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Pet health information


Brachycephalic is a term that describes the short-muzzle and flattened face of many popular dog breeds, and is caused by genetic mutations that change the way the bones in the skull grow, resulting in a in a shorter, wider skull shape. Brachycephaly occurs across a spectrum, from breeds with almost entirely flat faces (sometimes termed ‘extreme brachycephaly’), such as the Pug and Japanese Chin, through to less exaggerated brachycephalic breeds such as the Boxer and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The term brachycephalic is used to describe a variety of breeds that vary in muzzle length, with muzzle length varying even amongst the same breed.  This list includes breeds such as the Pug, French Bulldog, Bulldog, Boston Terrier, Shih Tzu, Pekingese, Affenpinscher, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Lhasa Apso and Griffon Bruxellois. Brachycephaly is not restricted to purebred dogs, and crosses that include these breeds can also exhibit this face shape.

Many people are attracted to this face shape, with baby-like features including large, round, wide-set eyes and flat rounded faces. Brachycephalic dogs are increasingly popular pets worldwide, particularly breeds such as the Pug and French Bulldog. Despite their popularity, many brachycephalic dogs are affected by health problems that are linked with their body shape. Because of this, all potential puppy buyers of brachycephalic dogs should be aware of these health issues before purchasing a puppy, and all current owners of brachycephalic dogs should be vigilant for signs of ill health, so they can seek prompt veterinary advice.

The health problems detailed below may affect some brachycephalic dogs more than others depending on body shape and structure.

Breathing problems
Dogs with Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome show an increase in the amount of noise they make when breathing, even at rest, which may sound like snoring, snorting or wheezing.
 Eye problems
Corneal ulcers can result from many causes, including injury and reduced tear production, corneal ulcers in brachycephalic dogs are commonly due to a variety of anatomical changes seen in brachycephalic dogs compared to longer muzzled dogs.
 Skin problems
Some brachycephalic dogs may have skin folds or wrinkles that may be deep. Visual signs that these have become infected and sore may be hidden away from view.
 Spinal problems
Abnormally shaped vertebrae may be due to selection for screw-tails in some brachycephalic breeds. Curved or screw tails in these breeds result from abnormally shaped vertebrae in the tail region of the spine, and these breeds have genes that tend to cause the formation of abnormally shaped vertebrae elsewhere in the spinal column as well as in the tail.
 Birthing problems
Birthing difficulties (dystocia) is common in some extreme brachycephalic breeds. Although birthing difficulties may be caused by factors such as uterine inertia (failure to commence uterine contractions), abnormally presenting puppies and abnormally large puppies, birthing problems are common in some brachycephalic breeds due to feto-pelvic disproportion.
 

 

Further resources and information

Film: Dog health – What is Brachycephalic Obstruction Airway Syndrome?

In this learning resource, BOAS experts Dr Sargan, Dr Liu and Dr Ladlow from the University of Cambridge will ensure viewers are provided with information as to what Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome is, how it affects brachycephalic breed (short-nosed dogs e.g. Pugs/Bulldogs/French Bulldogs) and the signs and symptoms owners/potential owners should be aware of.

The Academy: Brachycephalic breeds health and research learning resources

A range of free and insightful resources, including films, focusing on research with experts from different fields of canine health and welfare, with an in-depth look at canine diseases, genetics and conformation-related health concerns.

Current research: Cambridge BOAS research Group

The Kennel Club Charitable Trust is funding ground breaking research into Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) at Cambridge University. The aim is to improve the health of dogs which are already affected by BOAS and to create breeding tools that will help breeders make informed choices and ultimately breed healthier puppies.

Specialist clinic for short muzzled dogs

The RVC has the only specialist clinic in UK for brachycephalic dog breeds, also known as short-muzzled or short-nosed dogs. Brachycephalic dogs can suffer from long-term health problems that affect their breathing, eyes, bones and gait, heart, skin and ears.

Who can I contact for further advice?

The Kennel Club is not a veterinary organisation and is unable to provide general or case specific veterinary advice.  If you have any questions regarding any of the issues discussed in this article then please contact your local veterinary practice for further information.

 

This article was written by Dr Rowena Packer from the Royal Veterinary College who has given the Kennel Club kind permission to replicate this article.  Dr Rowena Packer is a Research Fellow at the Royal Veterinary College. Her research interests include many areas of canine inherited disease including brachycephalic health and canine epilepsy.