Brachycephalic Breeds: Health Conditions in Flat Faced Dogs


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Do you have a brachycephalic breed dog? If you’re not sure what this means, we’ll go over it in a bit. If you do, you’ve probably heard about brachycephalic airway syndrome. This is rather common for ‘flat-faced’ dog and cat breeds. It makes it hard for them to breathe and that can lead to a wide range of issues down the road.

These can come in the form of overheating, dehydration, eye conditions, spinal issues and more.

Maybe you’ve noticed how you get thirsty when your nose is blocked? Now, for us it’s just temporary, so you can imagine how these poor little guys feel given it’s a permanent condition. The shape of their face is what causes it – it pushes all the soft tissue that would normally go out, in.

For your furbaby, not being able to breathe properly can be scary. Find out now whether your dog is one of the brachycephalic breeds and what you can expect…

So … what is a brachycephalic breed?

Let’s go over what brachycephalic means and which breeds fall under that umbrella term.

‘Brachycephalic’ is a term used to describe dogs with a short muzzle and a flattened face, such as the Pug and French Bulldog. This comes from a genetic mutation that alters the way the bones in the skull grow. As a result, the shape of the skull is wide and short. 

Brachycephalic breeds haven’t always had flat faces. At least not as flat as they are today. The reason these breeds now have such 90-degree angle faces is due to genetic mutation, thanks to us humans.

We adore the cute, weird and wonderful proportions of babies, like their broad foreheads and comparatively small flat noses. And so, through centuries of breeding, we similarly created flatter faces in dogs.

Dogs have longer noses and nostrils for a reason. Most importantly, it’s to breathe, an essential part of their everyday life. Looking cute is great, but perhaps not at the expense of breathing. So although we love these flatter faces, on the other hand it’s important to understand the risk that comes with their cuteness.

Puppy sitting outside.

Brachycephalic dog breeds

Here’s a list of most of the brachycephalic dog breeds:

  • Boxer
  • Boston Terrier
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • English Bulldog
  • French Bulldog
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Mastiff
  • Pekingese
  • Pug
  • Shih Tzu

First up: brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome

Because of their tiny snouts being bred smaller and smaller, all the soft tissues that you’d find in a normal, longer dog snout are now all squished inside their head. This means that it takes up more room. This has an effect on all the other bits and pieces that need to fit into the head as well, like breathing pipes and palette.

It’s called brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome when this issue becomes clinically unsafe for your dog.

Watch this video to find out what scientists are doing to help brachycephalic breeds:

What to expect

Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (or BOAS for short) is, like the name suggests, a syndrome. A syndrome is a collection of symptoms that come together to form a condition.

In the case of BOAS, here’s what you can expect:

  • Eyes. The added internal pressure on the inside of brachycephalic breeds’ skulls causes their eyes to bulge. This can contribute to problems with eye functionality and eye health. This is most common in Pugs.
  • Spine. The inward protrusion also causes abnormal vertebrae that often leads to back injuries. After all, the head connects to the spine and the spine in turn connects most other areas of our body. Spinal health is key to living well.
  • Breathing. In brachycephalic breeds the soft tissues are densely packed in. Consequently, it squashes up around the sinuses, making it hard to breathe. Their elongated soft palette doesn’t have enough room and ends up squashing the larynx, also obstructing the airflow. In addition, brachycephalic breeds are prone to experiencing a collapse of the larynx.

Did you know BOAS is so common in brachycephalic breeds that many airlines have placed restrictions on flying with pets if they’re on the brachycephalic breeds list? Click here for more information if you’re thinking of flying to or from Australia with a furry companion.

brachycephalic breed: boxer

Does pet insurance cover your brachycephalic breed?

There’s two parts to this, we’ll go over the bad news first; pet insurance won’t cover congenital treatments. That means that the condition is present from birth.

However, the good news is you can still get cover for their vet treatments, medications, tests and, if necessary, surgery for any accidents and illnesses that aren’t pre-existing. Each of our three plans covers third party liability too. Plenty more opportunity to reduce your pet’s health and wellbeing costs.

At the end of the day, the very best thing you can do as a pet parent is to give your pet the best possible cover. As a matter of fact, you can do this by starting when they’re young pups. Give your furbaby the maximum benefit their dog insurance plan can offer.

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