What is Brachycephalic Syndrome?
Brachycephalic Syndrome is a pathological condition which affects short-nosed dogs and cats, which can lead to severe respiratory distress.
There are different anatomical abnormalities that contribute to the disease, all of which are more commonly found in brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds:
- An elongated soft palate is a condition where the soft palate is too long so that the tip of the it protrudes into the airway and interferes with movement of air into the lungs).
- Stenotic nares are malformed nostrils that are narrow or collapse inward during inhalation, making it difficult for the dog to breathe through its nose).
- Everted laryngeal saccules is a condition in which the tissue within the airway, just in front of the vocal cords, is pulled into the trachea (windpipe) and partially obstructs airflow.
Breathing in situations of exercise, stress, or heat become difficult that an animal with such abnormalities may be unable to take fast or deep enough breaths to blow off carbon dioxide. This leads to distress an further increases respiratory rate and heart rate, creating a vicious cycle that can quickly become life-threatening.
Risks and Symptoms
Symptoms of brachycephalic syndrome vary with the severity of the abnormalities and can range anywhere from noisy breathing, snorting, snoring, and coughing to exercise intolerance and even collapsing or fainting after exertion.
Hot and humid climates or weather can cause symptoms to worsen. This is due to the anatomy of these animals, they can find it difficult to cool themselves by panting. The increased effort to move air through can cause swelling and inflammation in the airway. This will only further obstruct their breathing, cause respiratory distress, and cause even further overheating and a high risk of heat stroke.
Most brachycephalic dogs in normal conditions — not too hot or humid — breathing isn’t difficult enough to cause major problems. However, situations that cause panting, such as obesity, heat, vigorous exercise, or anxiety and excite can all trigger the vicious cycle: panting, which causes inflammation of the airway, which increases anxiety, leading to more panting, and so on.
Brachycephalic dogs are also at a higher risk of problems during sedation and anesthesia. If your dog needs surgery or any other procedure requiring sedation, your veterinarian will recommend best course of action.
Conditions, such as stenotic nares, can be diagnosed through a simple physical exam. Others, such as the elongated soft palate, usually require general anesthesia. It’s really a matter of determining the severity and whether treatment is necessary.
Other diagnostic approaches include:
- Chemistry test to evaluate kidney, liver, and pancreatic function, as well as sugar levels
- Electrolyte tests to ensure your dog isn’t dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance.
- A complete blood count to screen your pet for infection, inflammation, or anemia and other blood-related conditions
- Urine tests to screen for urinary tract infection and other diseases, and to evaluate the ability of the kidneys to concentrate urine.
- Screening tests to rule out certain infectious diseases
- Radiographs (x-rays) of the chest and neck
Treatment for dogs with brachycephalic syndrome can range from short term therapy such as oxygen therapy and steroids to decrease inflammation to a more permanent solution such as surgery.
Dr. Bonda (right) performed the life-saving surgery to save Dr. Fox's (left) pup, Aubie (center).
Aubie is a French Bulldog who had a severe case of brachycephalic syndrome which initially presented itself as a cough.
The conditions caused by brachycephalic syndrome are in result of the natural anatomy of flat-faced breeds, so they are not preventable. One way of curbing more severe cases of the syndrome is through selective breeding. This means, dogs that need a lot of surgery to correct these problems should not be used for breeding.
To make life easier on a dog prone to brachycephalic syndrome, keep your pet at a healthy weight, avoid extremely hot weather, strenuous exercise, or stressful situations. This does not mean to do away with daily walks, as all dogs need exercise. However, try for a harness in favor of a collar to make breathing easier. Finally, have your dog examined by your veterinarian regularly to make sure abnormalities aren’t getting worse or need correction.