Concerns in Brachycephalic Breeds
Veterinarian Reviewed on November 1, 2007 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
“Brachycephalic” literally means “short-face” or “short-head,” and is a term used to refer to dog breeds with facial features that include a compressed upper jaw and a short muzzle. Common brachycephalic breeds include the Pit Bull Terrier, Pug, Shih Tzu, Bulldog, Boxer, and more. There are a number of health concerns directly associated with this anatomical feature, and dog owners must be familiar with the special needs that are associated with these breeds.
Because of the compressed airway associated with having a short face, all brachycephalic breeds have certain degrees of respiratory difficulties, a condition known as brachycephalic respiratory syndrome. Specific problems that may result in breathing difficulties include narrow nostrils, elongated soft palate, and tracheal stenosis (narrowed windpipe). Since dogs rely on panting to dispense excess heat, the breathing problems in brachycephalic breeds also make these dogs more susceptible to heat stress.
Brachycephalic breeds can also have eye problems since their eye sockets are very shallow. Shallow eye sockets increase the risk of eye proptosis, or dislocation of the eye, which needs surgical repair. Their eyes are also susceptible to irritation since many of them cannot close their eyelids completely, or have inward eyelids.
Other concerns related to brachycephalic breeds include dental problems, skin infection in the folds of the face, and possible complications during birth because of their broader heads. In addition, obesity carries a greater concern in brachycephalic breeds since it increases the likelihood of heat stroke and heart diseases, of which they are already more susceptible.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Diagnosing these breed-specific problems can usually be done at a young age, as symptoms are quite prominent. It is usually a question of how much the physical structure is impairing normal daily function. For instance, the snorting and snuffling sounds made by these breeds can be a sign of breathing problems if they cause distress, however all brachycephalic dogs will snort to some degree. In dogs with more severe respiratory problems, collapsing episodes and an intolerance to exercise may occur.
Eye irritation and other problems can present as localized inflammations, persistent teary eyes, and pigmentation on the eye surface.
If the problems are deemed detrimental to the dog’s general wellbeing, they can be surgically corrected. However some concerns such as susceptibility to heat strokes, tendency to have eye infections, and higher risks associated with anesthesia, are directly related to the anatomy of these breeds and cannot be fully avoided. Each individual dog will have unique needs and concerns related to its own physiological features, and the owner must be aware and work with the veterinarian closely to alleviate these problems.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan