There has been a huge surge in the popularity of brachycephalic pets recently. The fastest growing brachycephalic breed is the French Bulldog, with Pugs and Bulldogs close behind. It also affects cats, with Persians and Burmese being popular brachycephalic breeds.
If you are thinking of getting a dog that belongs to a breed that is brachycephalic, it is very important to do your research first, because these are breeds with a special physiology which you should be aware of.
What is a brachycephaly?
Brachycephalic breeds are animals that are bred to have a flat face which causes their muzzle and nasal aspect to be short, creating a perceived appearance of cuteness. These breeds are appealing to the general public because they look similar to human babies with their round faces and large eyes. Unfortunately a high percentage of flat-faced pets will have health problems throughout their lives which can result in a poorer quality of life and will often require veterinary intervention.
What are the health issues?
The nostrils are too narrow to facilitate proper airflow through the nose resulting in the dogs breathing through their mouth most of the time. This means the dogs have even more difficulties whilst they are eating and they often pant severely after a meal as they were not able to breathe properly during meal times. The soft palate which is the soft and loose part of tissue at the back of the mouth is often elongated in brachycephalic dogs which mean this part of soft tissue lies over the trachea opening and partly obstructs it whilst the dog tries to breathe. This causes a snoring noise as the soft tissue part moves over the trachea and compromises the air entering the lungs even more.
A short nose and jaw often means there is not enough space for the teeth, resulting in the dog needing dental treatment under anaesthetic and usually several teeth have to be removed.
Open-mouth breathing is a dog’s way to regulate its body temperature, but if the dog is not able to breathe properly then heat regulation is compromised, so overexertion can become life threatening to these dogs. Overheating issues often result in an intolerance to exercise which is mistakenly interpreted as a “stubborn dog” that suddenly lies down during a walk. The reason for this however can be that the dog needs a break to catch his breath and is close to fainting.
Flat-faced breeds have been bred to have bulging eyes which are exposed to more air than in other breeds. This can cause the eyes to dry out quicker, but eyes need to be kept moist with a constant tear film and if this is not possible due to the bulging eyes then artificial tears may have to be added as a daily, ongoing treatment. Furthermore due to the face being so flat, the tear ducts are often obstructed and as a result the dogs suffer from tears not being able to drain through the ducts and develop constant moist tear stains on their faces. These moist areas can become infectious and are painful and may need ongoing treatment. Severe cases may result in needing ongoing daily treatment for life and some dogs who have not received treatment on time or ongoing may end up losing their sight completely.
The extra skin folds over the nose can cause fur rubbing on the eyeballs and the weepy eyes keep the skin folds moist which is a breeding ground for bacterial and yeast infections. These infections cause soreness and the dog to rub its face, resulting in even deeper wounds around the face that could require veterinary attention and sometimes surgery to cut out the extra skin folds.
A Pug’s screw-shaped tail is often linked to painful spine abnormalities, neurological problems and an inability to give birth without surgical intervention.
How can owners help their flat-faced pets?
Signs of breathing difficulties are a sign that a dog needs veterinary help. Surgery is recommended for dogs that have moderate to severe breathing problems, however being under anaesthetic carries a greater risk for a brachycephalic dog. You should also act promptly if your dog has a sore or discharging eye, or sore or smelly skin or ears.