Brachycephalic Breeds

Brachycephalic dogs are those affected by brachycephalic respiratory syndrome. In Greek, “brachy” means “shortened” and “cephalic” means “head”. The shortened head of a dog leads it to have a more pushed in face, such as those of a pug or a bulldog. The pushed in faces of these dogs may give it a cute appearance, but the breeding of dogs to achieve these more extreme features can create problems for the dog. Unfortunately, the anatomy of brachycephalic dogs cause the soft tissue structures to be altered and this may lead to physical problems.

Brachycephalic respiratory syndrome affects areas of the respiratory tract and can cause abnormalities such as a hypoplastic trachea,everted laryngeal saccules, stenotic nares, and an elongated soft palate. Dogs with elongated soft palates can have difficulties breathing due to the soft palate being too long for the mouth, causing the trachea entrance to be at the back of the throat and having a smaller windpipe. Most dogs diagnosed with brachycephalic respiratory syndrome are diagnosed young, between ages one and three years old.

Common breeds known for having brachycephalic respiratory syndrome include:

  • Pug
  • Boston Terrier
  • Pekingese
  • Boxer
  • Bulldog
  • Shih tzu
  • Bull Mastiffs
  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Others

Symptoms:When exercising, brachycephalic breeds tend to breathe noisily and may get tired very quickly. In worse cases, the dog may even gag or vomit after strenuous exercise, and these problems are exacerbated in very hot or cold weather. Hot and humid weather is particularly rough for brachycephalic breeds, as their lack of regular panting impairs their ability to cool down more efficiently. Snoring may be common in these breeds as well, due to blocked airways.

Owners of brachycephalic breeds should be aware of potential problems with the breed. One problem brachycephalic dogs may experience is the early decay of teeth due to an overcrowded mouth. These dogs also tend to have eyes that stick out farther than other breeds, causing the eyelids to not always lubricate the eye properly. The eyes can become dry and irritated very quickly because of this. Owners need to take extra care during very hot or cold climates since breathing is more difficult for brachycephalic breeds and they should fit their dog with a harness that does not pull at the throat.

Treatment: If brachycephalic respiratory syndrome is affecting the quality of your dog’s life, speak with a veterinarian about your options. If your dog is overweight or obese, your vet may suggest changing your dog’s diet since obesity in dogs worsens the problem. Depending on the severity of the dog’s symptoms and the age of the dog, surgery may be an option. Typical surgeries include removing some tissue from the nostrils to allow the dog to breathe more easily, or surgically shortening the soft palate to a normal length. Another option is using anti-inflammatory medications, but these are typically only used for short-term relief.

While brachycephalic breeds may require more special care, they are not impaired mentally and are typically normal and happy dogs.

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