Breathing difficulties in short-nosed breeds
BRACHYCEPHALIC obstructive syndrome is a syndrome of problems affecting dogs of the shortnosed variety.
These dogs have been bred to have short noses, but this comes at a cost.
Changing the evolved anatomy of an animal through successive breeding for a single characteristic can lead to other, less desirable traits being formed.
With this airway problem, puppies are born with nostrils that are not big enough for air to get through, forcing them to breathe through their mouths.
They are also born with a thick, obstructive tongue, an elongated soft palate and a windpipe that is too small for the amount of air needing to pass through it.
Owners commonly notice the snoring sound that occurs when their dog is breathing in.
This snoring sound happens because the roof of the mouth (the soft palate) is abnormally long and lies over the top of the larynx (voice box), also causing obstruction to breathing.
One way of imagining what these problems feel like for a dog, is to try and breathe through a straw.
With the abnormally increased pressure on the airways with each intake of breath, over the years a dog will cause further damage to its upper airways.
Such changes include thickening, swelling, loosening of the tissues of the larynx and eventually collapse of the larynx causing an inability to breathe.
Surgical correction to open up the nostrils and to shorten the soft palate can improve breathing in younger dogs of these breeds.
Ideally this should be done before too many other changes have occurred.
When older, we can still surgically help many dogs but we often need to remove some of the loose tissues obstructing the larynx as well.
If left too long and a dog’s larynx collapses, surgery is unlikely to help.
If dogs continue with this problem, they are at high risk of overheating in hot weather and they are at risk of collapsed larynx and inability to breathe.
If you are concerned your dog may be at risk, please get them assessed by a vet so we can try to help them live a long and comfortable life.
Dr Meagan Lee BVSc, veterinarian