The term brachycephalic is used to describe animal breeds that have “squashed” faces – e.g. Bulldogs, Pekingese, Boxers, Pugs. In these breeds the bones of the nose and mouth develop in width but not in length. As a result these breeds usually have one or more of the following structural abnormalities – overly long soft palates, small nostrils, small tracheas (“windpipes”), everted laryngeal saccules, and laryngeal collapse. These abnormalities are known collectively as Brachycephalic Syndrome.

What effects does Brachycephalic Syndrome have?

Each of the conditions involved in Brachycephalic Syndrome cause difficulty breathing. While brachycephalic dogs usually breathe loudly, it is worth noting that this is NOT to be considered “normal”. Try pinching your nostrils half-closed and breathe through your nose – this is how brachycephalic dogs have to breathe all the time. Often the condition worsens slowly over time, making it hard for owners to realise that their pet is having trouble. Difficulty breathing results in poor exercise tolerance, poor heat tolerance, and poor sleep patterns. As animals age, chronic damage from breathing difficulties will further affect the airways, making it even more difficult for the animal to breathe. In some cases this damage becomes so severe that the dog may die.

Can anything be done?

Veterinary specialists are now recommending that brachycephalic animals undergo corrective surgery at an early age – before the damage becomes too severe. Current recommendations suggest surgical treatment at 5-6 months old, at the same time that the dog is de-sexed. This corrective surgery involves widening the passage through the nostrils and shortening the soft palate of the mouth – although some animals may require correction of further abnormalities.