Brachycephaly In Dogs: What It Means To Be A Brachycephalic Puppy
The term “brachycephaly” refers to a group of conditions that affect the shape or size of the head and face. These include dwarfism, microcephaly (smaller than normal), karyotype (a genetic condition) and some forms of congenital heart defects. There are many different types of these conditions, but they all have one thing in common – their abnormal shape causes them to not develop properly with respect to each other. For example, if you had a baby with a normal head and body proportions, it would look like most babies do.
If your baby was born with abnormally small feet or hands, then those parts will probably never grow fully developed into the rest of its body.
What is considered normal?
In general, what is considered normal varies from person to person. Some people are born with large heads and bodies, while others may only need glasses or braces to correct their appearance. Other people have very short faces and long limbs; they might even appear completely average when standing next to someone else. However, there are certain physical characteristics that are generally considered to be normal:
Head circumference of at least 40 cm (16 inches).
Hands and feet are less than 10% smaller than other parts of the body.
The skull grows in a rounded shape at a normal rate.
The base of the skull does not protrude forward.
What types of brachycephaly can my pet have?
Cephalic Index (CI)
The cephalic index is a measurement of the width and length of your pet’s skull. It is a way to measure how brachycephalic your pet is. The normal human head is 100% (or 1 on the scale), while a completely round skull, like a ball, is 0%. In between those are other values depending on the shape of your pet’s head.
In brachycephalic dogs, the cephalic index is usually between 55-65%. It means that their head is more than half as wide as it is long. This can affect the eyes, the way they see, and the way they breathe. Their faces are often broad, short and flat with noses that are often collapsed or pushed inwards.
Their eyes are often bulging.
See The Difference Between Normicons.
Brachycephalic syndrome is a group of traits that many brachycephalic dogs share. They aren’t directly related to each other, but they do affect your pet in similar ways. This means that most dogs with this syndrome will have many of these traits. However, it isn’t uncommon to find deviations from the norm and some individuals may not display any of these traits at all.
A short, broad nose is a common trait among many brachycephalic dogs. It affects the shape of their face to varying degrees and can affect their breathing.
The nasal cavities of some dogs are more narrow than others. This is known as stenotic nares and it can make it harder for them to breathe. Dogs with this condition will have to work harder to intake air into their lungs. This can lead to other problems that affect their health and overall quality of life.
If your pet is diagnosed with this condition, then they may need surgery to correct it.
The lips of some dogs are perpetual flaps that can be easily infected or damaged. The skin of the lips may also protrude outward, making them more prone to damage. This can cause significant problems with eating and daily activities.
Brachycephalic dogs often have issues with their teeth due to the shortened jaw. The teeth may become overcrowded or crooked. They may need to have their teeth cleaned or removed if the problem becomes bad enough.
Slobbering and Breathing Difficulties
Due to the shortened face, brachycephalic dogs often slobber and have trouble breathing. The tongue does not fit as well in the mouth and may even hang out of the side due to it being too long. Because of this, these dogs often drool. The tongue can also get caught in the throat and lead to choking or suffocation, especially during sleep.
These problems can be reduced by tucking the tongue in, but that is not always possible.
The shortened face can make it hard for these pets to breathe. There are many different disorders that can affect their breathing, such as collapsing trachea and stenotic nares. However, most of these pets will experience some kind of breathing disorder during their lifetime. These affect the way they sleep and even how much exercise they can handle.
Dogs with this condition almost always have a similar appearance. They usually have a round head with a short muzzle and bulging eyes that are often malformed. Their ears are usually small, puffy, and permanently faced.
Brachycephalic dogs may also struggle with other sensory problems. They often have a decreased sense of smell and their hearing is often more limited than other dogs. These senses play an important role in helping dogs navigate the world around them. These dogs may bump into things more often are not aware of their surroundings.
