Flat-nosed dogs, or brachycephalic breeds, are so popular now. You can’t turn on the television, open a magazine or surf the internet without seeing some version of a Bulldog (French or English), Boxer or Boston Terrier. I have a special affinity for English Bulldogs, my father was in the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps mascot is an English Bulldog; Chesty XV has recently been recruited to take over that duty. We never had a Bulldog as a pet, but I met a good number of them in my years growing up on military bases. There is something that is so endearing about those breeds and they are very popular. According to the 2017 AKC Most Popular Dog Breed list, French Bulldogs ranked #4 followed by English Bulldogs at #5 and Boxers are #11.
Flat-nosed breeds do come with more than their fair share of medical problems. When I see a new puppy with a flat face I always tell the owners whatever they paid for the puppy was just a down payment, because more likely than not, their new family member will require a lifetime medical treatment. Most of their medical problems stem from their short noses. Crowded teeth that are often sideways increase the risk of dental disease and need for cleaning and often tooth extraction. Their cute bulging eyes make them adorable, but it also makes their eyes more exposed and prone to injury. Anyone that has been around a flat-nosed dog knows about their respiratory issues. Just like in humans, snoring is often a sign of serious airway problems. The airway abnormalities that short-nosed breeds are prone to is called Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS). Small nasal openings (stenotic nares), elongated soft palate (too long), hypoplastic (small) trachea and everted laryngeal saccules all combine to make it much more difficult for these dogs to move air. And when overweight, warm or stressed, dogs affected with BOAS can suffer fatal consequences. This is such a serious problem that many airlines will not allow brachycephalic breeds to fly and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has an advisory cautioning the risk of air travel with those short-nosed breeds.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has gone even further, they strongly believe that dogs with BOAS are suffering and steps need to be taken to improve these breeds quality of life. The BVA has developed a 10-point action plan to guide veterinarians to be proponents in the effort to improve the health and welfare of brachycephalic dogs. The BVA encourages vets to advise against breeding dogs that are suffering from BOAS, if they require surgery to alter abnormal anatomy or if they cannot breed and give birth naturally. (Some flat-faced breeding dogs require artificial insemination to become pregnant and a C-section to give birth.) The BVA also has a #breedtobreath campaign highlighting the risks associated with brachycephalic breeds and steps that can be taken to improve the quality of life for flat-nosed breeds, including encouraging breeders to breed dogs that do not have components of BOAS, moving back toward more normal facial anatomy. If you compare a picture of a Bulldog or a Pug from the 1800s to their modern day counterparts, you will clearly see that breeders have selected for a flatter face and stockier body over time. A case where selective breeding chose for a dog that wins in a dog show and is easier to sell but has a higher risk of health problems. The BVA also discourages companies from using brachycephalic breeds in their advertisements, because breeds used in advertisements tend to become more sought after by prospective pet parents.
I love all my flat-faced patients, they are great dogs and have the most dedicated owners. Many of these patients are affected with one or more of the components of BOAS. We work hard to keep these dogs slim because when they are obese, it makes it even harder for them to breath. As the temperature increases, so does the risk of complications related to BOAS. Flat-nosed breed owners know to keep their dogs cool and inside when the temperatures rise, 70 degrees might be too warm for some of these dogs. If you are going to have a flat-nosed breed, you need to have air conditioning.
There are surgeries to help decrease the risks, shortening the soft palate, removing everted laryngeal saccules and enlarging the nostril opening. But Ideally starting to select breeding dogs that do not have components of BOAS would be ideal. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and many other breed associations have worked hard to select away from traits that lead to medical problems and decreased length and quality of life in their chosen breeds. I’m hoping that the breeders of flat-nosed breeds will hear the message being sent and start selecting for healthier pets, and pet buyers become educated so they can choose healthier pets.
As usual, feel free to contact me with any questions or ideas for articles at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check us out on our Facebook page and our website wildernessvet.com. Look for us in the Maple Valley Parade, with the FFA, as usual. And we will also be attending the MV Farmers’ Market, the Saturday morning place to be in the summer!