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Home > Dogs > Health Concerns in Brachycephalic Dog Breeds: Vet Approved Facts & FAQs

Health Concerns in Brachycephalic Dog Breeds: Vet Approved Facts & FAQs

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Dr. Lauren Demos

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Most people do not associate health problems with adorable, flat-faced breeds, such as Boston Terriers, Pugs, Bulldogs, Boxers, and so on. These dogs typically snore and snort, and it seems cute. However, dogs with smushed, flat faces can develop a condition known as brachycephalic airway syndrome. This syndrome (sometimes called brachycephalic syndrome) causes breathing difficulties due to insufficient airflow in the upper respiratory tract and can diminish a short-nosed dog’s quality of life.

Not all dogs will develop complications, but the ones that do have a hard time breathing and heavy exercise is out of the question; some even require surgery. In this article, we’ll discuss brachycephalic airway syndrome and its signs. Read on to learn more about this condition, especially if you have a breed prone to this condition.


What Is a Brachycephalic Dog?

Brachycephalic is a medical term used to describe dog breeds with shortened skull bones that give the nose and face a smushed, pushed-in appearance. Brachy means shortened, and cephalic means head. A dog with this condition may look cute as a button, but it can cause breathing issues. Due to the shortened skull bones and shortened muzzles, brachycephalic dog breeds may have partial obstruction because the airway and throat are flattened and often undersized, which can cause abnormal breathing.

White french bulldog
Image By: Kervin Edward Lara, Pexels

Some brachycephalic dog breeds have brachycephalic airway syndrome, which refers to a set of abnormalities in the upper airway. Not all brachycephalic dog breeds have these abnormalities, and some brachycephalic dog breeds never have breathing problems. However, these abnormalities may include the following:

  • Stenotic nares: The dog has small or abnormally narrowed nostrils, which restricts the amount of airflow through the nostrils.
  • Elongated soft palate: This refers to the soft part of the root of the mouth. The soft palate is longer than the length of the mouth, and the excess length of the palate partly blocks the entrance to the windpipe (trachea) located at the back of the throat.
  • Extended nasopharyngeal turbinates: Nasopharyngeal turbinates are a set of rigid bones covered with tissue that helps moisten and warm the air that is inhaled. If the nasopharyngeal turbinates extend past the nose into the pharynx, which is located behind the nose and the mouth, it can cause some degree of airflow obstruction.
  • Laryngeal collapse: Refers to chronic stress of the cartilage of the larynx (voice box), which results in a collapse of the larynx, meaning the larynx cannot open as wide as normal, causing restricted airflow.
  • Hypoplastic trachea: The trachea is smaller in diameter than normal. 
  • Everted laryngeal saccules: These are small pouches or sacs located inside the larynx, and this abnormality results from these sacs being pulled down into the airway due to an increased effort to breathe. It’s usually associated with stenotic nares and/or an elongated soft palate.  

What Are the Signs of Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome?

Typical signs your dog may have brachycephalic are snoring, snorting, rapid breathing, gagging (particularly while swallowing), noisy breathing, frequent panting, difficulty eating, coughing, inability to engage in physical activity, and possible physical collapse.

Brachycephalic is more common in English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Pugs, Bull Mastiffs, Shih Tzus, Boxers, Lhasa Apsos, Pekingese, and the Chinese Shar-Pei. Remember that not all brachycephalic dogs will have breathing problems or develop brachycephalic airway syndrome, but it’s wise to be aware of the possibility with these dog breeds.

What Are the Causes of Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome?

Brachycephalic airway syndrome is caused by genetics regarding brachycephalic dog breeds. Brachycephalia is not something a dog acquires but rather a condition the dog is born with. These dogs are bred to have the flat faces, short muzzles, and short, smushed noses associated with brachycephalic breeds. Most brachycephalic airway syndrome cases stem from the dog having an elongated soft palate, while 50% stem from having narrowed nasal passages.

