Brachycephalic Breathing Problems
I’ve been thinking about getting an English bulldog. There is something about those smushed up faces I can’t resist. They do seem to make a lot of noise. What causes that and is there anything I should know before bringing one home?
Bulldogs can and will huff, puff, snort, and snore their way into your heart. However, those appealing “smushed faces” can definitely cause some problems. English Bulldogs are considered brachycephalic, which means short head. Other dogs considered brachycephalic include the French Bulldog, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Pekingese, and Shih Tzu.
Nearly all brachycephalic dogs have some degree of upper airway obstruction as it is both heritable (from the parents) and congenital (present at birth). Veterinarians call it the Brachycephalic Airway Obstructive Syndrome (BAOS).
Although many symptoms are present at rest, they are often exacerbated by stress, excitement, exercise, and hot and humid weather. Depending on the severity of the condition, you may notice open mouth breathing, noisy breathing, nasal congestion, excessive snoring, choking and/or exercise intolerance, reverse sneezing, and fainting or collapsing episodes.
Obesity should be avoided in every brachycephalic dog. While some may experience a respiratory crisis walking to the mailbox, others may be trained in agility.
Bulldogs are not efficient panters. The respiratory system is one of the many body systems responsible for regulation of body temperature and panting is the dog’s primary method of cooling itself. Brachycephalic dogs are easily chilled, but chilling does not pose the same risks as hot, and especially humid air. They must have access to a quiet cool environment and water. Owners can also soak their animal in cool water and provide a fan for their pets to keep them comfortable.
A pre-purchase examination or first-time check up provides your veterinarian with an opportunity to visually inspect the nostrils and listen to breathing. Ask that a laryngeal exam be performed whenever the dog is anesthetized (c-sections, dentals, spay/neuter). Dogs with pronounced breathing difficulties and those that have required surgery to correct airway obstruction should not be used for breeding. A harness instead of a neck collar should be worn in those animals that are compromised to minimize stress placed on the windpipe.
Bulldogs and other brachycephalic breeds of dogs can be wonderful pets as long as owners are aware of the potential problems that come with these types of dogs. Good luck with your search for a pet that suits your lifestyle and personal preferences.