Brachycephalic dog awareness

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Dogs with a flat, wide head are what’s known as ‘brachycephalic dogs’ and have become extremely popular in the last decade. Due to this popularity, a lot of breeds have been bred to have more extreme features. While they’re undeniably cute, there are a host of health problems linked to dogs with these physical features. If you’re planning on getting a brachy dog, it’s important to understand what health problems they could encounter and how to support responsible dog ownership.

Which breeds are brachycephalic?

  • British Bulldogs
  • French Bulldogs
  • Pugs
  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Affenpinschers
  • Griffon Bruxellois
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
  • Boston Terriers
  • Shih Tzus
  • Pekingeses

Brachycephaly isn’t limited to pedigree dogs, but also cross-breeds with brachy heritage, and British Shorthair and Persian cats too.

Common brachy health problems

  • Breathing problems. Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) is a set of abnormalities which make breathing difficult. These include an elongated soft palate, narrow nostrils and windpipe which result in obstructed breathing and can cause the voice box to collapse, inability to regulate body temperature, low blood oxygen, snoring, wheezing, snorting, excessive or laboured panting, inability to exercise, disrupted sleep, and gastrointestinal problems (2). Obesity can exacerbate these issues – regular exercise and a healthy diet are important in brachy dogs (3).
  • Eye problems. The shortened muzzles of brachy dogs are linked to dry eyes and corneal ulcers which cause a discharge, irritation and pain. The eyes may also appear cloudy from long-term irritation. Unfortunately, brachy dogs often don’t always exhibit these signs of ulcers which could lead to removal of the eye in extreme cases (4).
  • Skin problems. The excessive skin folds and wrinkles bred into brachy dogs cause infections and pain on the muzzle, tail and vulva (5).
  • Spinal problems. Brachy dogs with short, absent or coiled tails sometimes experience kyphosis and/or scoliosis which can cause damaged and squashed spinal nerves and cord (6).
  • Birthing problems. In extreme brachy cases, genetic selection for narrower pelvises and larger heads means mothers cannot naturally mate or give birth. Breeders commonly bypass these issues with artificial insemination and caesarean sections, particularly in British Bulldogs. Without a C-Section, the mother and pups could die during the birth (7).

Pet pug in a veterinary clinic

Responsible ownership

We know the issues described above make the decision to buy a brachycephalic dog a difficult one. The dogs need homes, but supporting breeders increases demand. It’s absolutely a personal choice that needs to be made with all the above health considerations in mind.

Here are some pointers to help you make up your mind:

  • Contact your local breed club for more information on the breed you’re considering.
  • Research these health issues before purchasing a puppy, and be vigilant for signs problems so you can seek prompt veterinary advice.
  • Buy from an assured breeder who adheres to good conformation standards.
  • See the puppies with the mother, and where possible, the father as well.
  • Make sure you ask the breeder about the health of the parents and ask to see certificates for health screening tests that the parents may have had. Not all brachy dogs will have extreme health issues and knowing the history of the maternal and paternal lineages can help preempt any problems.
  • Know that it’s absolutely okay to walk away from a puppy and their breeder if you feel at all uncomfortable.

1 O’Neill, D.G., Pegram, C., Crocker, P. et al. Unravelling the health status of brachycephalic dogs in the UK using multivariable analysis. Sci Rep 10, 17251 (2020).
2 Dr. Rowena Packer, Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome.
3 Brachycephalic Working Group (BWG) Policy Position: Obesity in Brachycephalic Dogs (2019).
4 Dr. Rowena Packer, Eye problems in brachycephalic dogs.
5 Dr. Rowena Packer, Skin problems in brachycephalic dogs.
6 Dr. Rowena Packer, Spinal problems in brachycephalic dogs.

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