In this video Dr. Karen Becker discusses the special nature of pets with pushed-in faces -- the brachycephalic breeds.
By Dr. Becker
A brachycephalic breed is a dog or cat with a pushed-in face. Some people call them 'smashed nose' breeds.
You may not have heard the word 'brachycephalic' before, but I'm sure you've seen at least a few of these dogs.
They include incredibly popular breeds like the pug, Boston terrier, boxer, bulldog, Pekingese and Shi Tzu.
Himalayans and Persians are examples of brachycephalic cat breeds.
'Brachy' is a Greek word meaning short, and 'cephalic' means head.
These animals are short-headed, short-muzzled breeds.
And needless to say, they are intentionally bred to look this way, with a normal lower jaw but a compressed upper jaw.
Due to this altered facial construction, all these dogs have what is called brachycephalic respiratory syndrome to varying degrees. Most of them do fine, but one breed in particular, English bulldogs, tend to have really significant respiratory problems.
Brachycephalic Respiratory Syndrome
This syndrome starts with a brachy pet's nostrils, which are often really small. The nostrils are scrolled really tight and are so narrow it can be hard for the animal to move air in through them.
Then there is an elongated soft palate, which involves a big flap of skin at the back of the throat that causes a lot of the characteristic snorting and other respiratory sounds often heard in brachy breeds.
Often the windpipe in these pets is very narrow in places, which leads to a condition called tracheal stenosis, or narrowing of the trachea. This problem can predispose the animal to tracheal collapse, as well as problems with anesthesia.
If you have a brachycephalic dog or cat, make sure she has been cleared (respiration has been deemed sufficient) to undergo anesthesia before you agree to any veterinary surgery or other procedure that requires your pet to be anesthetized.
Because of the upper airway challenges of brachy dogs, they often don't pant efficiently. Of course, panting is how dogs cool down – they don't sweat, they pant.
This makes brachys prime candidates for heat stroke, and it's important to take precautions if your pet has to travel by plane or even by car. A brachycephalic pet will have more difficulty in a hot vehicle than other pets.
You should familiarize yourself with the normal sounds your brachy pet makes, because normal for her isn't the same as it is for non-brachycephalic dogs and cats. If you notice an increase, amplification or some other change in your pet's respiratory sounds, it's important to take note of it.
Brachycephalic respiratory syndrome can be a progressive condition, so your brachy pet can over time develop problems with the trachea or larynx. It's important to get such issues addressed as soon as they appear rather than waiting until a pet develops significant respiratory distress.
Unfortunately, brachycephalic pets also have their share of eye problems. The way their heads are constructed means their eyes often don't fit properly in their heads. The eye sockets are shallow, which makes the eyes more pronounced, giving these breeds their sort of bug-eyed or bulgy eyed appearance (which of course makes them quite adorable).
But if a brachy pet gets a blow to the back of the head, or really any kind of head trauma, it can dislodge an eye. These breeds are at high risk of having an eye pop out of the socket.
Obviously if this happens, you need to call your vet or an emergency clinic right away because immediate surgery will be required.
Harnesses rather than collars for walking brachy breeds are a very good idea. I'm not a fan of anything around the neck that can increase cerebral pressure or pressure in the eyes.
Another common problem with the eyes, also due to shallow sockets, is the eyelids don't always close completely. This can result in corneal irritation and damage. Many brachycephalic breeds have chronic problems with the corneas of their eyes.
You can tell if your pet has the problem by watching him sleep. When he sleeps, if his eyes appear slightly open, the lids probably aren't closing completely. In this situation the eyelids can dry out, as can the cornea, and surgery is sometimes needed to correct the problem in severe cases.
If you notice your dog's or cat's eyes are drying out, you can provide additional lubrication. At Natural Pet I use saline eye gel to help prevent irritation and corneal ulcers. Additional lubrication can also reduce the need for surgical correction.
It's also very common for brachy breeds to have constant watering of the eyes or wetness around the eyes. This can be the result of the eyelids not closing effectively. It can also be caused by either the upper or lower lid turning inward. Entropion, or curling in of the eyelids, can cause eyelashes to rub against the cornea, creating tremendous, chronic irritation. It's like having an eyelash in your eye you just can't get out.
This situation typically causes pets to squint. Surgical correction is often necessary.
A problem many brachycephalic breeds face is teeth crowding. Brachy dogs have 42 teeth like every other breed of dog, but because of the pushed in nature of the upper jaw, those teeth get crammed into a relatively small area.
Brachys can end up with teeth at a lot of odd angles as well as overlapping teeth. As you can imagine, this can result in dental and gum problems, often when these pets are very young.
If you have a flat-faced pet, it's important to start home dental care as early as possible. I recommend you start desensitizing your pet's mouth as early as eight weeks. Get her used to having your fingers in her mouth at a very young age so you can keep up with her dental care throughout her life.
Remember that brachycephalic dogs and cats are often very high risk anesthesia patients, so it's a much better idea to keep your pet's mouth clean and disinfected at home so you can avoid dental procedures requiring anesthesia.
Also remember that raw diets are a great way to keep your pet's mouth healthy. Feeding living, enzyme-rich foods helps reduce the amount of plaque and tartar that accumulates on the teeth and gums.
Other Common Problems
Because the upper jaw of brachy breeds is pushed in, they are prone to facial fold infections. You might see redness or irritation in the folds, and sometimes even yeast growth.
With Rosco, my Boston terrier, I use either colloidal silver or witch hazel to clean his face. I gently disinfect his facial folds, usually about twice a week. Because of their broad heads, litters of brachy puppies can be difficult for the mother to deliver. Labor is frequently problematic, and many of these moms require C-sections.
Brachys Are Extra Special
Some of you reading here may wonder, with all the potential problems brachycephalic breeds can encounter, why so many people have them.
It's because we love our brachys. They are very intelligent pets and full of personality. Most devoted brachy owners will tell you they would never consider any other breed. But needless to say, these breeds do require special knowledge and extra skill when it comes to keeping them optimally healthy, with an excellent quality of life.