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How to Raise Dogs with Brachycephalic Syndrome?

dog arthritis

If your furbaby has brachycephalic syndrome, you may notice he struggles with breathing, makes breathing noises, and has problems exercising. Brachycephalic syndrome may result in your furbaby suffering from respiratory infections and heat regulation issues as well.

Because of these health concerns, your vet may recommend surgery to help your furbaby live a better quality of life. Brachycephalic syndrome in dogs comes about because of a shortened skull in comparison to other breeds. This severe condition can include breathing difficulties, difficulties with exercise, and overheating, to name a few concerns, and is primarily breed-specific.

From pugs to French bulldogs, flat-faced dogs with short noses are prone to numerous health conditions, especially respiratory issues. Today's most popular dog breeds include brachycephalic breeds with shortened heads, short noses, and flat faces.

The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA) explains that AKC-registered Bulldogs and French Bulldogs increased by 69% and 476%, respectively, from 2006-2016.

Brachycephalic dog breeds may be challenging to care for. Their inability to breathe is typically considered the most significant impediment to their welfare. Unfortunately, the lifespan of dogs with extreme brachycephalic conformation stands at (8.6 years) with all other dog breeds (12.7 years). 

In this blog, learn what Brachycephalic syndrome is and how to care for a breed with this health problem. Before adopting or purchasing a brachycephalic dog breed, you should know all you can about minimizing these health issues.

dog arthritis

What does 'brachycephalic' mean?

Brachycephalic comes from the Greek root meaning" short" and "head" and refers to dog breeds featuring a skull shape that's much shorter than the average dog breed. Small short-faced dogs are among the oldest forms of dog breeds going as far back as 10,000 years.

Many toy brachycephalic breeds were bred as companion dogs in Tibetan monasteries and Chinese palaces. These were the ancestors of the pug, Japanese chin, and Pekinese.

Unfortunately, this type of dog breed may appeal to many pet lovers; together with mixes, these dogs experience numerous health problems associated with their anatomy and physiology. Here's the takeaway:

What breeds are brachycephalic?

Brachycephalic means "shortened head" and refers to dogs' short noses and flat faces like Pugs, Shih Tzu's, and Chihuahuas.

Because the flat face is so popular, these dogs have been bred for their looks, but numerous breeds suffer from airway issues as a result. The flat face results from a smaller upper jaw, in which the tissues inside are more prominent than the jaw can allow. 

These dog breeds have the appearance of human babies with their large eyes and brachycephalic features. Flat-faced dog breeds include the following:

  • Boston Terrier
  • Boxer
  • Brussels Griffon
  • Bulldog
  • Chow
  • French Bulldog
  • Japanese Chin
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Mastiffs
  • Pekingese
  • Pug
  • Shih Tzu

The HSVMA adds that the following additional breeds also feature brachycephalic confirmation:

  • Affenpinscher
  • Brussels Griffon
  • Dogue de Bordeaux
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Brasileiro


Health Risks

Recent research demonstrates that pet lovers are specifically drawn to these features, often prioritized over their health. Like Boxers, Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers, flat-faced dogs are great dog breeds, but their short noses may result in severe breathing problems.

Brachycephalic dog breeds may be prone to plenty of snoring and snorting episodes. These may seem harmless, but these common issues relating to short-nosed dogs mean the dog's airway is partially obstructed, which can worsen over time if left untreated. 

Symptoms of Brachycephalic Syndrome in Dogs

The symptoms are somewhat generalized but are ongoing. Here are some signs that are more specific to the brachycephalic syndrome:

  • Loud breathing
  • Difficulty with exercise
  • Difficulty with heat
  • Labored & difficulty breathing
  • Gagging
  • Problems eating
  • Collapsing after exercise
  • Cleft palates
  • Cleft lips
  • Very narrow nostrils
  • An elongated soft palate
  • Everted laryngeal saccules
  • Laryngeal collapse with possible airway obstruction
  • Hypoplastic trachea

Breathing problems 

Because the flat face is so popular, these dogs have been bred for their looks, but numerous suffer from airway issues as a result. The flat face results from a smaller upper jaw, in which the tissues inside are more prominent than the jaw can allow. All airway issues resulting from this overcrowding are collectively referred to as "brachycephalic airway syndrome."

