Flat-faced dogs, like Boxers, Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers can be cute, but their short noses also cause breathing problems. These brachycephalic dog breeds can suffer from snoring and snorting. These may seem like harmless ailments, but these common issues of shortnosed dogs mean the dog's airway is partially obstructed, and this can become worse over time if left untreated.
Which Breeds are Brachycephalic?
Brachycephalic means "shortened head" and refers to the short nose and flat face of dogs like Pugs, Shih Tzus, and Chihuahuas. Other brachycephalic breeds include Chow Chows, Pekingese, Lhasa Apso, Bull Mastiffs, and English Toy Spaniels. Because the flat face is so popular, these dogs have been bred for their looks, but many suffer from airway issues as a result. The flat face is the result of a smaller upper jaw, in which the tissues inside are bigger than the jaw can allow. All of the airway issues that can result from this overcrowding are collectively referred to as "brachycephalic airway syndrome."
What is Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome?
All brachycephalic dogs suffer from some form of mild brachycephalic airway syndrome and are also vulnerable to more dangerous conditions that may require surgery. Symptoms of airway obstruction include snoring, snorting, noisy breathing, and tiring or fainting during exercise. Because these conditions become worse over time, and can cause permanent damage, it's important to monitor closely and work with your vet to determine if and when surgery may be needed.
The following are brachycephalic airway syndrome symptoms that can cause serious health concerns.
• Elongated soft palate: Almost every brachycephalic dog has an extra-long soft palate (tissue between mouth and nose cavities) which covers the throat more than it should. In many dogs, this may only cause snoring and some difficulties panting in hot weather, but other dogs may need surgery to shorten the palate.
• Stenotic Nares: Another common problem is narrowed or collapsed nostrils, which make it hard for dogs to breathe through their noses. This usually leads to a lot of mouth breathing and makes exercise difficult. Sometimes puppies can grow out of this problem, but a surgical procedure may be needed to open up the nostrils.
• Tracheal Stenosis: In some dogs the trachea, or wind-pipe, is dangerously narrow. This narrowing makes panting difficult and use of anesthesia very dangerous.
• Everted Laryngeal Saccules: Difficult breathing can inflame saccules (pouches) in the layrnx, and even flip them inside out (hence the term "everted"). This significantly obstructs the airway, so surgical removal of the saccules is common. In severe cases, oxygen therapy may be needed until surgery can be performed.
• Heat Stroke: Since dogs use panting to cool down, brachycephalic dogs struggle in hot weather because they cannot draw in enough air to cool their body. Vomiting, glazed eyes, and seizures can all be signs of heat stroke.
What Other Problems do Brachycephalic Dogs Have?
• Eyes and Eyelids: Brachycephalic dogs' eyes tend to stick out of their skull a little more than others. Sometimes it's difficult for eyelids to close over their eyes (even while sleeping). They are also more vulnerable to vision issues if hit on the head.
• Teeth: Brachycephalic dogs have the same number of teeth as other dogs, but less space to fit them all, which can lead to peridontal disease.
How Can You Protect Your Brachycephalic Dog?
If you have a brachycephalic dog, there are some precautions you can take to reduce the risk of airway or other health problems.
• Use a harness instead of a collar leash: Collars can pull on the layrnx, making breathing more difficult, and also put strain on the face and eyes.
• Don't let your dog over-exercise or overheat: Even brachycephalics who do not need surgery will struggle with breathing if they are exercising or out in hot and humid weather. Keep your dog inside during high temperatures and limit their exercise.
• Keep weight in a healthy range: Obesity can make brachycephalic problems worse.
• Keep track of normal snorting and snoring: You'll learn what sounds are normal for your dog, so when you hear new snorting or labored breathing, it's time to check with the vet. Many of these conditions worsen over time.
• Work with your vet to determine which, if any, conditions may require surgery: Not all dogs will need surgery but many will benefit from a palate shortening or other corrective procedure.
• Spay or neuter your dog: Since brachycephalic airway syndrome is inherited, it is best to avoid breeding a brachycephalic dog which had to undergo surgery (so that their puppies won't have the same severe problems). Giving birth is also very hard on female brachycephalic dogs, so it is best left to professional breeders.
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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.