Brachycephalic Dogs – How to Manage Flat Faced Dog Health Problems


The Risks Faced by Flat-faced Dogs.

Wondering what French Bulldogs, Pug dogs and Boston Terriers have in common?  Besides being totally adorable, these three breeds are classified as brachycephalic.

Brachycephalic (Greek for short-headed) dogs typically have short noses and flattened faces. These breeds include Pugs, French Bull Dogs, British Bulldogs, Pekingese, Boston Terriers and Shih tzus.

The popularity of flat faced dog breeds has grown in recent years, so much so, French Bull Terriers have overtaken Labrador Retrievers as the number one registered breed in Britain!


a bulldog and ownerThe French Bulldog was the most registered dog breed in Britain in first quarter 2018.

This growth in popularity has highlighted the many health issues associated with Brachycephalic dogs – in particular, Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS).

BOAS is a direct effect of compacted facial anatomy and results in an increased effort to breathe and reduced airflow to the lungs. Signs of Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome in dogs include:

  • Wheezing when inhaling: caused by narrowed nostrils and nasal passages
  • Snorting and grunting sounds: caused by elongated soft palate
  • Snoring, coughing and gagging: due to laryngeal collapse and narrowed airways.

In severe cases, airflow may be so impeded, dogs collapse after exertion.

Dog displaying any respiratory signs should be examined by a veterinarian. Many brachycephalic dogs benefit from surgical intervention. This typically involves shortening the soft palate and surgical resection to open the nostrils and larynx.

A dog getting surgeryFlat faced dogs suffering with obstructive airway syndrome benefit from surgery to open the airways.

Other Flat Faced Dog Health Problems

Flat faced dogs are prone to  heat stroke or overheating especially if they are overweight or old. The facial conformation of flat-faced breeds renders panting a much less effective cooling mechanism than in their long-nosed counterparts. For this reason, overheating should be avoided at all costs (air-conditioning may be required in hot climates).

It is especially important for Brachycephalic dogs not to exercise during the heat of the day. Always monitor for signs of over exertion and laboured breathing. Use a harness rather than collar, when walking to reduce pressure on the neck and airways.

A flat face French BulldogFlat faced dog breeds such as the French Bulldog have narrowed airways and are unable to pant effectively to keep themselves cool.
A long-nosed dog breedLong-nosed dog breeds have more efficient cooling systems and larger airways.

Flat-faced dog breeds are also prone to heart problems- secondary to their facial conformation. Impeded airflow results in reduced oxygen levels in the bloodstream which in turn places increased workload and strain on the heart. Annual veterinary checks are recommended to monitor heart health.

Many brachycephalic dogs experience dental decay and gum disease. This is because shortened facial features typically lead to overcrowding of teeth. A regular dental check-up is a must.

Most breeds have deep facial skin folds and narrow ear canals. This reduces skin ventilation leading to increased likelihood of recurring infections. A regular facial and ear cleaning routine is necessary for brachycephalic dogs.

The eyes of many short-nosed breeds protrude. This impedes the tear film from spreading properly and reduces lubrication of the eye. As a result, brachycephalic dogs are prone to “dry-eye”, eye ulcers and ocular injury.

Many brachycephalic dogs have difficulty giving birth due to the mismatch between large-sized puppy heads and the mother’s birth canal. A large proportion of brachycephalic dogs are born by C-Section.

Tips to Keep your Brachycephalic Dog Healthy

When buying a brachy pup, always check the parents have not needed surgery for obstructive airways. Dogs with extreme brachy features should never be bred. BOAS is a hereditary condition that will require significant costly veterinary treatment.

Dogs with less exaggerated facial features suffer much less than those with extreme shortening of the face. Not all dogs require surgical intervention. Choose wisely. Always meet parent dogs and if possible request the opinion a vet prior to purchase.

All brachys are prone to weight gain. It is vitally important these dogs are maintained at a healthy weight. In addition to causing obesity related disease, weight gain greatly exaggerates brachycephalic breathing difficulties and problems with overheating.

An overweight Pug dogThis overweight Pug dog is at extreme risk of heatstroke and life-threatening dyspnoea (breathing difficulty).

Although predisposed to many health issues, brachycephalic breeds have a friendly and outgoing nature and make wonderful companions. Buy from trusted breeders and keep up with regular veterinary checks, to avoid many of these health complaints.

Is your dog a healthy weight? Find out now with your free WAGSTA Wellness Check.


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