If you share your home with a pet that has a pushed in facial appearance, such as a pug, it is important to familiarize yourself with brachycephalic airway syndrome and the potential health problems to which these pets are at greater risk.

The Brachycephalic Form

Brachycephalic is the term used to describe dog and cat breeds that exhibit a pushed in face. Their lower jaws are usually in proportion to their overall body size, but their upper jaws are notably shorter to produce the brachycephalic appearance. The Persian is a brachycephalic feline breed. Some brachycephalic canine breeds include:

  • Pug
  • English bulldog
  • Shih tzu
  • Boxer
  • French bulldog
  • Boston Terrier
  • Pekingese

Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome

Brachycephalic airway syndrome refers to a pet's decreased ability to breathe normally due to their brachycephalic structure. The compressed facial bones can result in any of these anatomical abnormalities:

  • Stenotic nares, or narrowed nostrils, which restrict air flow through the nasal passages
  • Elongated soft palate, meaning that the soft tissue on the roof of the mouth is too long for the shortened upper jaw and extends into the back of the throat, causing a partial airway blockage
  • Narrow trachea, or a smaller windpipe diameter
  • Laryngeal saccule eversion, in which the small pouch-like structures of the larynx become sucked into the airway and cause a partial obstruction of airflow

Any one of these abnormalities can make the instinctual task of breathing a challenge. Normal respiration is essential in taking in oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide, and it also plays a role in regulating body temperature.

Symptoms of Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome

Mildly afflicted pets exhibit noisy breathing sounds, including snorting, during periods of exercise or excitement. They tend to snore when asleep. Generally, the more airway abnormalities the pet has, the more severe the symptoms are. Signs to watch for include:

  • Exercise intolerance
  • Heat intolerance
  • Coughing
  • Unusual posture as the pet finds a position in which breathing is easier
  • Cyanosis, indicated by a blue tint to the gums or tongue
  • Collapse, especially after exercise

Over time, extra efforts made by the pet to breathe can lead to the development of secondary abnormalities of other structures in the throat, and the heart may be affected by the added strain.

Important Things to Remember

There are three crucial points to keep in mind when caring for brachycephalic pets.

  • They are at a high risk for heat stroke and must be kept out of situations that can lead to overheating.
  • They have a low tolerance for exercise. Regular movement through short walks and light play sessions are important for weight maintenance, but do not engage these pets in vigorous play and running.
  • They have an increased risk for anesthetic complications from airway blockage and must be closely monitored during surgical and dental procedures. 

Other Health Problems

In addition to respiratory problems, the facial structure of brachycephalic pets predisposes them to other issues to which owners must be cognizant. Some of these problems include:

  • Periodontal disease, resulting from dental crowding of teeth within the smaller jaw
  • Skin infections, resulting from debris trapped within the skin folds on the face
  • Dry eye, due to shortened eyelids
  • Eye injuries, resulting from eyes that protrude through reduced orbit sizes

With extra diligence and care to keep your brachycephalic pet in ideal health, your furry friend's lifespan will not be cut short as a result of his or her facial physique.

To learn more, contact an animal hospital like Howard County Animal Hospital