Factors That Influence Breathing In Flat Faced Dogs

Updated: Oct 2, 2019

The snoring and snorting of our short nosed pups can be endearing and definitely sets them apart from many other breeds. However, dogs that are brachiocephalic or have a short, flat face are prone to breathing issues that can challenge their health and well-being. Having some insight into this potential and making some accommodations for our Snore Babies can go a long way in helping them to lead healthy and active lives.

The reason breeds like Pugs, Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, and Frenchies make so much noise with their snouts is because of the shape of their head and the relationship to the throat. There are 3 common defects that together are known as Brachycephalic Syndrome which include: elongated soft palate, stenotic nares, and everted laryngeal saccules. A dog does not have to have all 3, but may have a component of the syndrome.

Elongated Soft Palate

The throat consists of a hard palate (aka the roof of the mouth) and going down towards the back of the throat – the soft palate. The soft palate is made up of muscle fibers and is very flexible. This helps protect the airway in the acts of swallowing and sneezing, so that things other than air do not enter the airway (most helpful). Often in flat-faced dogs, the soft palate is longer than the space available for it and basically creates a situation of too much tissue near the trachea, or airway. This tissue can bunch up and impede the airway from proper air flow. So, instead of protecting the airway during specific times, it “falls” into the space on a continual basis or with certain positions of the dog’s head and blocks off the airway. In addition to an elongated palate, the flatter and shorter the skull, the smaller the actual airway can be and then the problem is magnified.

Normal vs Abnormal Soft Palate in Dogs
Soft Palate in Dogs

Stenotic Nares

Nares are just nostrils in the dog world and stenosis is a narrowing. Flat faced dogs tend to have very narrow openings or small nostrils in which to take air in. This causes increased pressure, as if you were trying to breathe through a straw. This smaller opening causes less air to be able to be taken in with each breath.

Normal vs stenotic dog nares

Everted Laryngeal Saccules

Laryngeal Saccules are small, normal masses that on each side of the larynx, or voicebox of the dog and no one is really sure as to what they are there for. In brachiocephalic dogs, these saccules will sometimes evert and get pulled into the airway, causing some obstruction. This often occurs because of the increased pressure caused when a dog with stenotic nares is trying to breathe in.

So, how do you know if your dog may have issues with any of these things? If your dog breathes noisily (especially with exercise), snores excessively, makes a wheezing sound when they breathe, are heat intolerant, spontaneously vomits, gags, or easily tires with exercise than he/she should be assessed by your vet. The symptoms can range from mild to severe and the recommended treatment will be based on that determination.

Treatment for the condition can range from surgery (soft palate surgery with nares trim) to managing your dog’s environment. Individual surgical information is beyond the scope of this article, however there are some things that you can do to help your dog straight away:

· Weight control-obesity significant worsens the symptoms of brachiocephalic syndrome.

Often mild to moderate symptoms can be successfully managed by keeping your dog at a healthy weight.

· Temperature-avoiding activity during high temperature or humidity times of the day (which can be difficult for those of us in the South) is important because dogs regulate their body temperature with panting. Flat-faced dogs cannot regulate as well as their longer nosed cousins and therefore are prone to over-heating and heat exhaustion. This can put an excessive strain on the heart as well. Taking your pup out early in the morning or late in the day can be a great help to them. Also, cooling them down with wetting their heads can also do the trick.

French bulldog in water

· Managing exercise-all dogs need exercise and should engage in active, play activities daily. However, it is important that you identify time frames that are appropriate for your dog, so that they have periods to rest in cooler, air-conditioned temperatures as they manage their breathing.

· Always use a harness-never walk your dog by his/her collar, as this can place undue stress over the soft tissue of the neck and irritate the tissues. This irritation can cause swelling in the area and further restrict the airway.

· Elevated food bowls-although there is some controversy with these, elevated bowls can help flat-nosed dogs eat more comfortably, as they do not have to bend their head down as far when eating. This can also help with improving digestion and decreasing gagging. You can speak to your vet if he/she feels an elevated bowl can be helpful for your dog’s situation.

Those short little noses bring us so much joy with their cute faces and crazy noises. They certainly give them so much personality! We should love and enjoy them for their uniqueness, but also be mindful of some of the issues that may come with those fantastic little snouts.

Bulldog nose

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