Brachy…what? Why is there an article on dinosaurs? Don’t you know they are extinct?
Yes, we do, and we aren’t talking about dinosaurs! We are talking about bull dogs, pugs, frenchies, Persians, ragdolls. You know: Smush Faces!!!
Brachycephalic pets are popular. Many people dream of owning an English bulldog. Those French bulldogs are so cute! Then there is the beauty of the Persian or ragdoll cat! These breeds may make wonderful companions but there are a few things you need to know about them!
Brachycephalic literally means “short-headed.” This term refers to the length and width of the skull. Some common brachycephalic breeds include:
- Pug Persian
- English Bulldog British Shorthair
- Boxer Exotic Shorthair
- Boston terrier Himalayan
- Dogue de Bordeaux Scottish fold
- English Mastiff
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Brachycephaly has been bred into these creatures by humans. It is not a natural occurrence! Their bone structure may be shortened but the soft tissues, muscles and skin have remained the same as that of a normal muzzled animal. These changes may compromise the overall health of the pet. Listed below are some of the common complications we see with a smush faced pet:
Brachycephaly interferes with breathing in three ways creating Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS). This syndrome may lead to bouts of fainting due to lack of oxygen. These signs are exacerbated by high temperatures outside and/or exercise. The earliest indication of BOAS is noisy breathing or snoring. Smaller nostrils, smaller airway and an elongated soft palate can decrease or stop the flow of air to the lungs.
Stenotic nares are a narrowing of the nostrils. When a pet with stenotic nares attempts to breath in through the nose, the nostrils collapse and minimal to no air can move through the nasal passages. Cats don’t prefer to breathe through their mouth, and they rely on smell to eat. If they can’t smell it, they won’t eat it! To help you relate, think of a time when you had a miserable head cold. Your nose is so stuffy, you can’t breathe. You must breathe through your mouth. Now try eating and chewing with your mouth closed. It just doesn’t work well! We all rely on being able to breathe through our noses! Surgical correction may help the pet be able to move more air through the nose.
The soft palate in mammals is responsible for closing off the nasal passage when swallowing and works in different ways when coughing and sneezing is involved. The soft palate has remained the same length in the brachycephalic as it is in other breeds with full muzzles. Due to the smaller head, the soft palate has nowhere to go so it hangs into the throat. The elongated soft palpate moves back and forth while the pet is breathing or panting creating noisy breathing. An elongated soft palate may be related to recurring reverse sneezes.
The other tissues in the throat are pushed together due to the structure of the brachycephalic’s face. We often refer to this as just excess tissue. It’s supposed to be there and if the formation was correct, these tissues would be stretched and fill the space appropriately. Beyond these tissues is the trachea or windpipe. When air enters the nose or mouth it is funneled into the windpipe to reach the lungs. The trachea of a brachycephalic is often narrow and doesn’t allow as much air to flow as the average pet.
These basic openings for moving air are compromised in the smush faced pet and can lead to decreased air flow to the lungs. Decreased air flow to the lungs leads to less oxygen in the blood. Combining any of these malformations with the need to pant, can cause a pet to overheat quickly. The inability to smell may suppress an appetite.
TEMPERATURE CONTROL / HEAT STROKE
Dogs don’t sweat like humans to cool off. When a dog’s body temperature rises, they pant to cool down. The heart rate increases, and the lungs work harder to bring in more oxygen. The process of panting brings air into the lungs through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. As the air passes over the tongue, the saliva in the mouth evaporates to begin the cooling process. With all the airway restrictions noted above, brachycephalic pets have a harder time lowering their body temperature. Without the muzzle nature intended, they can’t blow off heat in a quick and effective manner. If the body temperature continues to rise, a pet may suffer from heat stroke. Heat stroke is an emergency. Caution should be taken with outdoor activities during the hottest parts of the day for a brachycephalic dog.
SKIN FOLD INFECTIONS
All the extra facial skin has nowhere else to go on the shorter muzzles, so it creates wrinkles. Every time they eat, drink, get teary eyed, have a bath, stand in the rain or play in the snow, water can lay inside these folds. The dark warm and now moist/wet environment is the perfect breeding ground for yeast and bacterial infections. Facial fold infections are painful and malodorous. Topical and oral treatment may be necessary. To deter infection, be sure to wipe the folds daily and after any bathing or water activity.
BRACHYCEPHALIC OCULAR SYNDROME
Another structure malfunction in the brachycephalic pets is shallow eye sockets. Because the socket is so shallow, the eyeballs protrude from the skull causing a wide range of eye problems grouped together as Brachycephalic Ocular Syndrome.
Proptosis (eyeball popping out) – Even minor trauma can cause an eye to come out. Immediate veterinary care may allow preservation of the eye and restored vision. Typically, this type of injury results in surgical removal of the eye.
Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (dry eye) – With a protruding eyeball and a malformed tear duct, brachcephalics are known for dry eye. If there isn’t enough tear production to keep the eyeball moist, it is more prone to ulceration of the cornea. This painful process can lead to rupture of the eye if not treated and maintained.
Corneal abrasion or ulceration – Bulging eyeballs are at an increased risk for trauma. Rubbing the face on the couch or carpet could cause the cornea to be injured. Any squinting with green or yellow eye discharge should be addressed quickly.
The jaw of a brachycephalic is shorter but they still have 42 (dogs) and 32 (cats) teeth! Overbites and underbites are typically found. Brachycephalic pets have a higher risk of overcrowding and malpositioned (incorrectly positioned) teeth. Adult teeth may erupt at inappropriate angles or in the wrong location causing pain and damage to their gums and hard palate. The adult tooth may not push out the baby tooth resulting in retained teeth. These retained teeth provide more surface for tartar accumulation. These mal alignments allow different wear on the teeth. Tartar will accumulate differently, and dental chews may not help in these pets because of the mal alignment. The chews will not hit the correct tooth surfaces to decrease tartar build up. A home oral care program (brushing) is an absolute must for brachycephalic pets!!
Labor and delivery are often difficult for brachycephalic pets. The large heads and small bodies of puppies/kitten make delivery difficult and they often end with a caesarean section (C-section).
If you’ve made it this far, maybe you have what it takes to own a brachycephalic pet! Diligent monitoring and routine veterinary care will lead to a long-lasting relationship between you and your “smush” face!