Brachycephalic Syndrome is a group of conditions that can make breathing more difficult in short-nosed dogs. The most common breeds affected are Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers and Pekinese. The Syndrome arises when a disproportion arises between the bones and cartilage in the upper airways compared to the soft tissues. If too much soft tissue is present, it can get in the way of normal airflow from the nostrils or mouth into the trachea or windpipe.
The most common components of the condition include stenotic nares (small pinched nostrils), elongated soft palate (overlong soft tissue behind the hard roof of the mouth), everted laryngeal saccules (little sacs in the back of the throat that come out of position and disrupt air flow) and a hypoplastic trachea (more narrow than typical windpipe). Some dogs may only have one or two of the components of the syndrome, where others unfortunately can have all four which can make their symptoms more severe. The abnormalities are present at birth but symptoms can appear early or later in life. Symptoms often become more progressive with time, as increased pressure associated with inhaling an obstruction can cause further weakening and collapse of these structures. Some animals will become very distressed and unable to breathe if the symptoms are severe.
If you have a brachycephalic breed you can take some important steps to prevent an emergency:
- Have your pet assessed for this syndrome by your veterinarian. When anesthesia is performed for a spay or a neuter procedure, this is a great opportunity to look at all of these structures and to assess the severity of the condition. There are also several precautions a veterinarian can take when anesthetizing a brachycephalic pet to prevent complications.
- Avoid excessive or strenuous exercise or stressful situations that cause rapid breathing as well as prolonged exposure to very warm conditions.
- Keep your pet at a healthy weight as obesity can worsen this condition and can make breathing even more difficult.
- Avoid using neck collars to prevent further pressure being put on the airways, and use a harness instead.
- Monitor for any signs of difficulty breathing, an increase in the noisiness of breathing, a change in exercise intolerance, cyanosis (blue appearance of the gums due to lack of oxygen) and syncope (fainting). If your pet is experiencing any of these symptoms they need to be seen by a veterinarian.
Brachycephalic syndrome can often be managed with medications, however if the symptoms become severe, corrective surgery can be performed. Surgery often makes a huge difference in the comfort and quality of life of an affected pet.