Brachycephalic Syndrome Treatment
Many of these traits can be managed with veterinary treatment and care. The stenotic nares can be surgically corrected to make it easier for the dog to breathe. It might also need surgery if it has a lot of dental problems and can’t chew its food. The mouth can also be cleaned to prevent infection.
Drooling can also be reduced with surgery.
Most of these dogs will have trouble sleeping because of their breathing, so the vet may suggest keeping them in a climate-controlled environment at night. This is a good idea even if no surgery is needed to make it comfortable for them.
Brachycephalic syndrome is a complex condition that affects these dogs’ quality of life. Many of these dogs do not do well with exercise and should have their activity restricted. Encouraging them to be more active can lead to pain, soreness, and other issues. Overweight dogs may find it harder to breathe, so it’s important that they stay at an ideal weight.
Diet changes can also help immensely. The food should be chopped up into small pieces or ground up to make it easier for them to eat. Their food should be served at around body temperature because many of these dogs have a hard time digesting anything that is too hot or cold.
Living and Coping with a Brachycephalic Dog
Dogs with brachycephalic syndrome should be taken to the vet right away if they begin having issues with their breathing, swallowing, or anything else. Surgery is usually an option for many of these problems and can make a big difference in the dog’s quality of life.
Owners of these dogs should also check for signs that their dog is in pain or struggling to breathe. These might include shallow or stopped breathing, gagging, tooth grinding, pawing at the face, or wincing. Owners should not wait until the problem becomes severe because it could lead to more serious issues. Most dogs can adapt well to their condition if given the proper treatment and care.
Living with a brachycephalic dog will require some adjustments on the owner’s part. These dogs will probably not be able to go on long walks or hikes or take part in other strenuous activities. They will need to be careful in hot or cold weather and may need surgery to help them breath easier. However, for many people these dogs are well worth the extra effort!
The English bulldog is just one of many dogs that have to struggle with this condition. If you think you’re up for the responsibility of caring for one of these dogs, speak to a breeder about the breed and the health issues that come with it. If you already have one of these dogs or another brachycephalic dog, it’s very important to keep a close eye on them and get regular checkups with a veterinarian.
Brachycephalic Syndrome: English Bulldog and Other Dogs with the Same Issue
What is Brachycephalic Syndrome?
English Bulldog Health Problems
Bullmastiff Health Problems
Brachycephalic Dogs: Glasgow Companion Dog Show 2015 (Article)
Brachycephalic Syndrome in Dogs (Article)
A Dog with Brachycephalic Syndrome: Our Experience
How Bulldog Breathes (Video)
Sources & references used in this article:
Localization of canine brachycephaly using an across breed mapping approach by D Bannasch, A Young, J Myers, K Truvé, P Dickinson… – PloS one, 2010 – journals.plos.org
Impact of facial conformation on canine health: brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome by RMA Packer, A Hendricks, MS Tivers, CC Burn – PLoS One, 2015 – journals.plos.org
How does severe brachycephaly affect dog’s lives? Results of a structured preoperative owner questionnaire by FS Roedler, S Pohl, GU Oechtering – The Veterinary Journal, 2013 – Elsevier
Comparison of closure times for cranial base synchondroses in mesaticephalic, brachycephalic, and cavalier king charles spaniel dogs by MJ Schmidt, H Volk, M Klingler, K Failing… – Veterinary Radiology …, 2013 – Wiley Online Library
Canine brachycephaly is associated with a retrotransposon-mediated missplicing of SMOC2 by TW Marchant, EJ Johnson, L McTeir, CI Johnson… – Current Biology, 2017 – Elsevier
Consequences and management of canine brachycephaly in veterinary practice: perspectives from Australian veterinarians and veterinary specialists by A Fawcett, V Barrs, M Awad, G Child, L Brunel… – Animals, 2019 – mdpi.com
Epidemiological associations between brachycephaly and upper respiratory tract disorders in dogs attending veterinary practices in England by DG O’Neill, C Jackson, JH Guy, DB Church… – Canine genetics and …, 2015 – Springer