The Breed History
The history of the breed is centered in the Mediterranean. The Barbet Water Spaniel was the chief progenitor of the breed, and the name Bichon evolved from Barbichon, the intermediate ancestor. Four regional varieties (Bichon Havanais, Bolognais, Teneriffe and Maltais) developed. They were favored companions to French and Italian nobility. Frise is a French term to describe their frizzy, soft hair. They were brought to United States in the mid 1950s, and the first registry in the AKC studbook dates to 1972.
Breeding for Function
This dog was bred for companionship, though their origins from water spaniels give them talents that would be useful for hunting. They were popular in Belgium, but also became a favored trick-performing dog in the late 1800s.
Height at Withers: 9.5-11.5 " (24-29 cm).
Weight: 7-12 lb (3-6 kg).
Coat: Their distinctive white coat is double, with a dense soft inner coat and curly fine outer coat. It is springy and stands up when groomed to give an appearance described as "powder puff". Some dogs have a hint of cream, buff, gray or apricot to the hairs. They have high grooming needs including regular trimming, and are low shedder and low allergen dogs.
Longevity: 14-16 years. Oldest recorded was 21 yrs.
Points of Conformation: This dog is sturdily built and the profuse haircoat is a distinct feature of the breed. The skull is somewhat rounded, a distinct stop is present, and the nose is large and pigmented black. The round eyes are dark brown and palpebral margins and skin around (halo) is black. Ears are pendulous with fine leathers, and the neck is long with a high head carriage. Limbs are straight, and the feet compact. The topline is fairly level, and thorax is deep with moderately sprung ribs; the abdomen has a moderate tuck. Slightly longer than high, they should appear to move effortlessly. Plumed tails are carried over the back, reaching about half way up to withers but the tail bones should not be resting on the back, and a corkscrew tail is considered a serious fault.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
This type of dog is ascribed as: Friendly, with an outgoing temperament. Fear biter or separation anxiety may occur in some shy dogs, but breeding of dogs that deviate from the typical playful Bichon personality is not accepted. They are alarm barkers but not considered watchdogs. They need close human contact, and are considered moderately trainable. They are fine for city life, as they are active dogs with average exercise needs.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Hip Dysplasia and Legg-Calve-Perthes: Polygenically inherited traits causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 6.7% affected with hip dysplasia.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. Reported 4.8x odds ratio versus other breeds. OFA reports 5.5% affected. Reported at a frequency of 12% in the 2007 BFCA Health Survey for Breeders.
Cataracts: Cataracts appear to be inherited in the Bichon Frise as an autosomal recessive trait. Age at onset of cataract formation ranges from 1.5-13.5 years, with a peak age of 3 years. Posterior cortex cataracts predominate, starting as punctate opacities. One study showed a 5.2x odds ratio in Bichon Frise versus other breeds. Dorn reports a 1.41x odds ratio. The estimated frequency of cataracts in the breed is 11.45%. Affected dogs can develop secondary retinal detachment or glaucoma. Identified in 4.29% of Bichon Frise CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. Reported at a frequency of 4% in the 2007 BFCA Health Survey for Breeders. CERF does not recommend breeding any Bichon Frise with a cataract.
Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA): Polygenically inherited congenital heart disorder, where a fetal vessel remains open after birth, causing a mixing of oxygenated and unoxygenated blood. Affected dogs are usually stunted, and have a loud heart murmur. Diagnosis with Doppler ultrasound. Treat with surgery. Dorn reports a 13.35x odds ratio in Bichon Frise versus other breeds.4 Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 0.7% affected.
Lacrimal Gland Hypersecretion: Dorn reports a 171.11x odds ratio in Bichon Frise versus other breeds. Can be associated with entropion, ectopic cilia, blocked tear ducts, allergies, or other causes.
Allergic Dermatitis (Atopy): Inhalant or food allergy. Presents with pruritis and pyotraumatic dermatitis (hot spots). Reported at an increased frequency versus other breeds. Reported at a frequency of 23% in the 2007 BFCA Health Survey for Breeders.
Cryptorchidism: Unilateral or bilateral undescended testicles. This is a sex-limited disorder with an unknown mode of inheritance. Reported at a frequency of 11% in the 2007 BFCA Health Survey for Breeders.
Urinary Calculi: The breed is found to be at an increased risk of developing struvite, oxalate, and cystine calculi (due to cystinuria). Dorn reports a 4.68x odds ratio in Bichon Frise versus other breeds. Reported at a frequency of 5% in the 2007 BFCA Health Survey for Breeders.
