With their cute round faces, big eyes, and fun personalities, short-snouted breeds such as French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs, Pugs and Boston Terriers have become increasingly popular in recent years. These dogs, along with other flat faced breeds such as Boxers, Shih Tzus, Pekingese, and Japanese Chins are known as Brachycephalic dog breeds. This term refers to the shape of these dogs’ muzzles, which are significantly more compact than other dog breeds.
While charming and adorable, flat-snouted dogs carry with them a special set of dangers vs their longer-nosed cousins. Their flat faces mean significantly shortened facial bones and a shortening of the overlying soft tissue. These structural differences mean both their soft palate (the soft tissue in the back of animals’ throats) and their nasal passage are more compacted, often resulting in a partially blocked airway. This particular set of structural abnormalities is known as Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome. The end result is a relatively obstructed airway which affects the dog’s ability to respirate.
In addition to needing efficient breathing to provide oxygen to the body, dogs rely heavily on their respiratory tract to dissipate heat. Breathing, in the form of panting, is the primary way in which dogs cool their bodies down. This means that efficient breathing is essential for thermoregulation. For Brachycephalic breeds, this vital function is restricted, often severely, which put these dogs in jeopardy during hot weather or extreme exercise.
It is important that owners of Brachycephalic breeds understand the restrictions of their dogs’ anatomies. For starters, these dogs should NOT be asked to participate in activities that require higher respiratory and cardiovascular output. This includes activities such as hiking, running, and jogging, especially during warmer weather. While all dogs need exercise, flat nose breeds benefit from regular exercise that is slow and steady vs fast and/or intense.
In addition, it is important to note that these breeds are especially susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The best way to deal with this problem is to prevent it and to know the signs of danger.
All dog owners should know the signs of heat-related injury and owners of Brachycephalic breeds should know these can occur much more quickly in their dogs vs. their longer snouted cousins:
Signs of Danger include:
- A noticeable rise in breathing volume or a “gurgling” sound when they breathe
- Excessive panting and/or panting that appears labored
- Bright red gums
- Excessive drooling
- Glazed eyes
- Difficulty walking/walking very slowly
- Vomiting and/or bloody diarrhea
- Lack of coordination or staggering
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are life threatening and should be considered a veterinary emergency.
The best way to “treat” heat related injuries are to simply prevent them. The following advise will help prevent heat stroke in your dog:
- Be aware of the forecasted temperature and keep your pet out of the heat; for some sun-loving dogs, this may mean locking them indoors during the heat of the day
- Limit outdoor exposure during the hottest months of the year
- ALWAYS have cool water available.
- Walk dogs, especially brachycephalic breeds, on a harness. This will prevent blockage of the airway which is essential for efficient respiration and efficient body cooling
- Offer a cooling pad or cool areas for your pet to lie down if they need to cool off
- DO NOT exercise your dog or allow them to play outdoors when it is warm outside. Remember that flat-nosed breeds have a lower heat tolerance, so they should be exercised only when it is cool outside.
In addition, studies have shown that brachycephalic dogs who are physically fit are better able to respirate and are better able to manage their body temperatures. This means that healthy weight and exercise are important to preventing heat related injuries. Heed the following advise regarding conditioning your Brachycephalic dog:
- In general, squatty flat-nosed dog breeds are not designed for strenuous exercise. Avoid running/jogging, hiking, and similar exercise requiring significant respiratory output
- Healthy weight is essential to the wellbeing of all dogs. Your dog, regardless of breed, should have a visible waist and a “tummy tuck” behind their chest when viewing from the side. In addition, your dog’s ribs should be easy to feel when lighting running your fingers down their sides. You should not feel a layer of fat over your pet’s ribcage
- Keep your pet physically fit. While it is inadvisable to require strenuous exercise (such as jogging, running, and steep hiking) of a dog with a significantly flattened snout, exercise is still important. Your pet should have mild to moderate exercise daily, ideally twice daily
- If you are just starting an exercise program, do so slowly and allow your dog to buildup endurance over time
- Always exercise your brachycephalic breed dog a harness. This allows them to keep their already restricted airway as open as possible
- When exercising (regardless of ambient temperature) always pay attention to your dog’s breathing. If it becomes louder or seems strained or labored, stop the exercise and allow your dog to rest/cool down. Head home once they are cooled off
- Take water with you during exercise with your dog. This will allow you to help them cool down
In general, it is important to remember that brachycephalic breeds often have significantly compromised respiratory tracts. This affects their ability to exercise, handle extreme stress, and to cool their bodies. Neglecting these considerations can put your dog in a life-threatening situation.
If you have any concerns about heat-related injury in your pet or any other concerns about your pet’s wellbeing, contact your veterinarian immediately for expert advise and treatment.
Advanced Veterinary Care of San Elijo
1691 Melrose Dr. Suite # 110
San Marcos, CA 92078