment, your dog risks permanent damage to their spine. If your dog has early signs of IVDD, you can slow the condition's progression by preventing your dog from jumping and keeping them at a healthy weight.

Skin Conditions. Some skin conditions Frenchies may experience include:

  • Allergies. French bulldogs can suffer from allergies that cause itchy skin and irritation to their paws, as well as sneezing and watery eyes. Your vet can suggest medication to control allergy symptoms.
  • Skin Fold Dermatitis or Pyoderma. The cute folds around a Frenchie's head and neck can become irritated or develop bacterial infections. You might see the irritation or notice our dog scratching or licking the area. You can prevent this by keeping the skin clean and dry. If you notice a skin infection, your vet can suggest appropriate treatment.  

Ear and Eye Problems. Auditory and visual issues that French bulldogs typically experience include:

  • Otitis Externa. Frenchies have narrow ear canals that can harbor bacteria that lead to ear infections. In addition, Frenchies may be prone to fungal infections caused by organisms such as yeast that become overgrown in the ear. Symptoms of an ear infection include redness, odor, or discharge from their ears. They might shake their head or paw at their ears. Your vet can prescribe medication to clear up the infection. Cleaning their ears on a regular basis helps prevent future infections. 
  • Pinkeye. Just like humans, dogs can get a common eye infection called conjunctivitis, also known as pinkeye. Redness, swelling, or discharge are signs of pinkeye. Your vet can prescribe medicine to heal the infection.
  • Corneal Issues. French bulldogs' large, bulging eyes are extra vulnerable to injury. You can reduce the chances of that by avoiding exposure to sand, dust, or other fine debris. Symptoms of eye injury may include your pet excessively rubbing or pawing at their eye, holding their eyelids closed, or squinting. Eye injuries need prompt care to prevent permanent damage. If you think your dog has an eye injury, they should be seen by a veterinarian right away.

Breathing Problems. Frenchies typically experience brachycephalic airway syndrome. Like all dogs with short snouts, French bulldogs have some degree of BAS. The shape of their faces means their soft palate is too long and obstructs their windpipe. They also tend to have narrow nostrils, which makes breathing more difficult. Your dog might exhibit signs of sleep apnea, exercise intolerance, or frequent gagging and vomiting. Surgery can correct the problem. 

When it’s warm outside, always be mindful of your Frenchie becoming overheated. If your dog starts panting and gets really thirsty, head inside quickly. If any other symptoms surface, like dizziness, lethargy, or sudden collapse, your dog may have heatstroke. This is a medical emergency that needs immediate attention from a vet.

Frenchies are one breed of dog that can't safely dog paddle. Their large heads make them liable to tip forward and drown if they try to swim. For their own safety, never leave Frenchies unsupervised near water.

Breeding French bulldogs takes special knowledge and skill. Many male dogs can't successfully mate with female dogs. Breeders rely on artificial insemination when they want to produce puppies. In addition, female Frenchies have difficulty delivering puppies without medical assistance. Many need cesarean surgeries to give birth.

French bulldogs aren't actually from France, at least not originally. The breed originated in Nottingham, England, in the late 19th century when breeders started selectively breeding bulldogs to create small lap dogs. Many workers in the area kept the toy-sized bulldogs, including women who handmade lace for sale. During the Industrial Revolution, lacemakers emigrated to France to find work, taking their dogs with them.

The small, friendly, loyal dogs caught on in Paris. They were immediately popular among shop owners and the working class. Eventually, high society took note of the little dogs, and soon they were everywhere.

Over time, the appearance of the dogs changed, and different types of French bulldogs emerged. Over generations of breeding, they lost the underbite characteristic of English bulldogs. American travelers brought them to the United States, where the signature bat-ear trait was popularized.

If you want to bring home a French bulldog, talk to your vet about how to prepare for a new dog. Your vet may be able to recommend a reputable breeder in your area so you can be assured of finding a healthy dog to be your new best friend.