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Why snub-nosed dogs have health issues

People just seem to love snub-nosed dogs. From bulldogs and pugs to Boston terriers and Cavalier King Charles spaniels, these flat-faced breeds are regulars at the dog parks and stars on social media.

According to the American Kennel Club, French bulldogs and bulldogs are the fourth and fifth most popular breeds in the U.S. (following only Labrador retrievers, German shepherds and golden retrievers). Their faces are just so photogenic and cute.

Breeds with broad, short skulls are called brachycephalic. They have flat faces and large, wide-set eyes that give them somewhat of a baby-like appearance. As common as these breeds are in public, they’re also regular patients at the veterinarian’s office because they’re more likely to have an array of health conditions, often because of breathing problems called brachycephalic syndrome. A survey of five years of Australian pet health insurance claims found that the average annual veterinary bill for a British bulldog was $965 compared to $445 for a mixed breed.

Here are some of the medical problems that come along with those photogenic faces.

Heat and summer

Dogs with short snouts are at a higher risk of heat-related issues because their anatomy makes it harder for them to have easy breathing, especially in the heat and humidity. Make sure to have plenty of water on hand, keep pets in the shade and ideally, indoors, during the hottest hours of the day.

Snoring

pug sleeping Pugs and other brachycephalic breeds often make snoring, wheezing noises. (Photo: fongleon356/Shutterstock)

Narrowed nostrils and elongation of the soft palate in snub-nosed dogs obstructs the passage of air through the nose and throat. That’s why these dogs often seem to be making snoring, wheezing or snorting noises. It’s a good idea to make sure your vet closely monitors what’s going on to make sure the noises don’t change or there isn’t an obstruction.

Planes and safety

Because of their breathing difficulties, snub-nosed breeds don’t make good airplane travelers. Some dogs with brachycephalic syndrome may have a narrow trachea, collapsed larynx or other issues that can also hamper breathing, according to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. Some airlines don’t let these breeds fly.

Eye problems

Boston terrier with eyes mostly closed Snub-nosed breeds often have eye problems because their eyes don’t always close completely. (Photo: kotaharu/Shutterstock)

With their big, wide-set eyes, brachycephalic breeds are more likely to develop certain opthalmologic issues. Because they have a shallow eye socket that gives them the “bulging eyes” look, many of these dogs can’t always fully blink. This can lead to dry corneas and corneal ulcers, according to The Kennel Club. Their unusual eye and eyelid anatomy also makes them more likely to have conjunctivitis and eye injuries.

Skin issues

Along with breathing problems, flat-faced dogs are also often more likely to have skin problems, according to an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) analysis of pet insurance claims. It’s because these dogs often have deep skin folds and wrinkles. They are often more likely to have issues with fungal skin disease, allergic dermatitis, ear infections and pyoderma (a painful skin disease with painful pustules).

What are the brachycephalic breeds?

Not sure if that smushy-faced pup is one to worry about? Nationwide Pet Insurance identifies two dozen breeds that fall under the brachycephalyic breed description:

  • Affenpinscher
  • Boston terrier
  • Boxer
  • Brussels griffon
  • Bulldog
  • Bulldog (Olde English)
  • Bulldog (Victorian)
  • Cavalier King Charles spaniel
  • Dogue de Bordeaux
  • French bulldog
  • Japanese chin
  • Lhasa apso
  • Mastiff
  • Mastiff (Brazilian)
  • Mastiff (Bull)
  • Mastiff (English)
  • Mastiff (Neapolitan)
  • Mastiff (Pyrenean)
  • Mastiff (Tibetan)
  • Mastiff (Spanish)
  • Olde English bulldog
  • Pekingnese
  • Pug
  • Shih tzu

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.

Why snub-nosed dogs have health issues

Brachycephalic dog breeds have cute, smushed-in faces, but they often battle lots of health problems.

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