Another summer has arrived! And with it comes the scorching heat. While many of us enjoy this time of year, there are some who don’t. I can’t blame them for hating it. It’s hot, humid, and it makes it more difficult for them to breathe. That’s right, I’m talking about brachycephalic dogs including my friends #1 pug pals, Miss Edie the Pug and her sister Edna (fortunately, they’re good!).

Brachycephalic dogs are affectionately known by many other names including “smooshy face dogs.” While many of them have been glamorized and idolized by Hollywood, years of poor breeding have led to numerous problems particularly in the breathing department. This is not to say that all breeders have contributed to the problem but random matings have worsened the problem known as Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (or BOAS) which has 5 components.

The 5 Problems

brachycephalic dogs stenotic nares
Significant stenotic nares

“What a cute button nose!” No, it’s not always cute. The only visible sign these dogs have a problem is when the nares (nostrils) are just narrow slits. The worst cases look like Voldemort from the Harry Potter series and they can range to being normal round nares. When these are narrowed, it causes obstruction of airflow making breathing more difficult.

“Oh I love it when they snore.” Again, this can be the second sign of a problem. In the back of the throat, a soft flap of tissue called the soft palate is the tail end of the barrier between the nasal and oral cavity. If it’s too short, that’s why some people can snort milk out of there nose. But for these dogs, the case is it is usually too long. The movement of air over it contributes to the snoring but for those with an elongated soft palate, it can actually block the airway. And in the summer heat, tissues get inflamed causing it to swell slightly worsening the problem.

brachycephalic dogs tracheal collapse
Significant tracheal collapse

“I think he’s choking and won’t stop coughing!” What you can’t see might be killing your pooch. The 3rd & 4th parts of the syndrome occur further down in the larynx (often called the voicebox) and trachea. There are two little pouches on each side of the larynx that can puff out, or evert, again causing partial airway obstruction. In more severe cases, the cartilage at the opening of the larynx can be collapsed or softening creating airway obstruction. Lastly, the trachea (windpipe) can collapse. This is not a sudden thing but more often a chronic stretching of part of the trachea and weakening of the cartilage rings causing the trachea to flatten out preventing air getting to the lungs.

brachycephalic dogs nasal turbinate tissue
Excessive turbinate tissue (from Univ.
of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine)

“It sounds like there’s something stuck in the nose.” In recent years, newer information has come out regarding excessive tissue in the turbinates deeper in the nasal cavity. Using a laser, this tissue can be removed during a laser assisted turbinecetomy (LATE surgery). This was traditionally not addressed until the last 10 years really and only has been done in 5 locations around the world. I was only able to find that the University of Illinois was the only location in North America to do the procedure (if you know of another, I’m all ears). It is mainly a procedure done in pugs and French bulldogs.

What Can We Do About It?

Some help can be done by you at home, other parts need to be done with the help of your trusted veterinarian or a specialist.

  • Get plastic surgery – No, not you but for your dog. Surgical correction can be done on the nose as well as the soft palate and (less frequently) the laryngeal saccules. Even just doing the nose and soft palate can make a huge difference. As the LATE surgery becomes more widely available, this too may be more beneficial. stenotic nares brachycephalic dog
  • It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes – Again, your dog, not you! Collars, especially choke collars, can can put extra pressure on the trachea. A harness is the preferred attire for walking your brachycephalic dog.
  • Fight the fat – I can’t stress enough how important being at an ideal weight is. For every ounce of visible fat on the outside you can see, there is also fat on the inside that is also putting added pressure on the airway and lungs.
  • Beat the heat – If it’s warm outside for you, it’s even hotter for your dog. They can’t sweat to cool off and are dependent on you for their drinking water. Keep your walks shorter in hot weather and always have water with you.

Brachycephalic dogs can make wonderful family pets but all those little things that make them unique can also be harmful. Please take my advice and have an open conversation with your veterinarian about your brachycephalic dog. Until that time, be sure to do the simple things at home to get your pet started off right!

Disclaimer: Blog posts may contain some opinions which are my own and may not reflect those of any current or former employers. An earlier version of this post was previously published on ILoveMyDogMoreThanMyKids.com.

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