Brachycephaly In Dogs

The bulldog is brachycephalic.
Chris Amaral/Digital Vision/Getty Images

If you're a fan of breeds with short muzzles and pushed-in faces, it's likely that your favorite canines are brachycephalic breeds. The term means "short-nosed." While these dogs possess certain charms, they're also vulnerable to health issues related to their anatomy and the toll it takes on their respiratory system. It's important to find a veterinarian familiar with the special needs of these dogs.

Brachycephalic Anatomy

The head shape of brachycephalic breeds differs from those of long-nosed canines. While the lower jaw is in proportion, the upper jaw is short, giving the dog the classic undershot muzzle appearance. They usually have narrow nostrils, known as stenotic nares. Because their faces and snouts are short, brachycephalic dogs usually have elongated soft palates -- the interior flaps that separate the nose from the oral cavity. Like other dogs, they have 42 teeth at maturity, but their choppers must fit into smaller spaces, which can lead to dental and periodontal issues.

Brachycephalic Breeds

Brachycephalic dog breeds come in all sizes. They include the bulldog, the pug, the Pekingese, the shih tzu, the Lhasa apso, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel, the Japanese chin, the Boston terrier, the French bulldog, the boxer, the Brussels griffon, the chow chow, the English mastiff, the Tibetan spaniel and the bull mastiff. Some authorities also list the Yorkshire terrier and Chihuahua as brachycephalic breeds, though their snouts are noticeably longer than those of the other brachycephalic dogs.

Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome

Respiratory disease affecting brachycephalic breeds might result in brachycephalic airway syndrome. BAS symptoms include noisy and difficult breathing, exercise intolerance, constant panting and fainting. It's important to keep your brachycephalic dog at a healthy weight, since obesity aggravates the problem. Avoid taking your dog for walks in hot and humid weather, and keep him in an air-conditioned area when the temperature soars. Use a harness rather than a collar for walks, since the harness won't press on the windpipe. Severely affected dogs can acquire some relief from surgery, which may include nostril widening and removal of excess tissue in the soft palate.

Other Considerations

If you need to move your dog a long distance, you might have to drive your pet or hire a driver rather than put him on an airplane. The title of a 2010 U.S. Department of Transportation press release says it all: "Short -Faced Dogs More Prone to Death in Flight, According to DOT Data." English bulldogs and pugs are especially at risk. Brachycephalic dogs often suffer from eye problems, because their eye sockets are more shallow than dogs with normal muzzles and heads. Many of these dogs have wrinkly skin. The skin folds require regular cleansing to deter bacterial growth and subsequent infections.