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Get the facts about Brachycephalic airway syndrome
Brachycephalic is a term for “short-nosed.” Several dog breeds and a few breeds of cats may experience difficulty breathing due to the shape of their head, ...
December 4, 2013

Brachycephalic is a term for “short-nosed.” Several dog breeds and a few breeds of cats may experience difficulty breathing due to the shape of their head, muzzle and throat.

Shorter nosed dogs include English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers and many other breeds. The shorter than average nose and face in proportion to their body size can cause problems for these breeds at times.

Owners with brachycephalic breeds must pay extra attention to their animals during exercise, heat and while obtaining veterinary care. Areas of special concern include:

dog1Respiratory Problems

Animals with Brachycephalic syndrome have a shortened skull, resulting in a compressed nasal passage and abnormal throat anatomy. The abnormal upper airway anatomy causes increased negative pressure while taking a breath, leading to inflammation, deformation of throat tissues, and obstruction of breathing.  Corrective surgery to address airway issues is encouraged in moderate to severely affected dogs.

Cooling problems

As dogs cool by panting, dogs with narrowed airways may have difficulty cooling themselves. This may be made worse by anxiety or stress.

Stomach and intestinal problems

Brachycephalic dogs may swallow a lot of air which can lead to increased vomiting or regurgitation, and this could lead to pneumonia. If possible, we pre-treat brachycephalic dogs with medications to reduce stomach acids, and to promote stomach emptying.

Restraint challenges

Due to their airway, and in some bulldogs, their intrinsic personality as “tough” dogs, it may be difficult to restrain them safely.This is a particularly significant problem with more aggressive dogs. We occasionally need to sedate them, or ask family members to help with some routine procedures to avoid unnecessary stress on the patient.

Sedation and anesthesia

While sedation and anesthesia are commonly performed in brachycephalic breeds, especially bulldogs, recovery from anesthesia may be more difficult for these patients due to a narrowed airway. At Tufts, our anesthesia team is very closely involved in sedation and anesthesia of brachycephalic breeds, especially bulldogs. They have found that careful monitoring is essential to a good outcome. In fact, many dog owners travel some distance in order to ensure that a board-certified anesthesiologist is present during anesthesia or sedation, to minimize the risk of complications.

If you are worried your dog may be at risk for brachycephalic syndrome, consult your family veterinarian for an examination.