Rialto Animal Hospital

1460 North Ayala Drive
Rialto, CA 92376



Brachycephalic Dogs - What You Need To Know


French bulldogMost people are not familiar with the term brachycephalic, but if you own a French Bulldog, Pug, Boston Terrier, Pekingese, Boxer, Shih Tzu, or any short-faced breed, you should become familiar with this word. The word comes from Greek roots brachy, meaning short, and cephalic, meaning head. As a pet parent to a brachycephalic dog it is important to understand their unique challenges and special needs. It is also important to educate yourself on these needs before deciding if a brachycephalic dog is right for you and your lifestyle.

Brachycephalic breeds make snorty noises, snore loudly and have unusual respiratory sounds due to the way their throats and faces are shaped. While many brachycephalic dogs are not hampered by their anatomy on a day-to-day basis, they do have limitations that must be recognized and may require surgical intervention in order to lead a normal doggy life.

Stenotic Nares: This is a fancy name for narrowed nostrils. The brachycephalic dog's respiratory passage begins with very small nasal openings for breathing. This leads to open-mouth breathing and panting as the nasal breathing route is limited by its small opening. When selecting a puppy look at the nostril sizes on each puppy and choose one with the widest openings. Stenotic nares can be surgically corrected after age five months by a specialist.

Enlarged Tongue: The brachycephalic dog's tongue can be particularly thick and large, which contributes to the overall obstruction. The French and English bulldogs seem particularly predisposed to this issue.

Elongated Soft Palate: It is difficult to fit the soft tissues of the canine mouth and throat into the brachycephalic's short face. As a result, the soft palate, which separates the nasal passage from the oral cavity, flaps loosely down into the throat, creating snorting sounds. Excess activity, barking or panting may lead to swelling in the throat that can lead to respiratory distress and possibly death. The soft palate can be surgically trimmed by a specialist to help reduce the discomfort and distress this can cause.

Tracheal Stenosis/Hypoplastic Trachea: The trachea is also known as the windpipe. The brachycephalic dog's windpipe may be dangerously narrowed in places. This condition creates an increased anesthetic risk and should be considered prior to any surgical procedures as anesthetic safety depends on placement of a tube in the windpipe to secure the air passage.

Heat Stress/Heat Stroke: The shortened airways of the brachycephalic dog compromise their ability to take in air and pant effectively enough to cool themselves down when overheated. In brachycephalic dogs, so much extra work is required to move air that the airways become inflamed and swollen. This inflammation leads to a more severe obstruction, distress, and further overheating, which is potentially a life-threatening problem. It is very important to not let these dogs become overweight, over do it in warm weather, or be permitted unsupervised access to the outdoors or sunbathing for extended periods of time.

Eye Problems: With most of the nasal bones compacted, brachycephalic dogs tend to have trouble with the way their eyes seat in their heads. The eye sockets are shallow making the eyeballs especially prominent and vulnerable to injury. The shortened face can also lead to rolling of the eyelids (Entropion) in such a way that the eyelashes can rub and irritate the eye. This is not only uncomfortable but will damage the eye. Surgical correction may be needed to protect the eye and restore comfort. They are also more susceptible to dry eyes which can lead to eventual blindness if not properly diagnosed and treated with medications.

Nasal/skin Fold Irritation: Many brachycephalic dogs have a fold of skin between the nose and eyes. This skin fold may need regular cleaning as it tends to collect skin oil and moisture becoming odorous and infected. Skin folds on other areas of the body can also become irritated and infected if not kept clean and dry. Dogs with corkscrew tails can have difficulty with feces building up under their tails causing redness, pain and infection.

Allergies/Ear infections: Many breeds, brachycephalic dogs included, suffer from skin allergies and ear infections. These often present as licking the feet, scratching or chewing anywhere on the body, shaking their head, and redness/discharge or odor from the skin or ears. Allergies can lead to secondary skin infections and may require seasonal or year-round management.

Oral Health: All dogs normally have 42 teeth in their mouth. The brachycephalic dog also has 42 teeth but with a lot less space to fit them in. This means that the teeth will be crowded and growing in at odd angles which can trap food debris and lead to periodontal disease at a far younger age than in non-brachycephalic dogs. Early introduction to home dental care may help postpone the need for a full dental procedure under general anesthesia.

Skeletal deformities/abnormalities: Another common issue, especially with French and English bulldogs is joint and spinal pain. This is often the result of poor breeding and genetics. In severe cases the dog can become paralyzed and corrective surgery by a specialist may or may not be able to restore the dog's mobility and resolve their pain. Paralyzed dogs often cannot effectively urinate/defecate and need assistance in relieving their bladder and bowels.


In Closing…

While these dogs can make fun, loving, amazing family pets, the owners of brachycephalic breeds need extra knowledge to ensure their special needs are met. Veterinary care for these dogs can be ongoing and expensive so consider getting pet insurance when they are puppies as coverage will likely be declined after your dog is already having these common health problems. If you have any questions about your brachycephalic dog, don't hesitate to call your veterinarian.



Adapted from Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome in Flat-Faced Dogs by Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP