A brachycephalic pug dog looking up at the camera.

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.

This syndrome is common in this cute flat faced breeds and is costly to treat. If you’re bringing a brachycephalic breed into your heart and home it’s worth knowing what you might need to outlay and whether pet insurance can help with these costs. Find out more about owning and protecting brachycephalic breeds here:

a pet owner lies in a field with her dog helping to calm it down from anxiety

Hereditary vs congenital

Cats and dogs are susceptible to various health issues specific to their breed, commonly referred to as genetic or hereditary conditions. But if a health issue is present at birth, it’s also deemed congenital. Essentially, any health issue a pet is born with falls under the congenital category.

The complexity of congenital conditions lies in their potential to sometimes also be inherited (hereditary). Congenital conditions also might not become symptomatic or be detected until later in life.

Much like health insurance for humans, pet insurance policies exclude pre-existing conditions – those that exist before the policy begins and any waiting periods. Therefore, while pet insurance may cover hereditary conditions in dogs (provided onset is after the policy start date and waiting periods), it typically doesn’t cover congenital conditions.

Find out what the differences between hereditary and congenital conditions are in more detail. Also be sure to read more about dog insurance and pre-existing conditions.

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. 

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…

Puppy sitting outside.

Brachycephalic dog breeds

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

  • Boxer (If you’re also interested in learning more about Boxer dog health, read this ‘Your Need-to-Knows About Boxer Dog Health‘ article for more info)
  • Boston Terrier
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • English Bulldog
  • French Bulldog
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Mastiff
  • Pekingese
  • Pug
  • Shih Tzu

You get flat faced or brachycephalic cat breeds too. The Burmese Persian and Himalayan are some of the most well known of these.

A brachycephalic French bulldog sits on a fence next to two people.

Ethical breeding brachycephalic breeds

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.

Buying from a reputable breeder

If you’re set on getting a one of these ‘baby-faced’ brachycephalic breeds, then make sure you’re buying from a registered dog breeder. Ethical dog breeders that belong to national kennels are more likely to do health testing on parents before breeding.

This means they’re more likely to breed from dogs that don’t have brachycephalic obstructive airways syndrome. This in turn means puppies have healthier prospects when it comes to their congenital and long term health. Don’t assume every breeder is doing the right thing – you’re allowed to ask questions and find out what tests they’re doing and see the results.

Here’s more on finding ethical dog breeders.

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:

BOAS symptoms

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.

Australian small animal specialist surgeon, Abbie Tipler says treating this breed takes an emotional toll on the vets trying to save them (often to no avail).

The French Bulldog is the cutest breed you could ever meet. I have a special interest in treating them. The reality though – they are bred for the cute squishy faces and not for health.

– Abbie Tipler

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

Award winning pet insurance cover for dogs and cats

Whether you’re buying or adopting your pet, consider protecting them now and into the future. Pet insurance gives them a safety net when it comes to unexpected vet trips resulting in unforeseen vet bills.

Pet insurance gives you cover for vet treatments, medications, tests and, if necessary, surgery for any accidents and illnesses. It can also cover dental too – depending on the level of cover you select. 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.

PD Insurance gives you one or more months of FREE pet insurance when you buy online! Click below to get a quote today.

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