How to Care for a French Bulldog

Some dogs look very serious, while others look just plain goofy, yet the personalities of these breeds often do not match their exterior appearance. The French bulldog is different in that its comically large ears and near-constant smile are a perfect match for its charming, lovable, and playful personality. Is it any wonder that their owners can't get enough of them? Caring for a Frenchie can be fairly simple, but you need to keep in mind some of the quirks of the breed in order to make sure that they stay healthy, happy, and well behaved.

Man embracing his dog
How to Care for a French Bulldog
credit: Anchiy/E+/GettyImages

About French bulldogs

French bulldogs look like slightly smaller versions of the better-known English bulldog, only they have distinctive bat ears, giving them a charmingly oddball appearance. While they rarely grow more than a foot tall, their muscular bodies can be surprisingly hefty, and it is common for the males to weigh up to 28 pounds. These pups come in an array of colors, including fawn, black, white, cream, and various shades of brindle.

French bulldogs are considered part of the companion dog group, and while they would love nothing more than to curl up with their favorite human, their bulldog roots also make them good watch dogs. Frenchies will protect their family and their home with their life if it comes down to it, but they are normally friendly dogs and will not bark excessively.

French bulldogs love attention and cuddles and are not good for those looking for an outside dog or a dog that will be left alone for long periods of time. They usually like other animals and children but should be socialized from an early age in order to ensure that they are not too possessive of their owner or their territory.

Food and exercise requirements

One of the most important aspects of French bulldog care is the proper feeding and exercise of the dog since their low energy levels can easily result in obese pooches. French bulldog puppies should be fed 0.5 cups of high-quality puppy food three times a day until they are about six months old, according to TruDog. After six months, the dog can graduate to an adult diet, eating around 1 to 1.5 cups of high-quality food each day, divided into two meals. As DogTime points out, these numbers should be based on the needs of an individual dog, so you may need to give your dog more or less food depending on his metabolism, size, age, activity level, and the food itself.

While French bulldogs do not require a lot of exercise, it is still important that they get at least half an hour of exercise per day. This can be through structured play time, like chasing a ball, or through walks, ideally two 15-minute walks per day. When exercising your dog, it is very important to recognize that Frenchies are prone to overheating. This means they should be kept indoors in cool, comfortable surroundings when it is particularly hot or humid, and they should never be overexercised.

Always keep cool, fresh water available to your French bulldog at all times. Aside from their propensity to overheat, the dog's tendency to drool a lot leaves them at higher risk for dehydration.

Grooming a French bulldog

French bulldog coats are short, shiny, and smooth, so they do not require much work to maintain. Simply brushing the fur with a medium-bristle brush on a regular basis should keep her coat looking its best by removing loose hair and distributing skin oils throughout the coat.

The French bulldog's distinctively adorable wrinkles need particular attention when grooming because they can easily be subject to bacterial infection. Wash your bulldog once a month or as needed, but wash her face at least once a week or even every other day if she spends a lot of time outside or with other dogs. Be sure to dry out the folds with a towel every time they are washed to prevent bacterial growth. Also take care to clean the ears regularly, cleaning the outside with a warm, damp cloth.

Because a French bulldog's nails do not naturally get worn down, they will need to be trimmed regularly since nails that grow too long can cause pain. If your dog has dry spots on her nose or the edge of her ears, apply baby oil sparingly. Finally, brush your pup's teeth every day using an enzyme-based toothpaste.

Training your Frenchie

French bulldogs are very smart but also very headstrong, so training should begin at an early age. They do take well to training as long as it is fun and involves lots of patience and rewards, preferably in the form of treats. Early training is important in part because it can emphasize the importance of obedience, and this is something with which the headstrong pups are not great. This can be particularly helpful if your dog develops bad habits that need to be corrected later, such as chewing.

The most important aspect of training should be socialization in order to ensure that the pup remains friendly and lovable with other dogs, kids, cats, and people. Bring your pup both to training classes and to parks as well as to other dog-friendly locations in order to expose him to as many new people, places, and situations as possible.

