Brachycephalic dogs have shortened faces and noses, such as Pugs, French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers and Shih Tzus. The brachycephalic breeds are becoming increasingly popular and it’s not difficult to see why – they are great characters and make wonderful pets.
However, there are several common health problems associated with their short noses, the most important being difficulties with breathing.
Common problems that brachycephalic dogs often have from a young age include:
- Nostrils that partly obstruct breathing through the nose.
- A very long soft palate. This is the sheet of muscle and mucous membrane that divides the back of the nasal cavity from the back of the mouth, and can be so long that it gets sucked into the beginning of the wind pipe when breathing.
- Lots of loose folds of mucous membrane around the throat.
- A windpipe that is relatively very narrow for the size of the dog (think how much more difficult it is to breathe through a straw than through a snorkel)
These issues over time can lead to the development of other problems:
- Collapse of the larynx – this is the ‘voicebox’ which is made from cartilage and holds open the beginning of the windpipe
- Eversion of the laryngeal saccules – this is where little folds of mucous membrane from the larynx pop out and further obstruct breathing.
- Stomach problems – the difficulties with breathing make these dogs more prone to acid reflux and vomiting.
- Lung problems – if dogs struggle to breath properly when they are eating or vomiting they can inhale food or vomit into their lungs causing a severe pneumonia.
Some of these issues can be improved by surgery, which can then help to avoid development of further problems. If needed, surgery is generally best carried out relatively early in life, at around 6-8 months old, and can be done at the same time as neutering. Sometimes significant breathing issues do not develop until much later in life, but surgery at this stage can still be very helpful to improve quality of life and limit the progression of problems such as collapse of the larynx.
Despite the risks, airway surgery in brachycephalic dogs gives a good chance of improving their quality of life and reducing the problems likely to be encountered later in life.
Fiona French, as well as being an RCVS recognised Advanced Practitioner in Small Animal Surgery, has a particular interest in airway surgery on brachycephalic dogs and is very experienced in this area, and our nursing team are very familiar with caring for these dogs before, during and after their surgery. If you would would like Fiona to assess your dog and discuss any concerns you may have, please contact the surgery to make an appointment with her.