Brachycephalic Breed Concerns

Brachycephalic breeds are the short nosed dogs. These breeds such as Frenchies, English bulldogs, Boston terriers and pugs all have very short noses. The short noses are super cute and make them extra lovable. Many people do not know that with the shorter nose comes a few health concerns not found in other breeds of dogs.

Brachycephalic airway syndrome: This is a condition that most brachycephalics suffer from to some degree. Their snorts and extra sounds they make are proof of the condition. There are 4 conditions that make up the brachycephalic airway syndrome.

  1. Stenotic nares: This means that their nostrils are more narrow and constricted. This makes less space for the air flow and makes it hard to breath.
  2. Elongated soft palate: There are two parts of the palate of the mouth. The part most rostral, towards the nose,  is the hard palate. Behind this is the soft palate. The soft palate should start at the end of the teeth and continue to the larynx. The brachycephalics will have this soft palate continue deeper into the throat then it is supposed to. This interrupts air flow, especially when pets breath hard.
  3. Everted laryngeal saccules: At the larynx is a little pocket. The inside of this pocket is lined with a soft tissue that is prone to being everted, pulled out, when there is a lot of pressure pulling the tissue. Pressure increases during hard breathing and can further reduce airflow.
  4. Hypoplastic trachea: The trachea is also called the wind-pipe. It brings air from the mouth to the lungs. When the trachea is soft, and not rigid, it is more likely to collapse. When pets breath very hard the lungs will act as a vacuum and can constrict the trachea if it is too soft. Signs of this are often coughing after breathing hard such as during playing, excitement or eating.


These 4 conditions are all much more common in dogs with short noses and makes them more prone to infection, airway disruption and overheating. Surgery can be performed to reduce these conditions if needed. Not every brachycephalic would need surgery but it should be assessed at early visits for these pets.


Owners of brachycephalic dogs need to keep the pets at a healthy weight, minimize heat exposure and monitor closely for respiratory difficulty. Signs of brachycephalic airway disease may not be apparent until the pet is middle aged or older.


Brachycephalics are also prone to dental disease. These pets have the same number of teeth as dogs with longer noses and all the teeth have less space to fit in the mouth. These pets are prone to crowding and poor occlusion (upper and lower teeth do not line up). It is important for a brachycephalic to have a dental cleaning with x-rays done earlier than many other breeds to find irregularities early, before dental health suffers.


We love the folds in these pets, it’s one of the reasons we can’t get enough of them! These folds are warm, dark, and damp and provide the perfect environment for bacteria and yeast to cause an infection. Most brachycephalics will have facial folds under the eyes and around the mouth, but some will also have folds at the base of the tail. These tail folds form deep pockets on either side of the rectum and are more of a concern for infection than  facial folds. If an infection develops and cannot be controlled with antibiotics and wipes the best long-term option is surgery to remove the fold and stop the cycle. It is easier to prevent an infection from forming than to treat an infection that has already developed. It is a good idea while the pet is still young to wipe the folds in the face and tail daily. I recommend wiping the folds with a gentle, veterinary approved wipe daily to remove grime and moisture without being too harsh on the sensitive skin in the area.


One last thing to always watch for in brachycephalics is eye conditions. Their eyes are often buphthalmic, meaning the eyes are bulgy. The eyes are prone to injury and the lids may have difficulty closing completely. They are also prone to something called entropion, when the lid folds towards the eye; making them prone to drying out and ulcers. In these pets it is important to always watch for abnormal ocular discharge and if it is noticed, bring them to the veterinarian.


I know it sounds like I am not a fan of brachycephalics. The opposite is true! I own a Boston terrier who is prone to all the above conditions and I always plan to have a brachycephalic dog in my home. Brachycephalic breeds are unique and fun additions to any home, but along with their unique personalities comes a unique set of challenges. In my opinion, the challenges are well worth it!


Dr. Smith with his Boston Beignet