Anatomy 101: brachycephalic dogs

I was at a lunch last week and I was talking about brachycephalic dogs.  One fellow asked, ‘brachy what?’

Brachycephalic dogs are dogs with a short muzzle and generally flat face.   “Brachy” means “shortened” and “cephalic” means “head.”

These features make them very cute. But, this head structure doesn’t leave a lot of room for the nasal passages and palate, which are parts of the anatomy that help breathing.

Most of us who either own a brachycephalic dog or who have seen one at the dog park or elsewhere can identify the ‘brachy snort’ – the sound of a dog that is struggling to breathe.

We all know that dogs help to control their temperature on hot days through panting.  Unfortunately, brachycephalic dogs are inefficient panters and so these dogs are more susceptible to heat stroke.  They are generally not good outdoor dogs during summer because of this.

Some dogs also suffer from brachycephalic airway syndrome.  This syndrome is actually a group of upper airway abnormalities.  Brachycephalic syndrome is also known as congenital obstructive upper airway disease and in extreme cases, a veterinary surgeon may do surgery to help correct the abnormalities.

The abnormalities associated with the syndrome include:

  • stenotic nares, which are nostrils that are narrowed
  • elongated soft palate, which is a soft palate that is too long for the mouth and so the length partially blocks the entrance to the back of the throat
  • a hypoplastic trachea, an abnormally narrow windpipe
  • nasopharyngeal abnormalities,  the bone in the dog’s nasal cavity grows incorrectly and this can stop air flow.  This bone helps direct airflow and also helps with heating and humidifying inhaled air.

Because of their breathing difficulties, a brachycephalic breed must be fit and trim no matter what their life stage.  Obesity is a real threat to these dogs.

Since breathing difficulties become worse with strenuous exercise, it’s critically important to balance the dog’s caloric intake with their exercise and look for small opportunities to exercise the dog without causing stress.

Common brachycephalic dog breeds include:

·         English Bulldog

·         Pug

·         Shih Tzu

·         Pekingese

·         Boston Terrier

·         Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

·         Shar Pei

·         Lhasa Apso

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s