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Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome in Dogs

When it comes to dogs, certain breeds may have a higher risk of developing unique conditions, as is the case with dogs that have short snouts. Our Turlock vets discuss brachycephalic airway syndrome in dogs, including its signs, treatment options, and the potential need for surgery.

What is Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome?

When we dissect the term "brachycephalic," we can break it down into two constituent parts. The first part of the word, "brachy," signifies "shortened," and the second part, "cephalic," denotes "head." Therefore, the term "brachycephalic" signifies a shortened head, precisely describing these beloved dog breeds with flattened faces. Regrettably, these distinctive characteristics can also adversely affect the health of these dogs.

Veterinarians refer to the condition experienced by these dogs as "brachycephalic airway syndrome," which encompasses upper airway abnormalities that impact these breeds. Some of these abnormalities include:


Stenotic nares: If a dog is experiencing stenotic nares, it will have abnormally narrowed or small nostrils restricting the airflow into the nostrils.

Extended nasopharyngeal turbinates: Nasopharyngeal turbinates are tissue-covered bone ridges that help warm and humidify the air the dog breathes in. However, when these are too long, they can cause a blockage that affects the airflow.

Elongated soft palate: A dog with an elongated soft palette can have their windpipe partially blocked causing an obstruction.

Laryngeal collapse: When there is chronic stress put on the larynx of the dog it can result in laryngeal collapse. As this collapse occurs, it will cause a restriction in airflow.

Everted laryngeal saccules: The laryngeal saccules are small sacs or pouches within the larynx which may be sucked into the airway, causing an obstruction.

Hypoplastic trachea: If a dog experiences hypoplastic trachea, it means their trachea has a smaller than average diameter.

Other Problems Caused By Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome

Brachycephalic airway syndrome has been linked to changes in the lungs as well as in the gastrointestinal tract, including:

  • bronchial collapse
  • gastroesophageal reflux
  • chronic gastritis.

Bronchial collapse occurs when the bronchi weaken and collapse, further obstructing the airway. Your dog's esophagus experiences a reflux of intestinal fluids.

Dog Breeds With a High Risk of Developing Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome

  • Bulldogs (French and English)
  • Boxer Dogs
  • Boston Terriers
  • Pekingese
  • Chinese Shar-Pei
  • Pugs
  • Shih Tzus
  • Bull Mastiffs

Symptoms Of Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome in Dogs

Brachycephalic dogs may experience symptoms such as:

  • They may have noisy breathing, especially when they breathe in
  • They may gag when they are swallowing
  • These dogs may have the inability to partake in exercise
  • Cyanosis causing blue tongue and gums related to the lack of oxygen
  • The dog may occasionally collapse, especially with over-activity, excitement, or excessive heat or humidity
  • Dogs suffering from obesity will be at a greater risk

Many brachycephalic dogs have a preference for sleeping on their backs. This position allows the soft palette to fall away from the larynx.

Diagnosis Of Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome in Dogs

The diagnosis of brachycephalic airway syndrome depends on the specific abnormalities affecting the dog.

While a simple physical examination can diagnose stenotic nares, other abnormalities are more complex and challenging to diagnose, necessitating the administration of general anesthesia for the dog. Depending on the specific issue, your vet may also suggest performing a chest X-ray to aid in the diagnosis.

How Successful is Surgery For Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome in Dogs?

In most cases involving conditions that affect dogs, diagnosing them early leads to quicker treatment, typically resulting in a better prognosis.

With brachycephalic airway syndrome, the most common form of treatment is surgery to correct the abnormality and improve the airflow and breathing abilities of the dog.

After the surgery, there is a possibility that the incision site may swell. Therefore, your vet will closely monitor your dog to ensure their breathing remains unaffected during the recovery period.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you have a brachycephalic dog experiencing symptoms like those listed above? Our experienced vets can help. Book an appointment at Monte Vista Small Animal Hospital in Turlock today.

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Monte Vista Small Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Turlock companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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