French bulldogs are by nature not ideal for competitive obedience or agility training, though some can overcome their breed's nature and still flourish in these areas.

French bulldog health problems

The American Kennel Club says the lifespan of a French bulldog is around 10 to 12 years, which is a good improvement over their cousins, the English bulldog, who only live eight to 10 years. That being said, they are still prone to health problems, particularly those related to their eyes, joints, mouths, and their ability to breathe. Particular issues Frenchies may exhibit include (but are not limited to):

  • Allergies: Frenchies may have food allergies, contact allergies, or inhalant allergies. They may also have skin problems that can be eased through a special diet. Treatment will vary based on the type and severity of the allergy.

  • Brachycephalic syndrome: This is a condition that results in the dog's airways being obstructed, resulting in problems ranging from noisy or labored breathing to total airway collapse. Treatment for severe cases may require surgery involving the widening of the nostrils or the shortening of the palate.

  • Cleft palate: The palate is the roof of the mouth that separates the mouth and nasal cavities. In dogs with cleft palates, the two sides of the palate do not fuse together, leaving an open slit in the dog's mouth or lip (sometimes called a "harelip"). These can be surgically treated if they present a medical problem.

  • Elongated soft palate: When the soft palate of the mouth is elongated, it can block the airways and cause difficulty breathing. Surgical removal of the excess palate can fix this condition.

  • Hemivertebrae: This is a malformation of one or more vertebrae that can put pressure on the spinal cord and may result in pain, weakness, or paralysis. Treatment may require surgery if there is pressure on the spinal cord.

  • Hip dysplasia: This is a common genetic disorder in dogs that results in the femur not fitting snuggly into the pelvic socket, which may cause immense pain and disability in one or both legs. Surgery can repair any damage, but it can be expensive, and dogs with this condition should not breed.

  • Invertebral disc disease: This occurs when a disc in the spine either ruptures or herniates, pushing upward into the spinal cord and preventing nerve transmissions from traveling through the spinal column. This may result in pain, weakness, and temporary or permanent paralysis and can be treated with dog-friendly nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, massage, electrical stimulation, or surgery, depending on the severity.

  • Patellar luxation: This problem of the knee can result in arthritis or bowleggedness. Severe cases may require surgery.

  • Von Willebrand's disease: This is a blood disorder that can affect the clotting process, making it difficult to stop bleeding after injuries or surgery. While no cure exists, care can be taken to cauterize or suture injuries and to avoid certain medications that may increase bleeding.

It's worth noting that there is an increased risk when performing surgery on any flat-faced dog breed because they are more sensitive to anesthesia. As a result, these dogs should only be put under anesthesia when absolutely necessary for medical purposes.

Choosing a healthy puppy

While there is no way to guarantee your dog will grow up without health problems, those seeking to buy a French bulldog puppy should always look for a reputable breeder who can provide health clearances for both puppy's parents. A health clearance is proof that a dog has been tested and does not have particular health conditions.

With Frenchies, you particularly need to look for dogs who have health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals that will clear the parents from hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand's disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia (a bleeding disorder); and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation, assuring that the dogs have healthy eyes.

While failing to verify these clearances before adopting a dog does not guarantee you will have an unhealthy dog, doing so means you'll have much greater chances of getting a dog without these common genetic health problems. Note that there are not clearances for all the conditions to which the French bulldog is prone.

Keeping Frenchies safe and healthy

As stated earlier, French bulldogs may be predisposed to obesity and heat exhaustion, and owners should take care to keep their dogs at a healthy weight and look for signs of overheating. Ask Frankie says that heat exhaustion symptoms may include excessive panting, lethargy, unusual drooling, and bright red or purple gums. Dogs exhibiting these symptoms should be taken to the vet immediately.

Frenchies can also get too cold easily, which may result in breathing difficulties. As a result, French bulldogs should be kept inside during cold weather and have warm sweaters for when they do go out on chilly days.

Finally, most French bulldogs cannot swim because they are too heavy for their short front legs. This means they should not be left unattended near tubs, pools, or other bodies of water.