Breed Info/Health Issues



A typical Bull Terrier is active, interesting, playful and clownish. It is also extremely attached to its owners or family.

All puppies are extremely "busy" and many continue to be active and playful until well into middle age (5-6 years).  They like to be doing something. For this reason they fit very well into active families where they receive a great deal of companionship and supervision.

They also adapt well to quieter situations such as homes of elderly (but active) retired persons who have a great deal of time to spend with their dog.  They do not do well in situations where they are expected to remain alone in the home or yard for long periods of time or where their physical activity is very restricted, in these situations they become bored and destructive. They will often chew and destroy, are difficult or impossible to housebreak, and develop unpleasant habits such as incessant barking, tail chasing and peculiar personality quirks.

They become very attached to their owners and their families. This usually makes them very good natural guard dogs, but care must be taken that they are not encouraged to become possessive and jealous. While this would seem a desirable attribute for someone who wants a dog to protect his wife and family, it can be a nuisance if the dog does not distinguish between acceptable strangers and malevolent ones.

They like to join family activity and for this reason require constant and firm discipline. They can be wonderful with children if handled with common sense, both by the adults and the children. Bull Terriers will tolerate a large range of children's behaviours but they will not tolerate being teased and can be rough if constantly provoked. They are tireless playmates and will chase balls, follow the children and watch their games for hours on end.

Many can and do enjoy the company of other dogs with certain exceptions. Male Bull Terriers who have not been de-sexed do not, as a rule, get along with other male dogs.  A male and female Bull Terrier can live together quite happily, and two females can sometimes share the same home. Again, care must be taken that jealousies do not arise.

They shed their coats twice a year. Old age brings on the usual battery of infirmities to which Bull Terriers are not immune.  They may well live an active and healthy life until 11 or 12 which is about the normal life span of this breed.

Males and females vary only slightly in temperament. Undesirable tendencies based on the sex drive can be remarkably reduced by de-sexing females as well as males.

Bull Terriers are unique in the spectrum of dogs. They can give tremendous joy or wreak havoc, depending on the time and effort spent by their owners to control and develop their special character. 



GENERAL APPEARANCE - Strongly built, muscular, well balanced and active with a keen, determined and intelligent expression. 

CHARACTERISTICS - The Bull Terrier is the gladiator of the canine race, full of fire and courageous. A unique feature is a downfaced, eggshaped head. Irrespective of size dogs should look masculine and bitches feminine. 

TEMPERAMENT - Of even temperament and amenable to discipline. Although obstinate is particularly good with people. 

HEAD AND SKULL - Head long, strong and deep right to end of muzzle, but not coarse. Viewed from front eggshaped and completely filled, its surface free from hollows or indentations. Top of skull almost flat from ear to ear. Profile curves gently downwards from top of skull to tip of nose which should be black and bent downwards at tip. Nostrils well developed and underjaw deep and strong. 

MOUTH - Teeth sound, clean, strong, of good size, regular with a perfect regular and complete scissor bite, i.e. upper teeth closely overlapping lower teeth and set square to the jaws. Lips clean and tight. 

EYES - Appearing narrow, obliquely placed and triangular, well sunken, black or as dark brown as possible so as to appear almost black, and with a piercing glint. Distance from tip of nose to eyes perceptibly greater than that from eyes to top of skull. Blue or partly blue undesirable. 

EARS - Small, thin and placed closed together. Dog should be able to hold them stiffly erect, when they point straight upwards. 

NECK - Very muscular, long, arched, tapering from shoulders to head and free from loose skin. 

FOREQUARTERS - Shoulders strong and muscular without loading. Shoulder blades wide, flat and held closely to chest wall and have a very pronounced backward slope of front edge from bottom to top, forming almost a right angle with upper arm. Elbows held straight and strong, pasterns upright. Forelegs have strongest type of round, quality bone, dog should stand solidly upon them and they should be perfectly parallel. In mature dogs length of foreleg should be approximately equal to depth of chest. 

BODY - Body well rounded with marked spring of rib and great depth from withers to brisket, so that latter nearer ground than belly. Back short, strong with backline behind withers level, arching or roaching slightly over broad, well muscled loins. Underline from brisket to belly forms a graceful upward curve. Chest broad when viewed from front. 

HINDQUARTERS - Hindlegs in parallel when viewed from behind. Thighs muscular and second thighs well developed. Stifle joint well bent and hock well angulated with bone to foot short and strong. 

FEET - Round and compact with well arched toes. 

TAIL - Short, set on low and carried horizontally. Thick at root, it tapers to a fine point. 


GAIT/MOVEMENT - When moving appears well knit, smoothly covering ground with free, easy strides and with a typical jaunty air. When trotting, movement parallel, front and back, only converging towards centre line at faster speeds, forelegs reaching out well and hindlegs moving smoothly at hip, flexing well at stifle and hock, with great thrust. 


COAT - Short, flat, even and harsh to touch with a fine gloss. Skin fitting dog tightly. A soft textured undercoat may be present in winter. 