Mild brachycephalic airway syndrome 

Symptoms include sleep apnea, regurgitation, loud snoring, snorting, noisy breathing, and rapid tiring or fainting during exercise. Because these conditions progress over time and become worse, they can result in permanent damage. The symptoms progress with age and usually become severe by around 12 months of age.

It's essential to closely monitor your brachycephalic dog breed and work with your veterinarian to see if and when surgery may be needed. Early treatment intervention is recommended to prevent severe problems later on.

Keep in mind that pet health insurance will go a long way in defraying the sometimes high cost of veterinary care, especially when it relates to brachycephalic dog breeds and surgery.

There are a few reasons why Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) causes these dogs breathing difficulties: 

Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) results from shortened noses and skulls and comes about due to lower blood oxygen saturation levels than non-brachycephalic dogs. Overweight dogs are twice as likely to shows symptoms of BOAS compared to dogs with normal body conditions. Brachycephalic airway syndrome symptoms may cause serious health concerns and include the following: 

Elongated Soft Palate: In numerous brachycephalic dog breeds, this may only result in snoring and general health difficulties like panting in scorching weather. Yet, other brachycephalic dog breeds may have to have palate shortening surgery.

  • Stenotic Nares: Another main problem faced by brachycephalic dog breeds is often seen as narrowed or collapsed nostrils. This makes it hard for brachycephalic dogs to breathe normally through their nose and results in mouth breathing. Some brachycephalic puppies may grow out of this; if not, your veterinarian may recommend nostril surgery to open up the nostril to facilitate easier breathing. 
  • Tracheal Stenosis: In some brachycephalic dog breeds, the trachea or windpipe is narrow, resulting in panting difficulties. These dogs also have problems with surgery and anesthesia. 
  • Everted Laryngeal Saccules: Difficult breathing may result in inflammation of the saccules (pouches) in the larynx and even cause them to become inverted. This may result in airway obstruction, and your veterinarian may recommend the surgical removal of the saccules. In serious cases, your veterinarian may provide oxygen therapy until after surgery is performed.
  • Heat Stroke: Since brachycephalic dog breeds pant to cool down and regulate body temperature, brachycephalic dogs have a huge problem in the hot summers because they cannot breathe in enough air to cool their bodies. Symptoms of heatstroke may include vomiting, glazed eyes, and seizures.

What Other Problems do Brachycephalic Dog Breeds Face?

Brachycephalic dog breeds may also be prone to more vision issues than other dog breeds with any head trauma. Additional eye issues to watch out for include entropion, ectropion and distichiasis (eyelashes rubbing on the cornea), protruding eyeballs, and poor tear production)

  • Inability to mate or give birth naturally. Brachycephalic dog breeds tend to require Cesarean sections.
  • Repeated skin infections
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Teeth: Brachycephalic dogs present with the same number of teeth as other dog breeds but have less oral space for all their teeth to fit. This can lead to periodontal issues from crowding and misalignment.

Diagnosis of Brachycephalic Syndrome in Dogs

If your furbaby is one of the breeds mentioned above and you have noticed he is suffering from one or more of the syndrome symptoms, you may want to discuss your concerns with your veterinarian. 

Your vet will want to examine your furbaby, his nostrils, palate and check out his breathing. Your vet may recommend x-rays to examine his throat and palate. If a laryngeal exam is needed, then anesthesia is used. During this procedure, the vet will do a mouth, palate, and laryngeal saccules exam to see how well his larynx functions.

Your veterinarian will examine to see if your furbaby has very narrow nostrils, an elongated soft palate, everted laryngeal saccules, and a hypoplastic trachea. If a few brachycephalic symptoms are present, your vet will present with a diagnosis and treatment plan that's specific to your furbaby.

