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Brachycephalic Dogs: The Truth About Those Adorable, Pushed-In Little Noses


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The first thing you probably notice when you see a pug, boxer, or bulldog is that cute, wrinkly, smooshed-in face (Who can resist those velvety folds?). But underneath those wrinkles is a medical condition to be aware of, which can negatively impact a dog’s quality of life. If you have a dog or are thinking about getting a dog with a “snub nose,” here’s what you need to know in order to keep him as comfortable and healthy as possible.

Breeds with flat noses have a condition called “brachycephalic syndrome.” The term brachycephalic refers to a broad, short skull shape that gives certain breeds a distinct snub-nosed appearance. While it’s typically easy to spot a brachycephalic dog based on physical appearance, there are varying degrees of severity. Here is a complete list of brachycephalic breeds:

Because Brachycephalic dogs have a structural narrowing at the nostrils, the back of the throat, and in the windpipe, most dogs with the condition prefer to breathe through their mouths due to the increased airway resistance in their noses. Mildly affected dogs will breathe noisily, snort when excited and snore while sleeping. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, your pup may become distressed, especially after exercise or in warmer temperatures. On very hot days, brachycephalic dogs run a high risk of heat stroke because of their difficulty regulating body temperature.

In addition to breathing loudly, snorting, and snoring, there are a few other signs of distress to watch out for, including retching or gagging, especially while swallowing, which indicates an elongated soft palate and is a sign of trouble. Dogs with elongated soft palates often prefer to sleep on their backs because it makes breathing easier. Watch out for blue gums, blue tongue or fainting after exercise; in extreme cases, this can indicate lack of oxygen in your pup’s blood. Take a look at your dog’s nostrils, too – do they look normal, or do they appear to be pinched closed? Nostrils that are closed too far to allow for proper air flow are a part of the brachycephalic syndrome, and are called “stenotic nares.” While this condition is present from birth, it may not affect your dog until later in life, so even if your dog does not currently show symptoms, it’s important to continue to monitor your brachycephalic dog closely.

Treatment Options

  • Check in with your vet regularly and keep tabs on the condition. Not all dogs require surgery to be comfortable, but many benefit from corrective procedures if preventative measures are not enough to provide your pup relief.
  • Learn what’s normal for your pooch. Once you figure out which snorts and snores are status quo, you’ll know immediately when you hear troubling breathing sounds or a new type of snorting that it’s time to visit your vet.
  • Maintain a healthy weight for your pup. Obesity can make breathing problems worse.
  • Always regulate your dog’s temperature and exercise, especially during the summer months. As mentioned, hot and humid weather increases a brachycephalic dog’s risk of heat stroke, so make sure he stays cool.
  •  Consider using a harness instead of a collar. A collar can pull on your dog’s larynx, making breathing even more difficult.
  • Sometimes, surgery is necessary to allow your dog to breathe normally and improve his quality of life. The soft palate can be surgically trimmed shorter, stenotic nares can be widened, and both are simple, minimally invasive procedures.
  •  Lastly, consider spaying or neutering. Since this condition is inherited, it’s a good idea to avoid breeding a dog that suffers from severe brachycephalic syndrome. Use your vet as a resource, stay informed on new treatment options and do your part to keep your wrinkly-faced pooch safe.