COLOUR - For White, pure white coat. Skin pigmentation and markings on head not be penalized. For Coloured, colour predominates; all other things being equal, brindle preferred. Black brindle, red, fawn and tri-colour acceptable. Tick markings in white coat undesirable. Blue and liver highly undesirable. 


SIZE - There are neither weight nor height limits, but there should be the impression of maximum substance for size of dog consistent with quality and sex. 


FAULTS - Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree.  

NOTE - Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.  



The Standard of  the Bull Terrier (Miniature) is the same as that of the Bull Terrier with the exception of the following:

SIZE - Height: should not exceed 35.5 cms (14 ins).  There should be an impression of substance to size of dog.  There is no weight limit.  Dog should at all times be balanced.





The following have been designated as known hereditary health problems affecting the Bull Terrier and Bull Terrier Miniature breeds:



Bull Terriers deaf in one ear are referred to as being “unilaterally deaf” and are sometimes referred to as “Unilaterals”. Unilaterals make perfectly good pets and it is often difficult to recognise that the animal has a problem, as it will soon educate itself to tell where sounds are coming from. A tell tale sign of a Unilateral puppy may be that it runs in the wrong direction when called, or “scans” the horizon when hearing a sound looking to see where it came from. However, this is not always the case and many Unilaterally deaf Bull Terriers will have lived long and happy lives without their owners having the slightest inkling that they cannot hear perfectly. Whilst this is the case, Unilaterals should not be bred from, as it is considered likely that they may pass on this gene to their offspring, and may produce either totally or partially deaf puppies.


Totally deaf Bull Terriers are usually a different matter altogether. They often find it very difficult to adapt to a normal life, are extremely difficult to train and will often not make suitable pets. They can also become defensive if woken suddenly, or startled in any way and for that reason should not be sold or bred from. There are documented cases of deaf Bull Terriers living happy lives, but these are very much the exception rather than the rule and for every happy tale there will be 10 disastrous ones. An experienced and reputable breeder would not knowingly sell a deaf Bull Terrier.


Luckily, it is now possible to test Bull Terriers electronically, to establish exactly how well the animal can hear. This test, known as the B.A.E.R. (Brain Auditory Evoked Response) Test, can carried out from about 5 weeks old and is a fairly simple and straightforward procedure. The test does not hurt or distress the animal in any way, though adult dogs may require a light anaesthetic to ensure that they keep still and enable accurate results to be obtained. Many breeders now have their puppies BAER tested prior to selling them, and the Bull Terrier Club would recommend that anyone purchasing a puppy should insist on a certificate to certify the puppy’s level of hearing. 



Bull Terriers have been identified as being susceptible to varying degrees of heart disease. This usually affects the heart valves, which may fail to close properly, or a narrowing of the arteries. Affected animals can suffer from heart attacks, whilst other signs may be lack of activity or shortness of breath. A vet can usually detect these defects with a simple stethoscope, however, it is recommended that animals which are to be bred from, should first be tested by a registered veterinary cardiologist – who will be able to grade a murmur according to its severity, and will issue a certificate to that effect. Some Bull Terriers may carry a heart murmur all their lives without any ill affects being apparent, but it would be unadvisable to breed from an animal with any heart defect. Puppies can often have a murmur in early life that will disappear, as it gets older, and it is recommended that breeding animals should be heart tested when they are at least 1 year old, prior to breeding.


Inherited Kidney Disease (IKD) has been reported in many breeds of dogs including the Bull Terrier and Miniature Bull Terrier as well as in people.

There are many different types of kidney disease, inherited (or genetic) faults being only one cause. Infections, poisons, some drugs, non-genetic cancers, liver, pancreas, uterine, heart disease or many other diseases can all cause kidney diseases.

The inherited conditions in Bull Terriers can occur in very young (less than six months) middle-aged or very old animals. Some dogs can be 10 years old plus and have the faulty gene in their makeup, pass it on to some of their pups, and may appear normal to their owners. These animals may live to a ripe old age with no one suspecting they have the diseases or have passed it on to their pups.

Signs of kidney failure that are common to both types of IKD and to other causes of kidney failure include the following:

*    poor appetite
*    dullness or lethargy
*    weight loss or stunted growth
*    poor hair coat
*    vomiting/diarrhoea
*    foul breath and mouth ulcers
*    muscle twitching and convulsions
*    drinking excess water and passing too much urine – often noticed in an increase in the urine passed overnight.
*    pale gums (anaemia)
*    dehydration (sticky dry gums)

There  are two types of kidney diseases in Bull Terriers

The first type is polycystic kidney disease (PKD) where the kidneys contain fluid filled cysts (or balls of fluid)  which can be seen by looking at the kidney, for example by using an ultrasound machine, as black "holes" inside the kidneys. At what age this commonly is first detectable is unknown. While it is possible to detect the defect in some dogs as puppies, it may be that in animals it is not obvious until the dog is much older. In this disease a urine test will not pick all affected dogs, so an ultrasound examination is ideal. 