How Can You Protect Your Brachycephalic Dog Breed?

If you're a pet parent to a brachycephalic dog, there are many simple precautions you can take to limit the risk of airway or other health issues. That said, working closely with your veterinarian and having pet insurance will not only ensure a high-quality life for your furbaby but will also save you lots in veterinary bills that may be costlier due to brachycephalic issues. 

Prevention is key and involves limiting symptom aggravation and avoiding heat and stress. Your brachycephalic dog breed should maintain an ideal weight, and you should refrain from overfeeding him.

Summer Heat Precautions

When the temperature rises outdoors, any dog breed can overheat during vigorous play or die if left in a closed car. For short-snouted dogs, death happens much faster, so it's key to follow brachycephalic dog breed safety measures.

  • Always provide plenty of fresh water 24/7.
  • Dog Sports: The American Kennel Club (AKC)adds that "People who own these breeds need to take reasonable precautions when exercising outdoors in warm weather," says Link Newcomb, president of the Bulldog Club of America via the AKC. 
  • Avoid strenuous exercise.
  • Never leave your dog alone outside during hot weather.
  • Walk along shady paths and opt for short walks a few times a day.
  • Keep your home cool and the air conditioner on.
  • Use a cooling mat after spending time outdoors.

Brachycephalic Specific Safety Tips

  • Travel: Brachycephalic dog breeds are more likely to die during air travel, so it's essential to refrain from flying them.
  • Opt for a high-quality dog harness instead of a collar leash: Collars can pull on the larynx, resulting in breathing difficulties. Collars also may place additional strain on the head area, most especially the eyes and face.
  • Opt for a carefully crafted dog calming bed so that your dog gets a good night's rest. These dog beds minimize anxiety and feature high-quality materials with no toxic chemicals.
  • Keep him cool: Even brachycephalic dog breeds who do not require surgery will have everyday issues with breathing if they are outdoors going for a walk during the summer. It's best to refrain from heavy exercise during the summers and walk your dog early morning and evening when it's much cooler.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity can make brachycephalic dog issues more severe and dangerous. Feed your furbaby a high-quality, healthy diet and refrain from feeding table tidbits that may cause weight gain.
  • Keep a diary to track snorting and snoring: You have to learn how to differentiate between what sounds are typical for your brachycephalic dog breed. If you hear a different kind of snorting or labored breathing, you should consult with your vet. 
  • Many of these conditions worsen over time. If you're a pet parent to a brachycephalic dog breed, your goal should be to give him high-quality life and avoid the triggers that may make life more difficult for him.
  • Reach out to your vet: Not all brachycephalic dog breeds will require surgery, but many will benefit immensely from a palate shortening or other corrective procedure. If you do not currently have pet insurance and need a pet insurance discount plan, you should think about veterinary discount plans from Pet Assure with no exclusions and every medical procedure covered.
  • Surgical Laser surgery may be beneficial for brachycephalic dog breeds because they reduce any complications related to soft palate reduction surgery and hemorrhaging risks, pain, and inflammation.
  • Spay or neuter: Brachycephalic airway syndrome is inherited; it is best not to breed a brachycephalic dog. (to prevent puppies from having the same health issues). Pregnant brachycephalic dogs have a hard time during pregnancy, so it is best left to professional AKC brachycephalic dog breeders.

Final Thoughts

Dogs with respiratory issues should not be bred, and many end up at shelters and rescues. If you're adopting from a rescue, be aware of potential health issues and include a comprehensive pet insurance plan so that you can do everything you can to prevent serious health issues and give your furbaby a happy and high-quality life.    

The younger your furbaby is when he has surgery, the greater his odds are for an excellent prognosis long term and happier life. Surgical treatment has good long-term outcomes. Your vet will need to continue to monitor your dog and all his symptoms over time and check for any new or reoccurring brachycephalic signs that may appear.

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