Bichon Frise

A lapful of charm in a cotton-ball cloud of curly white hair, the Bichon Frise is one of the sweetest and most affectionate of dog breeds. Her dark eyes sparkle with mischief, but like her cousins the Havanese, the Maltese, and the Coton de Tulear, she pretty much uses her powers for good. Letting her have the softest bed and just one little bite of your dinner makes you both happy. But don't expect a dog who can be "perfect" from birth -- the Bichon is not a wind-up toy: She can be a challenge to house-train and needs to learn her place in the family as well.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

The fact that Bichons were born to cuddle doesn't mean they don't need exercise and training; they do. Suggesting that you never indulge your Bichon is pointless, but make sure that you're training her on the important matters -- such as nipping, snapping and barking -- is gentle and consistent. Don't turn your bold, happy dog into a yappy tyrant.

While the Bichon can be a wonderful family pet, this may not be the right breed for families with young children or rambunctious older ones, especially if you have one of the smaller Bichons. They can easily be injured if play is too rough, or even snap at a child if they're frightened.

The lively little dogs weigh anywhere from 10 to 18 pounds, and their curly coats require daily brushing and occasional professional grooming. Neglected coats become matted, which is painful and can lead to serious skin infections. If you fell in love with the Bichon because of the way their pure white coat sets off those dark eyes, you'd better be prepared to spend a lot of time cleaning away tear stains, which cause a rust discoloration that most people find pretty unsightly.

Those perfect little dogs you see in a show ring get that way with non-stop attention to that whiter-than-white coat.

Speaking of coat, you may have heard these dogs' non-shedding coats make them a "non-allergenic" breed, but that's not true. It's a dog's dander -- flakes of skin -- that triggers allergic reactions, not the coat. The non-shedding coat means less dander in the environment and sometimes fewer allergic reactions. But they still produce dander, and can still cause an allergic reactions. Any breeder who tells you their dogs are "non-allergenic" should be avoided.

Health Issues Common to Bichons Frises

Bichons are fairly healthy and very long-lived, sometimes living into their late teens. The BFCA has taken a very proactive stance on health in the breed, and has much valuable information on a website dedicated to Bichon Frise health issues.

Bichons can suffer from hip dysplasia, a genetic hip deformity that requires costly surgery to repair and can lead to arthritis later in life. Also, the kneecaps of the Bichon can easily get knocked out of place, a condition known as "luxating patellas."

Bichons can develop Legg-Calve-Perthes disease. This condition causes reduced blood supply to the head of the thigh bone, which in turn causes it to shrink. The first sign of this disease is limping, which usually appears when the puppy is 4 to 6 months old. Treatment is surgical remove of the head of the leg bone, after which the puppy will have a relatively normal life other than an increased likelihood of arthritis.

Like most small dogs, Bichons can have very bad dental problems, so consult with your veterinarian about a preventive care program, and don't treat dental disease lightly. Allergies are also a significant problem in the breed, along with their accompanying skin and ear problems, including secondary infections and hair loss.

There are a number of other health conditions that are known to be genetic but for which there are no screening tests, and several others that may be all or partly genetic in nature. These include bladder infections and stones, as well as several immune and auto-immune diseases. One of these is primary ciliary dyskinesia, which affects the respiratory system and is often misdiagnosed. If your Bichon has a runny nose, constant respiratory infections, or even pneumonia, ask your veterinarian about this disease.

To protect yourself from the expensive vet bills associated with these conditions, you'll want to purchase pet insurance for your Bichon Frise before they show symptoms or are diagnosed.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Patellar Luxation Medium $1,500-$3,000
Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease Medium $1,000-$3,000
Cataracts High $1,500-$5,000
Corneal Dystrophy High $300-$3,000

7 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Bichon Frise Puppy

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. You're more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to housetrain puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Start by finding a breeder who is a member in good standing of the Bichon Frise Club of America and who has agreed to abide by the club's guidelines for conduct, which prohibits selling puppies to or through pet stores.

Ask your puppy's breeder for written documentation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania (PennHip) that your puppy's parents' hips are free of dysplasia. OFA certification that the parents are free of knee disease is also required, and must be done annually. Seek out breeders who have OFA evaluations done on their dogs for heart problems and for Legg-Calve-Perthes disease as well.

Pay close attention to your puppy's eye. Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) documentation must also be obtained yearly, to certify that the puppy's parents do not have any genetic vision or eye abnormalities. Make sure to have your puppy's eyes examined once a year by a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist, and seek veterinary care immediately at any signs of cloudiness, redness, itching or irritation of the eyes, or if the dog is squinting or pawing at them.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Bichons aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. In addition, Bichons can live 15 years or longer, so an adult dog will still be a part of your family for a long time to come.

Puppy or adult, take your Bichon to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues. Ask specifically about dental care and prevention and treatment of allergies.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Bichon Frise

Pet insurance for the Bichon Frise costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because the Bichon Frise are slightly more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat. Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are preexisting) to which Bichon Frise are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Bichon Frise is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.