PKD is an inherited kidney disease, thought to be inherited in an autosomal dominant fashion. In PKD, the  kidneys contain fluid filled cysts.

The test for diagnosing this disease is an ultrasound examination on the dog and the test performed by a specialised veterinarian.

It is advisable that all breeding stock should be tested for this inherited problem and any dog found to have the disease, should be removed from any breeding program.

The second condition is nephritis where the kidneys may look fairly normal until a biopsy (or small piece of tissue taken from a live animal) is examined under a microscope. It is not possible to diagnose this disease on the basis of only an ultrasound examination. A urine test or kidney biopsy are the best tests for this disease.

Nephritis is an inherited kidney disease. It is understood to be inherited in an autosomal dominant fashion  (which means that only one parent has to have the fault for half the litter to be affected) 

A urine test - a U P/C test (Urine Protein Creatinine ratio) or a kidney biopsy are the two tests for diagnosis of this disease.

It is advisable that all breeding stock should be tested for this inherited problem and any dog found to have the disease, should be removed from any breeding program.

Both conditions are thought to be inherited by an autosomal dominant fashion, which means that only one parent has to have the fault for half the litter to be affected. If both parents have the fault three-quarters or more of the pups may be affected.

Because of the way these conditions are inherited, there is no point in condemning whole kennels or blood lines. As an affected dog may produce many unaffected pups and these animals do not have the faulty gene/s, these animals are fine to breed with as long as they are regularly tested. They have the virtues present in the lines but without the ‘taint’ of the faulty gene/s.It is advisable that all breeding stock should be tested for this inherited problem and any dog found to have the disease, should be removed from any breeding program.


The patella is a small bone sliding in a groove in the stifle joint - equivalent to the kneecap in the human knee. If the groove is too shallow the patella may slip sideways out of the groove, causing the dog to limp, until it slips back - often seen as a limp, a skip and hop followed by normal movement. The patella may slip out of its groove easily or only occasionally. In a badly affected dog the joint is painful and becomes arthritic. The mode of inheritance is polygenic (controlled by several or many genes) and can only be combated by breeding from unaffected parents. A veterinary surgeon can test the joint by feeling how firmly seated the patella is in its groove.

In simplest terms, this is when the kneecap slips out of place. The range can be mild to severe and depends on how shallow the groove is. The mode of inheritance is understood to be recessive.

It is wise to limit your puppy/adolescent Bull Terrier's activity (i.e. don't allow them to jump from heights etc) to help reduce undue strain on young joints.It is advisable that all breeding stock should be tested for this inherited problem and any dog found to have the disease, should be removed from any breeding program

Skin and Coat

Possibly the most commonly seen ailment in Bull Terriers, skin problems often appear to be allergy related and can be seasonal. The can vary from small rashes and spots, to mange and other conditions, which in extreme cases and left untreated can cause complete loss of hair and the development of “Rhino” type, hard skin. Though not fatal, affected animals can suffer extreme discomfort and itchiness, and there have been cases of animals that have been put to sleep, to save them from further suffering. Why Bull Terriers are particularly susceptible to skin complaints is not proven, but it is believed that their immune system may not be strong enough to deal with problems that they ought to be able to shrug off quite quickly. Skin rashes can easily become infected and for that reason they should be treated early and veterinary advice sought.

Whilst this is not an exhaustive list of disease’s seen in The Bull Terrier, it does cover those that may been seen most commonly and which are thought likely to be hereditary.


Lethal Acrodermatitis

It is a progressively wasting disease that is usually seen at a young age and is lethal within a few months. There is no effective cure for lethal acrodermatitis, but there are some therapies and medication that can be used to help slow down the process and give your dog a better quality of life.
Lethal acrodermatitis is a serious inherited skin condition of Bull Terriers that usually causes death before the dog reaches two years of age. This disease causes severe retardation of growth, thick skin and painful blisters on the muzzle, eyes, nose, ears, feet, and mucous membranes which eventually leads to pneumonia and death. The most commonly affected areas are the muzzle, ears, feet, legs, and groin. Most breeders can recognize the disease in the puppy by the time it is six to eight weeks old because it is less than half the size of the other puppies in the litter and has flat, splayed feet with dermatitis.


 Primary Lens Luxation refers to the displacement, dislocation or slippage of the lens from its normal position in the eye (i.e. behind the iris and on the line of vision).  

There are several causes of lens displacement – e.g.  ocular diseases such as glaucoma or cataract.. This is a serious condition and unless detected early, leads to blindness.  PLL rarely occurs before the dog is 3 years of age.

Sometimes both eyes are affected at the same time but usually there is an interval of weeks or months in between. Once one eye is affected the other will invariably follow sooner or later.

The mode of inheritance in the Bull Terrier (Miniature) is not yet proven but it is thought to be inherited as a recessive trait.


Contact Details
Bull Terrier Club of South Australia Inc
Adelaide, SA
Email : [email protected]

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