Brachycephalic Dog Breeds • Long Beach Post

By Dr. Carl Palazzolo, DVM, Long Beach Animal Hospital (LBAH) 

All photos courtesy of LBAH unless otherwise indicated

 Gelpi - Copy

Photo by Gelpi

Brachiocephalic dogs are the ones with faces that are pushed in as compared to the “normal” dog with an extended nose. Well-known breeds include bulldogs of all types, Boston terriers, pugs, Pekingese, shih tzu and Lhasa apso.

This change in anatomy has caused a host of problems for these canines. The primary problem has to do with the respiratory tract. Brachiocephalic dogs have narrow nostrils (nares), a thick tongue, an enlarged soft palate and a narrow trachea. All of these things can add up to a respiratory nightmare for the lives of these dogs. This is so prevalent that it is called the brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS).

BOAS cannot be handled medically. Surgical correction is needed to open up the nares and trim the section of the soft palate that is covering the opening to the windpipe. It is a terrible start to a young dog’s life to undergo this surgery.

Nostrils so small they need surgery

These nostrils (nares) are too small for air to effectively pass through the dog’s respiratory system. They will need surgery to correct this.

 In addition to this severe respiratory problem, these dogs are prone to a host of many other problems in greater frequency than the nonbrachycephalic breeds. The first is chronic ear infection, or otitis externa. The ears become inflamed, sore, painful, and odorous. For an animal with such sensitive hearing, this is a terrible way to live.

inflamed ear

This infected ear—note the redness—has been shaved and cleaned.

Skin infections called pyoderma also occur in greater frequency. These dogs are miserable, constantly itch, have inflamed skin with a bad odor, and commonly get secondary fungal infections. They have excess skin folds on their faces that need to be constantly cleaned. It is not right that they are doomed to live a life in this state.

A chronic eye infection called conjunctivitis is also more prevalent in the brachycephalic breeds. Their eyes are red, uncomfortable, and constantly drain a thick discharge that scalds the skin under the eyes. This leads to long-term changes in the cornea that are hard to control and can lead to diminished ability to see. The eyes are a sensitive part of the body, and this chronic irritation is significant.

conjunctivitis - Copy

This dog is suffering from chronic conjunctivitis. Note the discharge draining on the lower lid.

 Even worse than conjunctivitis is a tendency in some brachycephalic dogs for the eye to literally pop out of the socket when there is some sort of blunt trauma to the face. Even though the eye can be replaced in some cases, it may be nonfunctional because of the loss of blood and will need to be removed.

There are even more issues when you take into consideration the musculoskeletal system. Lameness, arthritis, spondylosis, and hip dysplasia are a few of them.

The majority of these problems come from inbreeding so as to give them a “cute look” as puppies. It’s long overdue for people to stop reinforcing this inbreeding, which can condemn these dogs to a life of misery. 

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