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Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome in Dogs

Dogs with short snouts are at a higher risk for developing certain medical conditions, including brachycephalic airway syndrome. Today, our Merced vets discuss the causes, signs, and treatment options for brachycephalic airway syndrome in dogs.

Brachycephalic Syndrome in Dogs

When analyzing the term "brachycephalic," we can deconstruct it into two components. The first portion of the term, "brachy," signifies shortened, while the second part, "cephalic," denotes head. Consequently, the term "brachycephalic" signifies a shortened head, describing breeds of dogs characterized by flattened faces. Unfortunately, these distinctive features pose health risks for dogs with this condition.

The veterinary term describing these dogs' condition is "brachycephalic airway syndrome," encompassing upper airway abnormalities that affect these breeds. These abnormalities may 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 Caused by Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome

Brachycephalic airway syndrome has been linked to changes in the lungs and gastrointestinal tract. This can result in:

  • 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 dog breeds are more prone to developing brachycephalic airway syndrome:

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

Signs of Canine Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome

If your dog is brachycephalic, they may:

  • Have noisy breathing, especially when they breathe in
  • Gag when they are swallowing
  • Have the inability to partake in exercise
  • Develop cyanosis causing blue tongue and gums related to the lack of oxygen
  • Occasionally collapse, especially with over-activity, excitement, or excessive heat or humidity

Brachycephalic dogs often prefer to sleep on their backs as it allows the soft palate to fall away from the larynx.

Diagnosing This Condition

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

A simple physical examination can diagnose stenotic nares, but other abnormalities are more complex and challenging to diagnose. If a dog's abnormalities are difficult to detect, it may be necessary to administer general anesthesia so the vet can do a more thorough examination without causing the dog discomfort.

Depending on the specific issue, your vet may also suggest a chest X-ray to assist 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. This will often result in the best possible prognosis. 

With brachycephalic airway syndrome, surgery is the most common treatment 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.

Is your dog experiencing breathing troubles or a breed that is prone to brachycephalic airway syndrome? Contact our Merced vets to book an examination for your pup.

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