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Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome in Dogs

Certain breeds of dogs may be prone to or have an increased risk of developing specific conditions, especially those with short snouts. In this post, our Carlsbad vets discuss brachycephalic airway syndrome in dogs with shortened skulls, including the causes, signs, and treatment options.

Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome

When we analyze the term "brachycephalic," we can deconstruct it into two components. The initial segment, "brachy," signifies shortened, while the second part, "cephalic," denotes head. Consequently, the term "brachycephalic" signifies a shortened head, precisely describing breeds of dogs characterized by flattened faces—traits many of us find endearing.

Unfortunately, these distinctive features also pose health challenges for these dogs.

The veterinary term describing these dogs' condition is "brachycephalic airway syndrome," encompassing upper airway abnormalities that affect these breeds. Some of these abnormalities include:

Stenotic nares: If a dog is experiencing stenotic nares, it will have abnormally narrowed or small nostrils restricting the airflow into the nostrils.

Extended nasopharyngeal turbinates: Nasopharyngeal turbinates are tissue-covered bone ridges that help warm and humidify the air the dog breathes in. However, when these are too long, they can cause a blockage that affects the airflow.

Elongated soft palate: A dog with a long soft palette can have their windpipe partially blocked causing an obstruction.

Laryngeal collapse: When chronic stress is put on the dog's larynx, it can result in laryngeal collapse. As this collapse occurs, it will cause a restriction in airflow.

Everted laryngeal saccules: The laryngeal saccules are small sacs or pouches within the larynx which may be sucked into the airway, causing an obstruction.

Hypoplastic trachea: If a dog experiences hypoplastic trachea, it means their trachea has a smaller than average diameter.

Other Problems Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome Can Cause

Changes in the lungs and gastrointestinal tract, including those in brachycephalic airway syndrome, have been linked.

  • bronchial collapse
  • gastroesophageal reflux
  • chronic gastritis.

In bronchial collapse, a further obstruction is caused by the bronchi weakening and collapsing when your dog's intestinal fluids flow back into their esophagus.

Dog Breeds Prone to Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome

The following breeds of dogs have a higher risk of developing brachycephalic airway syndrome:

  • Bulldogs
  • Boxers
  • Boston Terriers
  • Pugs
  • Pekingese
  • Bull Mastiffs
  • Shar-Peis
  • Shih Tzus

Signs of Canine Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome

Brachycephalic dogs may experience symptoms such as:

  • They may have noisy breathing, especially when they breathe in
  • They may gag when they are swallowing
  • These dogs may have the inability to partake in exercise
  • Cyanosis causing blue tongue and gums related to the lack of oxygen
  • The dog may occasionally collapse, especially with over-activity, excitement, or excessive heat or humidity
  • Dogs suffering from obesity will be at a greater risk

Many brachycephalic dogs have a preference for sleeping on their backs. This position allows the soft palate to fall away from the larynx.

Diagnosis This Condition

The diagnosis of brachycephalic airway syndrome depends on the specific abnormalities affecting the dog.

A simple physical examination can diagnose stenotic nares, but other abnormalities are more complex and challenging to diagnose, necessitating the administration of general anesthesia for the dog. Depending on the specific issue, your vet may also suggest a chest x-ray to aid in the diagnosis.

Surgical treatment for Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome in Dogs

As with most conditions affecting dogs, the sooner they are diagnosed, the sooner they can be treated, which usually results in a better prognosis. 

With brachycephalic airway syndrome, the most common form of treatment is surgery to correct the abnormality and improve the airflow and breathing abilities of the dog.

There is a chance that the incision site may swell after surgery, so your vet will monitor your dog closely to ensure that their breathing continues to be unaffected throughout recovery.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you have a brachycephalic dog breed that appears to be experiencing breathing troubles? Contact our Carlsbad vets to book an examination for your pup.

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