french bulldog puppy is on the list of brachycephalic breeds

Brachycephalic Breeds: Health Conditions in Flat Faced Dogs


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Is your adorable dog – or potential dog – on the list of brachycephalic breeds? If so, you’ve probably heard about brachycephalic airway syndrome. It’s common for ‘flat-faced’ dog and cat breeds to experience this condition. It makes it hard for them to breathe and that leads to all sorts of knock-on effects.

Like for example… Overheating, dehydration, eye conditions, spinal issues and more.

It also costs a lot to treat so if you’re investing in a brachycephalic breed it’s worth knowing what you might need to outlay and whether pet insurance can help with these costs. Find out more about owning and caring for brachycephalic breeds here:

A woman is walking her Brachycephalic breed dog in a park.

Congenital vs hereditary

Dogs and cats are prone to many breed specific health conditions, otherwise known as genetic or hereditary conditions. However, if the condition is already present at birth the health condition is also considered congenital. Any health condition your pet is born with is considered congenital.

What makes congenital conditions tricky to get one’s head around is that they can sometimes be inherited from parents (hereditary) and although they’re known as birth defects, they may only be identified later in life.

Similar to human health insurance, pet insurance doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions – conditions already present before the policy starting date and waiting periods. As a result, pet insurance covers hereditary but not congenital conditions in dogs.

What is a brachycephalic breed?

Flat-faced breeds, like the Pug and French Bulldog are known as brachycephalic breeds. ‘Brachycephalic’ means having a wide, short head, which results in a snub nose. Or as people tend to call it: a ‘flat-faced’ pooch.

Ever noticed how thirsty you get when your nose is blocked? That’s just temporary so imagine how these little guys feel. It’s a permanent condition caused by the shape of their face. It pushes all the soft tissue that would normally go out, in.

For your dog, and by extension, for you and your family, not being able to breathe properly can be scary. Find out whether your dog is one of the brachycephalic breeds and what to expect.

A woman is gently cradling a French Bulldog in her arms.

Brachycephalic dog breeds

Brachycephalic dog breeds include, but aren’t limited to the following:

  • Boxer
  • Boston Terrier
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • English Bulldog
  • French Bulldog
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Mastiff
  • Pekingese
  • Pug
  • Shih Tzu

As for cats, the Persian, Himalayan and Burmese are the most well recognised brachycephalic breeds.

Ethical breeding to reduce brachycephaly in these breeds

Brachycephalic breeds haven’t always had flat faces. At least not as flat as they are today. The reason these breeds now have such 90-degree angle faces is thanks to us humans.

We lurrrve the cute proportions of babies: broad foreheads and comparatively small flat noses. And so, through centuries of breeding, we similarly created flatter faces in dogs. But let’s not forget the whole point of having a sticky-outy nose and nostrils. It’s to breathe. This is an essential part of everyday life. Looking cute is great, but perhaps not at the expense of breathing.

So although flatter faces pull the heartstrings, it’s important to understand the risk that comes with beauty.

A little girl joyfully interacting with a pug dog, one of the popular brachycephalic breeds.

Buy from a registered Dogs NZ breeder

If you’re hooked on getting a brachycephalic breed, look to buy from an ethical dog breeder. They will be registered with Dogs New Zealand and are more likely to observe the respiratory function grading scheme.

This helps with the breeding of healthier dogs that are less likely to experience brachycephalic obstructive airways syndrome.

Did you know that brachycephalic breeds are most likely to get cherry eye? Not sure what a prolapsed gland of the nictitans is? Read this ‘What is Cherry Eye in Dogs?‘ article for more information.

Healthy dogs in New Zealand

On a lighter note, our registered kennel dog society continues to safeguard Kiwi dogs from passing on genetic health problems. Here’s what they said in a recent press release:

Dogs New Zealand and its Breeders are working with diligence to ensure the standard of health of all pedigree breeds in NZ is maintained to the highest level possible.

There are now multiple schemes that have been developed to help breeders do this, such as Breed Litter Registration Limitations (LRL’s) which are developed in conjunction with breed clubs to ensure health testing is completed while litters are still in the planning stage.

The Judges Breed Observation Scheme has been operational since 2021 and has given dog show judges the tools to record where breed issues may lie so pedigree dog breeders and stakeholders can ascertain the true degree of health of our pedigree breeds here in New Zealand.

Dogs New Zealand

Brachycephalic breeds like this pug can struggle to breath

Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome

Having a short snout doesn’t mean not having a nose. But in brachycephalic breeds all the soft tissues go inwards, taking up more room. This of course affects all the other bits and bobs that need to fit into the head, like breathing pipes and palette.

When this becomes clinically unsafe for your dog, it’s called brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome.

On a side note, anyone who’s ever been pregnant will sort of know what this feels like, only in the stomach region rather than the head. As baby grows, your organs, stomach and digestive system basically get pushed into areas you’d rather not have them. You end up heading to the loo more, but can’t eat full portions either so you’re ALWAYS hungry. Basically you’re squeezed for space.

Likewise, our little canine friends can experience this – only worse, in their heads.

Watch this video to find out what scientists are doing to help brachycephalic breeds:

Symptoms of BOAS

As the name suggests, brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome is indeed a syndrome. Syndrome basically means a bunch of symptoms that go together to form a condition.

For example, brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (or BOAS for short) can have the following effects on brachycephalic breeds:

  1. Eyes. The added internal pressure on the inside of brachycephalic breeds’ skulls causes their eyes to bulge. This can contribute to problems with eye functionality and eye health, particularly in Pugs.
  2. Spine. The inward protrusion also causes abnormal vertebrae and can lead to back injuries. After all, the head connects to the spine and the spine in turn connects most other areas of our body. Spinal health is key to living well.
  3. Breathing. In brachycephalic breeds the soft tissues are densely packed in. It squashes up around the sinuses, making it hard to breathe. Their elongated soft palette doesn’t have enough room and ends up dipping into the larynx, obstructing the airflow. In addition, brachycephalic breeds are prone to experiencing a collapse of the larynx.

Did you know brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome is so common in brachycephalic breeds that many airlines place restrictions on flying with pets if they’re on the brachycephalic breeds list? Click here for Air New Zealand’s take on it.

this pug is a brachycephalic breed

Treating BOAS

Surgical intervention is the primary treatment for brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome.

Vet Dojo have kindly made their BOAS surgery video freely available online. Although it’s worth understanding what our pups may have to endure, we recommend fellow squeamish viewers skip this bit:

Award winning pet insurance for dogs and cats

Buying or adopting a pet and raising them to be healthy and happy comes with certain expenses. Thankfully pet insurance helps cover a broad range of unexpected vet bills.

Cover for non-routine vet visits can include medications, tests, surgery and other treatments for accidents and illnesses that aren’t pre-existing. Depending on the level of cover you select, you can get dental cover too.

Each of our three plans covers third party liability. Plenty more opportunity to reduce your pet’s health and wellbeing costs and those costs you could incur from damage they cause.

Ultimately, the best thing you can do to give your pet the best possible cover is to start when they’re young and at their optimum health. That way you get your furkid the maximum benefit their dog insurance plan can offer.

PD Insurance gives you one or more months of FREE pet insurance when you buy online. Take two minutes to get a free quote – simply click here 👇 to begin.

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