Ambassador For Health Program Is Helping To Advance Bulldog Health


Co-owners Dave Berrey of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and Jay Serion of Seattle, who handled Decker in shows, consider it important to continue the health testing begun by the breeders. The winningest male Bulldog in the past 20 years, Decker, who earned 18 Bests in Show, is passing on his handsome phenotype and healthy genotype as a stud dog, having currently sired 15 litters.

Decker was bred by longtime Bulldog breeders Dr. Joel and Cindy Wilson of Shawnee, Oklahoma, who have produced 24 show champions under the JWilson prefix. “Basically, when you consider a dog’s phenotype, whether the dog has good ears or a good tail set, it tells you nothing about the dog’s health,” says Dr. Wilson, a veterinarian.

“This is why health tests, particularly DNA tests for genetic diseases, are important. Without health testing, you are making an educated guess about the health status of a sire and dam,” he continues. “When you know the results of genetic tests, whether a dog is clear, a carrier or affected, it allows you to breed responsibly. Overall, the health of the breed has improved tremendously over the past 15 to 20 years, thanks to health testing.”

“We are proud that Decker has passed the breed health tests and is an ambassador for the breed,” Serion says. “Our goal is to show the public that Bulldogs bred responsibly and conforming to the standard can and should be athletic and healthy.”

Decker’s sire, GCH Wilson-Dixon’s Wd-40 (“Slick”), also is a platinum member of the Ambassador program. His dam, CH Wilson’s Temple Tantrum (“Temple”), who died when Decker’s litter was 3 days old from gastric dilatation-volvulus, or bloat, was a bronze member. Through health testing, the Wilsons learned that Slick is a carrier for Type III cystinuria, a genetic disease in which there is a linked marker test. The potentially fatal disease, only expressed in intact adult males, can cause cystine stones to form in the kidney, bladder or ureter leading to blockage of the urethra.

The success of the Ambassador for Health Program, which was founded in 2007 to encourage Bulldog breeders and owners to participate in health testing, led to a new diamond level being introduced in 2017. The program recognizes those who participate in health screenings with tiered levels of recognition based on the number of health tests an individual dog has passed. A passing result is not required for the genetic tests, cystinuria and hyperuricosuria, a disorder in which dogs produce urine with high levels of uric acid that can lead to bladder or kidney stones.

“We are pleased to add the diamond level for dogs that have been tested for all eligible health tests,” says founder Dan Bandy of Shawnee, Oklahoma. “In 2016, we had a record number of dogs that achieved platinum status. This prompted us to add the diamond level as an incentive so Bulldog enthusiasts will continue health testing their dogs.

“The more knowledge breeders have about health conditions in individual dogs, the better equipped they are to make responsible breeding decisions. Breeders are the first line of defense when it comes to producing healthy dogs.”

Ambassador Program in 10th Year
The Bulldog Ambassador for Health Program awards five levels of recognition, starting with bronze for dogs that have had four health tests and going up to diamond for dogs that have had all eligible tests. When the program launched in 2007, there were five health tests: cardiac, patella, thyroid, elbows, and hips. Three additional tests have been added since then: tracheal hypoplasia, hyperuricosuria and cystinuria.

At the Bulldog Club of America (BCA) National Specialty banquet, dogs that have attained the highest levels, platinum and diamond, over the past year are recognized, though all dogs that have attained an award level are listed in the banquet program. “One month before the National, we request certifications for all levels so we can include these dogs at the banquet and list them in the program,” Bandy says.

“The Ambassador program is designed to be adaptable,” he adds. “Our goal has always been to make changes as needed to improve Bulldog health.”

The Ambassador program also includes a Health Pioneer award for Bulldogs that participate in a BCA-funded study. Among those opportunities are two genetic studies underway. Pulmonic stenosis, an inherited heart disease, is being investigated at the University of California-Davis, and fetal anasarca, an abnormal accumulation of body fluids resulting in swelling often leading to C-section deliveries and puppies born stillborn or that die shortly after birth, is being studied at the University of Illinois.

