Why do Bulldogs Have Flat Faces?

Squishy, fat, flat, and wrinkly. These are the iconic features of an English bulldog’s face. The scientific name for flat-faced dogs is brachycephalic. The name stems from the Greek words for ‘short’ and head’.

Why do Bulldogs have flat faces?

Researchers and vets have attributed the flat-shaped face of dog breeds like bulldogs to genetic mutation and selective breeding. Breeders used selective breeding to pass on the flat-face trait, since that was popular and useful for bull baiting, which is what the bulldog breed was created for.

For a long time, researchers have attributed the flat-shaped face of dog breeds like bulldogs to selective breeding. However, scientists have continued to do research to establish the exact DNA roots resulting in the flat faces that bulldogs have.

A recent study involving DNA analysis has inched scientists closer to discovering the genetic mutation resulting in the flat-shaped face in bulldogs (Merchant et al., 2017). In the 2017 study, scientists at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute did a DNA analysis of samples from 374 pet dogs of different breeds. They were able to compare the genetic data and skull measurements of the pet dogs.

Through this, scientists noted DNA variations associated with various head shapes. The study found that there was one variation that disrupted the activity of a gene known as SMOC2, and this variation is connected to the length of a dog’s face.

Dog breeds that had the mutation had flatter faces than other breeds. Thus, the more the mutation holds back the SMOC2 gene, the flatter the head of the dog.

What are the downsides of dogs having flat faces?

There are various downsides associated with dogs, like bulldogs, that have flat faces. Blue Cross for Pets (2019) cites that dogs with flat faces are vulnerable to health problems, with the major problem related to breathing. Dogs that have flat faces are prone to developing a condition known as a brachycephalic syndrome.

This condition makes it difficult for them to breathe properly. The windpipe of flat-faced brachycephalic breeds is usually narrow, which limits their oxygen intake. Another factor that contributes to breathing problems among brachycephalic dogs is that they have narrowed nostrils that make it difficult for them to breathe properly.

Heart problems are also common among dog breeds with flat faces. Bulldogs, for example, don’t have enough oxygen flowing into their bloodstream because of shortened airways. Consequently, Poncet et al. (2005) assert that this leads to strenuous breathing and, eventually might develop in to heart problems.

In addition, tooth problems are common among dogs with a flat face. Since their teeth are forced to fit into a smaller surface area compared to dog breeds with longer snouts, they are highly likely to develop tooth problems like gum disease.

Also, the chances of bulldogs and other brachycephalic breeds developing neurological problems are high since their skulls are compressed (Schoenebeck et al., 2012).

Unethical breeding practices for a flat-faced look

The extreme physical features of a bulldog make it stand out from other dog breeds. Unfortunately, it’s these features that also make it be subject to unethical breeding practices. The desire to own these flat-faced beauties has unfortunately led some people to practice unethical breeding to make this brachycephalic breed more marketable (Gabbard, 2019).

The problem is that some selective breeding of bulldogs has led to more extreme traits like bigger and flatter faces. Over the years, some bulldog breeding has centered on making the dogs’ heads larger to maintain a marketable and desired look.

How to care for a bulldog’s flat face

It’s important to take good care of your bulldog’s flat face because it can accumulate dirt more easily within it’s wrinkles. The wrinkles on a bulldog’s face are a potential breeding ground for bacteria and other harmful germs.

Thus, a bulldog’s face should be cleaned regularly because if it isn’t, it could lead to infections. For this reason, it’s imperative to clean the facial folds multiple times a week. During the summer, it’s important to clean a bulldog’s face more times to avoid irritations and skin infections.

As you clean, start by wiping each facial fold to get rid of bacteria and fragments. Ensure that you wipe clean each facial fold so that you don’t distribute bacteria and other germs. Also, make sure that you remove excess moisture from your bulldog’s flat face to avoid irritation.

In the same vein, don’t be too aggressive as you clean the face as this could irritate the skin.

Other dog breeds with flat faces

Apart from the bulldog, there are other breeds with flat faces that are worthy of a mention. Some of them include:

English bulldog stretching
English bulldog stretching
  • Pug
  • Neapolitan Mastiff
  • Pekingese
  • Bullmastiff
  • Brussels Griffon
  • English Toy Spaniel
  • Boxer

These dog breeds have exaggerated physical features that are different from other dogs. They are popular for their unique features like flat faces, round skulls, chubby limbs, prominent eyes as well as their small jaws and noses.


Bulldogs and other flat-faced dogs have continued to rise in popularity as a result of their unique features. The flat face is a standout feature that has made bulldogs extremely popular.

However, it’s imperative to take note of the health problems associated with the flat face of bulldogs. If not taken care of properly, bulldogs are highly vulnerable to multiple health issues because of the makeup of their faces and their components.

Thus, it’s advisable that proper care is provided to them. Also, cleaning their flat faces regularly is an important step in maintaining their health.


American Kennel Club. (2019). Bulldog

Blue Cross for Pets (2019). Things to think about before buying a flat-faced (brachycephalic) dog.

Gabbard, J. (2019). What Unethical Breeding Has Done To Bulldogs

Merchant, T.W., Johnson, E.J., McTeir, L.,……….& Schoenebeck, J.J. (2017). Canine Brachycephaly Is Associated with a Retrotransposon-Mediated Missplicing of SMOC2. Current Biology, 27 (11).

Poncet C.M. Dupre G.P. Freiche V.G. Estrada M.M. Poubanne Y.A. Bouvy B.M. (2005). Prevalence of gastrointestinal tract lesions in 73 brachycephalic dogs with upper respiratory syndrome. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 46: 273-279.

Schoenebeck J.J. Hutchinson S.A. Byers A. Beale H.C. Carrington B. Faden D.L. Rimbault M. Decker B. Kidd J.M. Sood R. et al. (2012). Variation of BMP3 contributes to dog breed skull diversity. PLoS Genet, 8: e1002849.

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