Umbilical Hernia: Congenital opening in the body wall from where the umbilical cord was attached. Reported at a frequency of 5% in the 2007 BFCA Health Survey for Breeders. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Distichiasis: Abnormally placed eyelashes that irritate the cornea and conjunctiva. Can cause secondary corneal ulceration. Identified in 3.33% of Bichon Frise CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Corneal Dystrophy: The epithelial/stromal form occurs in the breed, causing opacities on the surface of the cornea. Average age of onset is 2 years. Unknown mode of inheritance. Identified in 2.74% of Bichon Frise CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Ciliary Dyskinesia: Inherited abnormal anatomy and function of cilia. Causes chronic secondary respiratory infections due to abnormal respiratory ciliary clearance, and infertility due to abnormal sperm motility. Unknown mode of inheritance. Reported at a frequency of 2% in the 2007 BFCA Health Survey for Breeders.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 1.95% of Bichon Frise CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 1.7% positive for thyroid auto-antibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%).
Primary (Narrow Angle) Glaucoma: Ocular condition causing increased pressure within the eyeball, and secondary blindness due to damage to the retina. Diagnose with tonometry and gonioscopy. Diagnosed in 1.59% of Bichon Frises presented to veterinary teaching hospitals.
Portosystemic Shunt (PSS, Liver Shunt): Congenital disorder, where abnormal blood vessels connecting the systemic and portal blood flow. Vessels can be intrahepatic or extrahepatic. Causes stunting, abnormal behavior and possible seizures. A case study documented secondary pruritis that resolved with surgical correction of the shunt. One study showed a significantly higher prevalence versus other breeds, and a 12:2 female to male ratio in the Bichon Frise. Tobias reports a 13.3x odds ratio versus other breeds. Undetermined mode of inheritance.
Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia: Auto-immune disorder where the body produces antibodies against its own red blood cells. Treatment with immunosuppressive drugs. There is generally a female preponderance with this disorder. One study found a 5.3x odds ratio in Bichon Frise versus other breeds.
Diabetes Mellitus: Caused by a lack of insulin production by the pancreas. Controlled by insulin injections, diet, and glucose monitoring. Dorn reports a 3.24x odds ratio in Bichon Frise versus other breeds. Unknown mode of inheritance. Reported at a frequency of 1% in the 2007 BFCA Health Survey for Breeders.
Motor Dyskinesia: A rare disorder presenting with episodic involuntary skeletal muscle activity with normal levels of consciousness, similar to paroxysmal dystonic choreoathetosis. The disorder is differentiated from partial motor seizure activity by the character of the episodes, absence of identifiable preceding aura, absence of autonomic signs and the fact that multiple limbs are affected in a varying pattern without generalization and loss of consciousness.
Brachygnathism, Deafness, Entropion, Epilepsy, Factor IX Deficiency, Prognathism, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, Retinal Dysplasia, Shaker Syndrome, Ventricular Septal Defect, and von Willebrand's Disease are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Congenital Alopecia: A Bichon Frise puppy was born with an absence of hair follicles, erector pili muscles, sebaceous glands, and sweat glands. This defect was not associated with abnormal pigmentation, normal black and brown pigmentation developed independently of the alopecic pattern.
Hydrocephalus and Antidiuretic Hormone Deficiency: A 13-month-old male bichon frise with a domed skull was examined for the investigation of intermittent seizures, ataxia, abnormal behavior, polyuria, and polydipsia. Severe hyponatremia and hypoosmolality were identified, and diagnostic testing indicated inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion. MRI revealed severe hydrocephalus.
Episodic Ataxia/Ion Channelopathy: A four-year-old neutered male Bichon Frise developed chronic, progressive, episodic cerebellar ataxia. All testing was normal. Treatment with 4-aminopyridine resolved all signs, suggesting an ion channelopathy.
Tests of Genotype: none
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Required testing includes hip radiographs, patella evaluation (after 12 months, and then annually), and CERF eye examination (annually). Optional testing includes congenital cardiac evaluation, and bile acids for liver shunt. (See CHIC website; caninehealthinfo.org). Recommend thyroid profile including autoantibodies and elbow radiographs.
- Breed name synonyms: Bichon, Bichon Teneriffe, Teneriffe (historical), Bichon a Poil Frise
- Registries: AKC, CKC, UKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club)
- AKC rank (year 2008): 35 (4,675 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: Bichon Frise Club of America: bichon.org
Bichon Frise Club of Canada: bichonfriseclubofcanada.com
Bichon Frise Club of Great Britain: bichonfriseclubofgb.info/
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