Brachycephalic Dogs & Breathing Problems

Dr. Ryan Llera discusses

Brachycephalic Dogs & Breathing Problems

Another summer has arrived! And with it comes the scorching heat. While many of us enjoy this time of year, there are some who don’t. I can’t blame them for hating it. It’s hot, humid, and it makes it more difficult for them to breathe. That’s right, I’m talking about my brachycephalic friends including my #1 pug pal, Miss Edie the Pug.

Brachycephalic dogs are affectionately known by many other names including “smooshy face dogs.” While many of them have been glamorized and idolized by Hollywood, years of poor breeding have led to numerous problems particularly in the breathing department. This is not to say that all breeders have contributed to the problem but random matings have worsened the problem known as Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome (or BAS) which has 4 components.

Brachycephalic Dogs & Breathing Problems

Narrow nares

“What a cute button nose!” No, it’s not always cute. The only visible sign these dogs have a problem is when the nares (nostrils) are just narrow slits. The worst cases look like Voldemort from the Harry Potter series and they can range to being normal round nares. When these are narrowed, it causes obstruction of airflow making breathing more difficult.

Good nares

Open nares – Photo courtesy of Max

“Oh I love it when they snore.” Again, this can be the second sign of a problem. In the back of the throat, a soft flap of tissue called the soft palate is the tail end of the barrier between the nasal and oral cavity. If it’s too short, that’s why some people can snort milk out of there nose. But for these dogs, the case is it is usually too long. The movement of air over it contributes to the snoring but for those with an elongated soft palate, it can actually block the airway. And in the summer heat, tissues get inflamed causing it to swell slightly worsening the problem.

Brachycephalic Dogs & Breathing Problems

Normal Trachea

Brachycephalic Dogs & Breathing Problems

Collapsed Trachea

I think he’s choking and won’t stop coughing! What you can’t see might be killing your pooch. The 3rd & 4th parts of the syndrome occur further down in the larynx (often called the voicebox) and trachea. There are two little pouches on each side of the larynx that can puff out, or evert, again causing partial airway obstruction. Lastly, the trachea (windpipe) can collapse. This is not a sudden thing but more often a chronic stretching of part of the trachea and weakening of the cartilage rings causing the trachea to flatten out preventing air getting to the lungs.

So what can we do about it? Some help can be done by you at home, other parts need to be done with the help of your trusted veterinarian.

  • Get plastic surgery – No, not you but for your dog. Surgical correction can be done on the nose as well as the soft palate and laryngeal saccules. Even just doing the nose and soft palate can make a huge difference.
  • It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes – Again, your dog, not you! Collars, especially choke collars, can can put extra pressure on the trachea. A harness is the preferred attire for walking your brachycephalic dog.
  • Fight the fat – I can’t stress enough how important being at an ideal weight is. For every ounce of visible fat on the outside you can see, there is also fat on the inside that is also putting added pressure on the airway and lungs.
  • Beat the heat – If it’s warm outside for you, it’s even hotter for your dog. They can’t sweat to cool off and are dependent on you for their drinking water. Keep your walks shorter in hot weather and always have water with you.

Brachycephalic dogs can make wonderful family pets but all those little things that make them unique can also be harmful. Please take my advice and have an open conversation with your veterinarian about your brachycephalic dog. Until that time, be sure to do the simple things at home to get your pet started off right!

Do you have a brachycephalic dog?

Have you ever noticed issues with their breathing?

If so, what steps, if any, have you taken to make it easier for them?

Dr. Ryan Llera is a small animal veterinarian at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic in Kingston, Ontario. Though originally from Florida, he married a Canadian (who is also a vet!) and they share their home with 3 cats, 2 dogs, 2 horses and a pet rat named Sherman. Ryan is also a regular guest writer for the Ontario SPCA blog. You can find more of Dr. Llera on his blog  and be sure to follow him on TwitterFacebook & Instagram 

Author: Kelly Harding & Edie The Pug

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22 Comments

  1. Interesting! Thank you for sharing all of this info. As a trainer, I have worked with some pugs and other brachycephalic breeds. I know some about them from reading about them, but not this level of detail. I did not know about the narrow and open nares — that is interesting!

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  2. I am SO happy you are spreading awareness! A lot of people don’t realize this is an issue! It’s very dangerous!! Thank you!

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    • I am so cautious with Edie, the heat and her breathing. It is a very real issue!

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  3. Thank you for sharing all this important information! I don’t own a button-nose-pup myself but I find them insanely cute! Should one ever find their way into my pack, I’ll definitely want to remember what I’ve just read! Pinned! 🙂

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    • Thank you for the Pin!

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  4. very informative. I have a Chihuahua so not Brachycephalic… but he does have a very very fragile trachea. He has no collar as a result, just a harness that is lower on the chest.

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    • I prefer a harness on Edie as well.

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  5. Great information here for those with “smooshy” faced dogs or considering one. You have listed some wonderful tips to utilize as well, thank you. Sharing ❤

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  6. GREAT POST!!!!! it amazes me when I see adorable little pugs or bulldogs on a walk in the middle of the scorching heat and they are barly moving or worse laying down and usually the owner (a kid) is just pulling them along talking to friends or playing on their phone. So sad! Even if you dont mind the heat, some dogs cant deal with it.

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    • It’s important for people to understand what possible health issues come with certain breeds of dogs.

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  7. Thank you for sharing such an informative post. I’ve heard about the issues that “smooshy-faced” dogs can have, and I’m Pinning this on my Bark About board to share this important info.

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    • Thank you so much for Pinning this important information!

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    • So glad you enjoyed it! And thanks for passing it along!

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  8. This is fantastic information and the images highlight the issues – thank you.

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    • Glad you enjoyed the post and that the pictures were helpful!

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  9. My sister’s Pug has been very lucky as far as not having too many issues with her breathing. She did have something similar to asthma for a few days last winter. I think it might have been because she was staying at a house with a woodstove.

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    • Miss Edie has been very fortunate with her breathing as well. I find it interesting about the wood stove, because as much as I like them, my breathing is affected by them too.

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      • The wood stove will dry out the air and remove humidity making airways dry up. Also might be good to check for leaks and make sure no smoke is also getting out!

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  10. In the summer, my asthma worsens so I can relate. There’s nothing worse for my staff than when I start coughing. My neighbor Bijou has one of those Button noses.

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  11. Thank you for such an informative post! I’ve always wanted a Boston Terrier and it’s really something to think about when it comes to their health.

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    • Thanks for your appreciation! I’m glad you are doing some research before getting a specific breed 🙂

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