Remember that not all brachycephalic dog breeds will develop brachycephalic airway syndrome or develop breathing problems. It’s important to know that if you adopt a dog breed prone to these conditions mentioned, the dog may require surgery if it poses a life-threatening risk or if there is a need to improve the dog’s quality of life.

Cute pug_220 Selfmade studio_Shutterstock
Image By: 220 Selfmade studio, Shutterstock

How Do I Care for a Dog With Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome?

While there is no cure, some dogs with brachycephalic airway syndrome can have their symptoms managed at home. For starters, you should avoid any physical activity in warm or hot, humid weather. A dog with this condition can develop heat stroke easily.

Another factor that can worsen the condition is obesity. Exercising brachycephalic dogs can be a challenge, but non-strenuous activity can be done indoors or in cooler weather to avoid breathing problems. However, keeping the dog’s weight down is vital in managing the condition. Also, avoid overfeeding to maintain a healthy weight. When in doubt about how much to feed daily, consult your veterinarian to ensure you’re on the right track.

Use a harness instead of a neck collar to avoid further airway obstruction; harnesses are much more comfortable for your dog. You should also try to keep your dog calm and avoid over-excitement, which can cause breathing problems.

In some cases, surgery may be an option and is recommended in severe cases, and your veterinarian can determine if surgery is necessary.

How Much Does Brachycephalic Surgery Cost?

The cost of brachycephalic surgery will depend on the severity of the condition and the type of surgery required, depending on what component of brachycephalic airway syndrome your dog has. Acquiring a pet insurance policy can help with the costs of these types of surgeries. Soft palate resection can run $500 to $3,500, and stenotic nares resections can run $200 to $2,000.

Keep in mind that pet insurance policy rates vary depending on your location and the age of your pet; it’s best to obtain an insurance policy when your doggie is younger rather than older.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is It Cruel to Breed Brachycephalic Dogs?

Now that we know what brachycephalic is, is it cruel to breed these types of dog breeds? According to PETA, yes, it is. These dog breeds were bred to have that cute, flat face, but one can wonder if the dogs’ health was at the forefront when breeding. Some dogs have a difficult time with this condition, and us humans know that not being able to breathe properly is uncomfortable; imagine how it is for dogs.

Sure, Pugs, Boston Terriers, and Bulldogs are adorable, but breeding dogs to get the desired flat-faced look without concern for the dogs’ health is definitely a cruel act.

boxer dog leaning on a sofa
Image Credit: Chris Shafer, Pexels

What Is the Success Rate of Brachycephalic Surgery?

According to a study conducted from 2011 to 2017, there was a 72% respiratory success with only a 2.6% mortality rate. However, the risk of death increased by 29.8% for every 1-year age increase. In other words, the younger the dog is when the surgery is performed, the less chance of death. It’s safe to say that the success rate is worth the surgery to improve quality of life.

How Long Does Recovery Take After Surgery?

The healing time after surgery depends on the type of surgery performed and the dog’s age. In general, the recovery period can last 1 to 2 weeks. After the surgery, your dog will be monitored for 8 to 24 hours, depending on the success of the surgery and your overall dog’s health. After 2 weeks, your dog’s condition should be significantly improved.

What Other Problems Can Arise From Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome?

The condition has been linked to gastrointestinal problems, such as chronic gastritis and gastroesophageal reflux. Changes in the lungs and bronchial collapse have also been linked to the condition.


Final Thoughts

We don’t see these dog breeds diminishing, as there will always be a demand for these types of breeds. We can hope that breeders avoid breeding dogs with this syndrome, but that cannot be guaranteed. For those in the market for a short-nosed breed, ensure you only buy from a reputable breeder who avoids breeding dogs with this condition.

Remember that not all flat-faced, short-nosed dogs will develop the syndrome, but it’s wise to be aware of the symptoms. Always consult your vet if you’re concerned your dog has the condition, and the younger the diagnosis, the better the outcome if surgery is required.

Featured Image Credit: AndreiTobosaru, Shutterstock

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