They're sweet, quirky, and painfully adorable! They also have special health concerns.
Brachycephalic (or "short-headed") breeds include bulldogs, French bulldogs, Boston terriers, pugs, Brussels Griffons, Pekingnese, and any other breed with a shortened snout. Unfortunately, many of the same traits we find so appealing in these breeds can cause them to struggle through their daily lives with a condition called brachycephalic airway syndrome. Those snores and snorts may seem cute, but they can indicate a larger problem. Signs that your buddy may be suffering include:
- dyspnea (breathing difficulty)
- noisy/labored breathing
- stridor (high pitched wheezing)
- continued open-mouth breathing
- extending of head and neck to keep airway open
- sitting up or keeping chin in an elevated position when sleeping
- sleeping with toy between teeth to keep mouth open
- cyanosis (blue/purple discoloration of the skin, due to poor blood oxygenation)
- sleep apnea
- exercise, stress and heat intolerance
Symptoms progress with age and typically become severe when your pet reaches 1 year.
Luckily, there are lots of ways to help your buddy! One of the most important things you can do for your pet (brachycephalic or not!) is help them maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can add pressure to an already strained airway.
The two main causes of airway obstruction in brachycephalic breeds are stenotic nares (or narrow nostrils) and an elongated soft palate. Both stenotic nares and elongated soft palate can be corrected surgically. Our veterinarians can advise you on whether your buddy is a good candidate for either or both surgeries.
Stenotic nares is an extremely common congenital narrowing of the nostrils. Imagine trying to breathe through a pinched nose and you'll get an idea of how a dog with stenotic nares feels with every breath! The good news is the correction of stenotic nares is simple and minimally invasive. It can be done at the same time as another surgery such as spay and neuter or it may be recommended along with elongated soft palate correction. The wings on either side of the nostril are snipped to widen the opening and ease breathing. Most brachycephalic breeds have some degree of stenosis and could benefit from evaluation for this procedure.
Elongated Soft Palate
Despite their short faces, brachycephalic breeds often have a palate the same length as longer faced breeds. This causes an excess of soft palate at the back of their throat, partially obstructing their airway and putting pressure on their trachea. In severe cases it can even cause tracheal collapse.
Surgical resection of the soft palate may be recommended if your pet has serious airway obstruction. This procedure removes a section of palate at the rear of the mouth, relieving pressure and opening airways.
Other Common Conditions
Brachycephalic airway syndrome is one commonly seen health issue in brachycephalic breeds, but it's certainly not the only one. These special dogs tend to have many special needs!
That cute squishy face (and skull!) can mean trouble for your buddy's eyes. The bulging eyes of brachcephalic breeds can be prone a variety of different ailments. Dry eye, cherry eye (or third eyelid prolapse), entropion (the folding in of an outer eyelid that results in eyelashes damaging the cornea), and even proptosis ("popping out" of the socket) are all seen more commonly among brachycephalic breeds than others. Treatment of eye maladies can be as simple as daily eye drops or as complex as eye removal or blindness.
Those adorable skin folds that we all love in flat-faced breeds can cause issues for their skin. They can trap moisture and debris and can be a hot spot for infections if not regularly kept clean. Many brachycephalic breeds also suffer from allergies, making their skin issues all the more complicated. Read more about allergies and their treatment here.
Short snouted dogs have the same number of teeth as other dogs (42!), which makes for some serious crowding! Crooked, overlapping teeth are common and can make periodontal disease more likely. Proper tooth brushing at home and regular dental care at the vet is a must to keep your buddy's mouth clean and pain-free!
Medial luxating patella is a condition in which the patella, or knee cap, dislocates from its normal position. Patellar luxation can cause pain and lameness and the most severe cases do require surgery.
For breeding dogs, the size and conformation of the puppies' heads is often too large to pass through the birth canal. Also, since brachycephalic dogs are prone to breathing difficulties, the stress of labor can quickly become dangerous. Cesarean section is recommended to deliver most brachycephalic puppies.
Corkscrew tail is a genetic condition most common in bulldogs. Due to a malformation of vertebrae in the tail, it can cause chronic discomfort and infection of the area around the anus, as well as partially blocking bowel movements and anal gland expression. Surgically removing the problematic part of the tail is curative.
Despite their issues, these breeds are some of the sweetest, funniest, most irresistible pups on the planet. We will help you ensure your brachycephalic buddy leads the happiest and healthiest life possible!