By Dr. Michelle Rose
Ah, some of our favorite pups: flat-faced dogs. They’re well-known for their bubbly personalities and adorably wrinkled mugs; some flat-faced breeds were even bred to be companions for nobility. Common brachycephalic breeds include Pugs, French bulldogs, English bulldogs, Pekingese and Boston terriers. Not sure if your pup falls in this category? You can view a more complete list here.
As much as we love them, the breeding of Brachycephalics (as they’re called) has led to the development of significant health problems in these dogs. They're characterized by the shape of their muzzle and throat, which cause irregular elongation of their soft palate as well as folds in the breathing passages. In simpler terms, Brachycephalic dogs tend to overheat, don’t tolerate exercise too well, snore excessively, have an increased choking risk, and can experience respiratory issues.
Common ailments to look out for in flat-faced dogs include:
Infections and irritation of folds around the eyes, nose, neck, and tail
Irritation to the eyes due to their larger than normal size
Allergies (usually due to genetics)
Increased risk of dental problems due to poor alignment of the teeth
Ear infections, due to both allergies and ear conformation
This can all sound scary, but don’t fret! Here are some ways you can take better care of your flat-faced pup to ensure they are in tip top shape for years to come.
Choose a harness over a collar. Collars that fit around the neck are not advisable for flat-faced pups as they can cause undue stress on your pet’s airway. A great alternative is to invest in a harness that can fit comfortably around your pets chest area. Check out this blog from The Happy Puppy Site that offers harness options, including this affordable one from Puppia.
Get them moving. It’s important to keep these dogs slim and trim, so maintain physical activity in their lives. They may not be able to handle long treks, but play dates and short walks are great options.
Keep that mug clean. Make sure you wipe your pet’s folds with antibacterial wipes as consistently as needed to avoid infections. Some need weekly cleaning, others may require daily!
Pay attention to hygiene and eyes. Brush your pet’s teeth at least three times per week. Start them early so that they learn from a young age to allow you to put foreign objects into their mouths. If this isn’t possible, dental chews and water additives work. Similarly, keep your pet’s ears clean and monitor their eyes. Dark streaks surrounding the eyes or wet, constantly draining eyes are hallmarks of tear duct problems, and daily cleaning is the best advice for this. Lubrication drops can also help when you notice irritation in the eyes.
Consider brachycephalic airway surgery. Some brachycephalic dogs require medical intervention to help maintain adequate respiration and a good quality of life. Brachycephalic airway surgery can help reduce their soft palate and help increase overall airflow for pups where it's deemed medically necessary. If it’s financially accessible to you, this is an alternative that can help improve your pup’s respiration and quality of life. These dogs can have their palates shortened and their nostrils widened. Signs to look out for that may indicate surgery is necessary include: noisy breathing, gagging when swallowing or eating food, discoloration of the tongue due to lack of oxygen, and intolerance to exercise. Weight gain is known to aggravate this condition.
Despite the pesky health concerns that brachycephalic dogs face, they undoubtedly have their charms. Flat-faced dogs are smart, attentive, and a joy to be around. With the right special care when you bring one into your home, your very own Doug the Pug will be just fine. As long as you shower them with love and stay on top of regular Fuzzy checkups, your dog will live a long and happy life!