The Ambassador for Health Program aligns with the health tests for Bulldogs that are part of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals’ (OFA) Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). One of 178 breeds that participate in CHIC, the Bulldog Club of America joined in 2006.

The parent club has designated three required health tests and six optional tests for CHIC. Required tests mean a dog must have them to qualify for a CHIC number. Optional tests are not required for a dog to earn a CHIC number, but the Bulldog Club of America encourages the additional testing due to the importance of these conditions in the breed.

“CHIC is not about normalcy,” says Eddie Dziuk, OFA Chief Operating Officer. “It is about encouraging health screening in accordance with a parent club’s testing protocol, sharing the test results in the public domain, and increasing health awareness. The idea is to improve the overall health of the breed and allow breeders to make informed breeding decisions.”

“Before breeding, I always search the OFA’s database for sires,” Bandy says. “It is so important for owners of bitches to find a healthy male to which to breed, and this can be difficult because owners often do not make health test results public. I often have had to do a lot of legwork myself by reaching out to owners for more information. Additionally, some Bulldog owners are concerned they will sacrifice breed type if they focus on health testing.

“My bitch, CH Major League Dash of Diva, passed screenings for cardiac, patella, thyroid, trachael hypoplasia, hip, and elbow certification, but she was a carrier for hyperuricosuria. It was important to me to find a male that tested clear in order to not reproduce this recessive disease. Breeding clear to carrier would allow me to breed away from this condition without producing affected dogs.

“I bred ‘Diva’ to a Bulldog that was clear for hyperuricosuria. A male out of this litter, GCH Pop-A-Top Deal Me In (‘Gambler’), became the No. 1 owner-handled Bulldog in 2016 shown by Dr. Jaime Vasquez. For Diva’s last litter, I had learned that she also was a carrier for cystinuria, so I bred her to a male that was clear for both genetic conditions. It is a nice litter, and I hope to finish two of those puppies.”

In 2001, OFA, along with the American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Health Foundation, launched CHIC as a centralized database to store health test results about individual dogs. Since then, nearly 115,000 dogs, 965 of which are Bulldogs, have been issued CHIC numbers for being health tested according to their breed-specific health testing requirements.

Within the CHIC program, the CHIC DNA Repository collects and stores DNA samples for future health research. The DNA bank contains more than 23,000 DNA samples, of which 93 are Bulldogs.

CHIC is a valuable resource for dog breeders because they can make informed breeding decisions. When breeders include health data from a sire and dam in their selection criteria, they are making a more informed breeding decision, hopefully applying selective pressure to decrease the number of deleterious disease liability genes and improve the probability of healthy genes.

Health Testing for Responsible Breeding
Hug-O-Bull Bulldog breeder Elizabeth Hugo-Milam of Newcastle, Oklahoma, has been health testing her Bulldogs for many years. She is a second-generation Bulldog breeder, following in the footsteps of her parents, Frank and Norma Hugo, who founded the kennel in 1967. Hugo-Milam is proud to have bred and/or owned more than 70 show champion Bulldogs. She also is proud that close to 20 of her Bulldogs have qualified for CHIC numbers and seven have been recognized in the Ambassador for Health Program.
“Years before we began the Ambassador program, I started including in my ads information about my Bulldogs passing their cardiac and patella luxation tests,” she says. “I found that this increased interest from others who were looking for healthy breeding stock.”

As the health chair of BCA for many years, Hugo-Milam was excited to help develop the Ambassador program when Bandy sought her expertise. “The program has been so successful, it is now atypical if breeders do not participate in health testing,” she says. “Health screening has really taken off in the past two years. I think that is largely due to the Ambassador program and funding of health research by the parent club and its nonprofit Bulldog Club of America Charitable Fund (BCACF).”

