Brachycephalic syndrome

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The bulldog, a typically brachycephalic dog breed, may suffer from brachycephalic syndrome.

Brachycephalic syndrome is a pathological condition affecting short nosed dogs and cats which leads to severe respiratory distress. There are four different anatomical abnormalities that contribute to the disease, all of which occur more commonly in brachycephalic breeds: an elongated soft palate, stenotic nares, a hypoplastic trachea, and everted laryngeal saccules (a condition which occurs secondarily to the other abnormalities). Because all of these components make it more difficult to breathe, in situations of exercise, stress, or heat, an animal with these abnormalities may be unable to take deep or fast enough breaths to blow off carbon dioxide. This leads to distress and further increases respiratory rate and heart rate, creating a vicious circle that can quickly lead to a life-threatening situation.

Dogs experiencing a crisis situation due to brachycephalic syndrome typically benefit from oxygen, cool temperatures, sedatives, and in some cases more advance medical intervention including intubation.

Causes/Risk factor

This diagram illustrates what the airway structure looks like in a brachycephalic dog; in this case, a Boxer. The brachycephalic dogs has a shorter snout which causes the airway to be shorter, that means all the parts that make up the airway get pushed closer together. Due to this phenomenon, a brachycephalic dog has an elongated soft palate which can cause most of the problems with the dogs breathing. They can also have problems getting enough air in because of their elongated soft palate and shorter airway. 1. Nasal Cavity 2. Oral Cavity3. Soft Palate 4. Pharynx 5. Larynx 6. Trachea7. Esophagus 8. Nasopharynx 9. Hard Palate

Muzzle length scales with the risks of BS. Other factors identified includes neck girth and Body Condition Score.[1]

Signs and symptoms

External images
Different degrees of brachycephalia in the Persian cat.[2]
  • Dyspnea (breathing difficulty)
    • noisy/labored breathing
    • Stridor (high pitched wheezing)
    • continued open-mouth breathing
    • extending of head and neck to keep airway open,
    • sitting up or keeping chin in an elevated position when sleeping
    • sleeping with toy between teeth to keep mouth open to compensate for nasal obstruction[3]
    • Cyanosis (blue/purple discoloration of the skin, due to poor blood oxygenation in the lungs )
    • Sleep apnea
  • exercise, stress and heat intolerance.
  • snoring/gagging/choking/regurgitation/vomiting
  • collapse

Symptoms progresses with age and typically becomes severe by 12 months.[3]

Despite observing clinical signs of airway obstructions, some owners of brachycephalic breeds may perceive them as normal for the breed, and may not seek veterinary intervention until a particularly severe attack happens. Some owners even perceive respiratory noises and snoring as cute.[4][5]

After awaking from surgery, most dogs that are intubated will try to claw out their tracheal tube. But brachycephalic dogs often seem quite happy to leave it in place as it gives them an open/bigger airway.[6]

Secondary conditions

Swollen/everted laryngeal saccules which further reduce airway. Collapsed larynx.

Increased lung workload causes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.


x-ray on neck and bronchscopy


Stenotic nares in a Boxer before(left) and after (right) surgery.

Surgery for widening nostrils, removing excess tissue for elongated soft palate, removing everted laryngael saccules. Early treatment prevents secondary conditions.


To prevent or limit exacerbation of symptoms, avoid stress/heat. Maintain ideal body weight, avoid overfeeding. Use harnesses instead of collars to avoid pressure on trachea.

Brachycephalic dogs are more likely to die during air travel[7] and have been banned by many airlines.[8]

The risk of BS increases as the muzzle becomes shorter.[1] To avoid producing affected dogs, breeders may choose to breed for more moderate features rather than for extremely short or flat faces. Dogs with breathing difficulties, or at least those serious enough to require surgery, should not be used for breeding.[9] Removing all affected animals from the breeding pool may cause some breeds to be unsustainable and outcrossing to non-brachycephalic breeds might be necessary.[10]

Other health problems

Non-airway problems associated with brachycephalia may include

  • Inflammation in skin folds
  • Mating and birthing problems
  • Malocclusion - misalignment of the teeth.
  • Dental crowding
Exophthalmos in a pug
  • Brachycephalic Ocular Syndrome[10]
    • Ectropion/entropion - inward/outward rolling of eyelid
    • Macropalpebral fissure
    • Lagophthalmia - inability to close eyelids fully
    • Exophthalmos/eye proptosis - abnormal protrusion of the eye
    • Nasal fold trichiasis - fur around the nose fold rubs against the eye.
    • Distichiasis - abnormally placed eyelashes rubs against the eye.
    • Poor tear production.
    • Gastrointestinal problems[11]

List of brachycephalic dogs

Breeds with less extreme brachycephalia, such as the Boxer, have less compromised thermoregulation and thus are more tolerant of vigorous exercise and heat.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Short Muzzle; Short Of Breath? An Investigation Of The Effect Of Conformation On The Risk Of Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) In Domestic Dogs" (PDF). UFAW International Animal Welfare Science Symposium: Science in the Service of Animal Welfare: Priorities around the world. 4–5 July 2013. Retrieved 13 December 2013. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Schlueter, C.; Budras, K. D.; Ludewig, E.; Mayrhofer, E.; Koenig, H. E.; Walter, A.; Oechtering, G. U. (2009). "Brachycephalic feline noses: CT and anatomical study of the relationship between head conformation and the nasolacrimal drainage system" (PDF). Journal of Feline Medicine & Surgery. 11 (11): 891–900. doi:10.1016/j.jfms.2009.09.010. PMID 19857852.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Roedler, F.; Pohl, S.; Oechtering, G. U. (2013). "How does severe brachycephaly affect dog's lives? Results of a structured preoperative owner questionnaire". The Veterinary Journal. doi:10.1016/j.tvjl.2013.09.009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Worrying numbers of "short-nosed" dog owners do not believe their pets to have breathing problems, despite observing severe clinical signs". The Royal Veterinary College. 10 May 2012. Retrieved 29 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Packer, R. M. A.; Hendricks, A.; Burn, C. C. (2012). "Do dog owners perceive the clinical signs related to conformational inherited disorders as 'normal' for the breed? A potential constraint to improving canine welfare". Animal Welfare. 21: 81. doi:10.7120/096272812X13345905673809.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Johnson, Tony. "Breathless: Bulldogs, pugs need protection from the heat". Veterinary Information Network. Retrieved 17 November 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Air Travel and Short-Nosed Dogs FAQ". American Veterinary Medical Association. Retrieved 5 November 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Haughney, Christine (6 October 2011). "Banned by Many Airlines, These Bulldogs Fly Private". New York Times. Retrieved 5 November 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Brachycephalic syndrome". Canine Inherited Disorders Database. Retrieved 5 November 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Shih Tzu: Brachycephalic Ocular Syndrome". Universities Federation for Animal Welfare. Retrieved 6 November 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Poncet, C. M.; Dupre, G. P.; Freiche, V. G.; Estrada, M. M.; Poubanne, Y. A.; Bouvy, B. M. (2005). "Prevalence of gastrointestinal tract lesions in 73 brachycephalic dogs with upper respiratory syndrome". The Journal of small animal practice. 46 (6): 273–279. doi:10.1111/j.1748-5827.2005.tb00320.x. PMID 15971897.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links