Brachycephalic Dogs

The term "brachycephalic" refers to those dogs with "pushed in" faces. Breeds such as the Pug, Shih Tzu, Pekingnese and Yorkshire Terrier are considered brachycephalic. Brachycephalic dogs are known for having respiratory problems. Though it's true that these dogs are more prone to respiratory complaints, not every brachycephalic dog will have breathing problems.

Why Brachycephalic Dogs Are Prone to Breathing Problems

Brachycephalic dogs have been bred to have a normally proportioned lower jaw and a more compact upper jaw. This means that your brachycephalic dog may be prone to breathing problems as a result of abnormalities in his respiratory tract. These abnormalities are the result of generations of breeding these dogs for their appearance, without regard for their health. Not all brachycephalic dogs suffer from all of these abnormalities, and some may not have breathing problems at all.

Brachycephalic dogs may have exceptionally narrow nostrils. The soft palate, or tissue on the roof of the mouth that separates the oral cavity from the nasal cavity, may be elongated and hang down in the throat. Elongated soft palate is very common in brachycephalic dogs and is the reason why many of them may make a snorting sound when they breathe.

Brachycephalic dogs may also have abnormally narrow windpipes, making anesthesia dangerous. 

Problems Associated with Brachycephalic Breeds

Because of the structural abnormalities in their respiratory tract, brachycephalic dogs may have a range of breathing related health problems. They are prone to laryngeal collapse due to the stress that prolonged labored breathing places on this sensitive organ. Anesthesia may be particularly dangerous, as can any condition that causes swelling of the throat, including panting and barking. 

Brachycephalic dogs are far more prone to heat stroke than any other breed of dog. Because they can't breathe well, they're unable to cool themselves efficiently by panting. Panting can cause their air passages to swell, causing further overheating and respiratory distress.

Brachycephalic dogs are prone to eye problems, because their eye sockets are quite shallow. Even a small blow to the head, or a tug from a leash, can cause a brachycephalic dog's eye to pop out. In some dogs, the eyes bug out so much that the lids can't close; these dogs are prone to chronic dry eye. The eyelids of brachycephalic dogs may be misshapen, and roll inward; if this happens, the eye could sustain serious damage.

Brachycephalic dogs often have crowded teeth, and are more vulnerable to tooth decay. They may develop infections in their skin folds, and can have trouble giving birth.

Caring for Your Brachycephalic Dog

If you have a brachycephalic dog, you'll need to take special precautions with him, especially if he has breathing problems. Strenuous activity is out of the question, and keep your dog cool at all times. Don't allow him to become overweight, as this makes breathing harder for him. Walk him on with a harness, rather than a collar.

Your vet may recommend surgery to correct some of the abnormalities in your dog's respiratory tract and help him breathe easier. Surgery early in life can prevent more serious problems later on.