Founded in 1999, BCACF was introduced to better the breed through funding and support of health research of conditions that breeders or owners experience in their dogs and through breed education. In the past two years, BCACF has provided funding of $57,000 for studies of cystinuria, pulmonic stenosis and anasarca.

One recent study sponsored by BCACF, and supported by the AKC Canine Health Foundation, aims to identify genetic markers of pulmonic stenosis, a heart disease in which a narrowing of the opening of the pulmonary artery, usually due to an abnormal pulmonic valve, can be fatal. Led by Joshua Stern, DVM, PhD, DACVIM-Cardiology, of the University of California-Davis, the goal is to identify the mutation that will enable a genetic test to aid breeding decisions and potentially reduce the prevalence of the condition in Bulldogs.

BCACF also provided funding to the first 100 people who took part in a study to develop a grading system to determine normal Bulldog trachea size. The study, done in conjunction with OFA, provided the tracheal hypoplasia size requirement used for the health test added in 2009. Greg Keller, DVM, DACVR, OFA Chief of Veterinary Services, a board-certified radiologist, presented findings that set the requirement in which Bulldogs’ trachea must be two times wider than the third proximal rib, with no narrowing of the trachea, as determined by radiography.

Examples of educational efforts funded by BCACF include supporting programs hosted by the BCA Health and Education Committee, such as the cardio clinic and other health clinics held annually at the BCA National Specialty. Reimbursement for radiographs needed for the tracheal hypoplasia study and for blood and tissue samples for the anasarca study also are part of the effort.

Collectively, there are several programs aimed at helping Bulldog breeders and owners recognize potential health conditions in their dogs and that provide opportunities for them to participate in studies to gain knowledge. Bandy and Hugo-Milam agree that the Ambassador for Health Program has played an important role in increasing awareness and participation in health testing among Bulldog enthusiasts.

“It is so important for a parent club to be aware of diseases that affect a breed,” Bandy says. “The Bulldog Ambassador program provides that connection between breeders and owners and the parent club. It is great to be involved in helping our breed move forward toward improved health and longevity.”

Purina appreciates the support of the Bulldog Club of America and particularly Elizabeth Hugo-Milam, chair of the BCA Health Committee, in helping to identify topics for the Purina Pro Plan Bulldog Update newsletter.

Health Screening Criteria for the Bulldog Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) & Ambassador For Health* Programs

Required Health Tests

Minimum Age of Testing


Patella Luxation*

1 Year of Age

Examination for luxating patella, a painful, potentially crippling genetic disease that occurs when the patella (kneecap) pops out of place

Cardiac Evaluation*


1 Year of Age

Congenital cardiac exam by a veterinarian, preferably by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist using an echocardiogram, or an advanced cardiac exam by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist (should be performed annually for renewed certification)

Tracheal Hypoplasia*

1 Year of Age

Radiograph evaluation to determine tracheal hypoplasia, a congenital condition affecting the size of tracheal cartilage rings and breathing

Optional Health Tests

Minimum Age of Testing



No Minimum

Eye examination performed by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist

Hip Dysplasia*

2 Years of Age

Radiograph evaluation for hip dysplasia

Elbow Dysplasia*

2 Years of Age

Radiograph evaluation for elbow dysplasia

Autoimmune Thyroiditis*

1 Year of Age

Blood testing to determine thyroiditis, the most common cause of hypothyroidism

Congenital Deafness

35 Days Old

BAER hearing test


No Minimum

DNA test to determine hyperuricosuria, a condition that causes dogs to produce urine with high levels of uric acid and can lead to bladder or kidney stones

Cystinuria* **

No Minimum

DNA test to determine cystinuria, or cystine stones in the kidney, bladder or ureter. Failure by the kidneys to reabsorb amino acids results in the formation of crystals and stones that can lead to blockage of the urethra

** Cystinuria is not an optional health test in the CHIC program, though it is recognized in the Ambassador for Health program.