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.
List of Dog Breeds and Their Common Health Concerns
Dogs run the gamut in terms of size, temperament, skills, and pretty much every other defining characteristic -- it's kind of hard to believe that Chihuahuas and Rottweilers are related at all! With all these inherent differences, it comes as no surprise that each breed has to be on the lookout for different health concerns.
To get a better idea of what your dog might have waiting for them down the line, take a look at this list of dog breeds’ predisposed conditions. Click through for information about these health concerns, and learn how to watch for symptoms, prevent problems, and start treatment.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Do all brachycephalic dogs have breathing problems?
Brachycephalic dogs are breeds that have a flattened or shortened skull shape, such as Pugs, Bulldogs, and Boxers. Due to their unique skull structure, brachycephalic dogs may be more prone to breathing problems than dogs with longer snouts. The severity of breathing problems can vary among individual brachycephalic dogs. Some may have only mild respiratory issues, while others may experience severe difficulties. Breathing problems in brachycephalic dogs can include snoring, wheezing, reverse sneezing, and difficulty breathing, especially during exercise or in hot weather. Breathing problems in brachycephalic dogs are typically caused by a combination of factors, including narrowed nostrils, an elongated soft palate, and a narrowed trachea. These structural abnormalities can interfere with the dog's ability to breathe freely and can lead to respiratory distress.
Are brachycephalic dogs in pain?
Brachycephalic dogs may experience pain as a result of their unique anatomical features. Due to their flattened skull shape, brachycephalic dogs can have a variety of structural abnormalities that can cause discomfort or pain. Brachycephalic dogs often have smaller nostrils than other dogs, which can make it difficult for them to breathe. This can lead to respiratory distress and may cause the dog to feel uncomfortable or in pain. The soft palate is a flap of tissue at the back of the mouth. In brachycephalic dogs, this flap can become elongated and may partially obstruct the airway, making it difficult for the dog to breathe. This can cause discomfort or pain and may require surgical correction. The trachea, or windpipe, may be narrower in brachycephalic dogs than in other breeds. This can lead to breathing difficulties and may cause the dog to experience pain or discomfort. Some brachycephalic dogs may have protruding eyes or shallow eye sockets, which can cause eye irritation, infections, or injury. Brachycephalic dogs may have crowded or misaligned teeth, which can cause dental problems such as gum disease or tooth decay. These conditions can be painful and may require dental treatment.
How long do brachycephalic dogs live?
The lifespan of a brachycephalic dog can vary depending on several factors, including breed, genetics, diet, exercise, and overall health. However, on average, brachycephalic dogs tend to have a shorter lifespan than dogs with longer snouts. Studies have shown that some brachycephalic breeds, such as Bulldogs, have an average lifespan of around 8 years, which is significantly shorter than the average lifespan of dogs overall, which is around 10-13 years. Other brachycephalic breeds, such as Pugs and Boston Terriers, may have a slightly longer lifespan of around 12-15 years.
Is it cruel to breed brachycephalic?
The breeding of brachycephalic dogs is a controversial topic, and opinions may vary. However, there is growing concern among veterinarians and animal welfare organizations that breeding for extreme brachycephalic traits can be cruel and may negatively impact the health and well-being of these dogs. Breeding for exaggerated brachycephalic traits, such as extremely short snouts, flattened faces, and bulging eyes, can lead to a range of health problems for these dogs. These may include breathing difficulties, overheating, dental problems, eye problems, and spine and joint issues. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) have both expressed concerns about the breeding of dogs with extreme brachycephalic features that negatively impact their welfare and health. The BVA and BSAVA have both called for responsible breeding practices that prioritize the health and welfare of the animals. They have recommended avoiding breeding dogs with extreme brachycephalic traits and using genetic testing to screen for health issues.
Can brachycephalic be cured?
Brachycephalic breeds have a specific physical conformation, and their anatomy cannot be altered or cured. However, some of the health problems associated with brachycephalic breeds can be managed or treated. For example, respiratory problems, which are common in brachycephalic dogs, may be managed with medication or surgery. Some dogs may benefit from weight loss, while others may require surgery to remove excess tissue in their airways. Dental problems, which are also common in brachycephalic breeds, may be prevented or managed with proper dental care, including regular tooth brushing and professional dental cleanings. Eye problems, such as entropion or dry eye, may also be managed with medication or surgery. Heat sensitivity can be managed by keeping brachycephalic dogs cool in hot weather and avoiding strenuous exercise during the hottest parts of the day. While these interventions may improve the quality of life of brachycephalic dogs, they do not cure the underlying conformational issues associated with these breeds.
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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.