Endearing Flat Faces: Brachycephalic Pet Challenges

An English bulldog puppy can melt your heart. These wrinkly, adorable, round little fur nuggets often grow to become sweet, quirky adults who make wonderful companions. However, they are plagued with ongoing health problems. The English bulldog is an extreme example of a brachycephalic (i.e., flat-faced) breed—one with a short nose and rounded skull. Other popular brachycephalic dog breeds include the pug, shih tzu, Pekingese, chow chow, and boxer. Brachycephalic cat breeds include the Persian and exotic shorthair.

Before welcoming a brachycephalic pet into their home, prospective pet owners should be aware of these pets’ special health and wellness needs, which are often associated with extra expense. Read our Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital team’s guide to owning a brachycephalic pet.

Brachycephalic pet features

Brachycephalic pets have a shortened nose, rounded skull, large eyes, shallow eye sockets, and often have abnormal teeth and jaw alignment compared with pets who have a neutral head shape. Some brachycephalic pets also have short or twisted leg conformations, and compact, rounded bodies. Brachycephalic breeds are beloved because their features remind us of human babies, and activate our nurturing and caregiving instincts. Selective breeding has exaggerated these traits over time, but has also exaggerated these pets’ associated health problems.

Common brachycephalic pet health concerns

Brachycephalic health problems affect each breed—and individuals within those breeds—to varying degrees, depending on the breed standard, breeder responsibility, and the breeding line’s health quality. In general, most brachycephalics suffer the following health problems:

  • Airway disease — Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) describes a collection of abnormalities that make breathing more difficult, including small nasal openings (i.e., stenotic nares), narrow trachea, elongated soft palate, and abnormal laryngeal tissues (i.e., everted laryngeal saccules). Airway swelling from overheating, stress, or exertion can cause a complete breathing obstruction, and endanger the pet’s life.
  • Skin and ear problems — Skinfolds and narrow ear canals trap moisture, bacteria, and fungi, predisposing pets to ongoing infections.
  • Eye problems — Facial skinfolds, abnormal eyelashes, and abnormal eyelids cause a variety of chronic eye diseases, which can only be managed through surgery or medications. Brachycephalics’ adorable buggy eyes can also easily pop out as a result of trauma (i.e., proptosis), and are prone to injuries such as corneal ulcers.
  • Dental disease — Because of their abnormal jaw shape, many brachycephalic pets have undershot or crooked bites and crowded or excessively spaced teeth. These breeds’ dental disease risk is quite high as a result of abnormal tooth spacing and alignment, which predispose their teeth to plaque and tartar buildup more quickly than other breeds.
  • Obesity and joint disease — Pets with BOAS are less active because their abnormal airway structures inefficiently transport oxygen to their muscles, and their compact bodies are prone to obesity. Extra weight can put undue stress on their joints and result in early-onset arthritis.

Living with a brachycephalic pet

These pets’ care can be a bit more complex than other breeds, often requiring an increased time commitment and financial investment to help keep them healthy. Preventive measures can minimize veterinary visits and head off problems before they progress. Brachycephalic pet care tips include:

  • Keep them cool, and avoid overexcitement or stress.
  • Walk your pet during cool weather to encourage controlled exercise for weight control.
  • Use life jackets around water, as many brachycephalics are poor swimmers.
  • Consult with a veterinary surgeon to correct severe airway disease.
  • Wipe their skinfolds daily with veterinarian-prescribed medicated wipes.
  • Clean their ears weekly with veterinarian-prescribed ear cleanser. 
  • Brush their teeth daily with a pet-safe toothpaste. 
  • Visit a veterinary ophthalmologist annually, or more frequently if your pet has diagnosed eye conditions.

How to choose a healthier brachycephalic pet

Responsible breeding is the key to improving brachycephalic pet health. Purchase a brachycephalic pet only from a responsible breeder who performs all parents’ genetic and other health screenings, and who always strives to improve their puppies’ or kittens’ potential health. Do not purchase an animal from a pet store, because these retailers often source pets from large, unethical breeding operations. Wherever you find your new pet, follow your veterinarian’s recommendations to stay on top of their preventive care.  

A note about pet health insurance

Pet insurance can be helpful when addressing brachycephalic health concerns, but you must obtain the policy soon after you purchase or adopt your pet to avoid any pre-existing condition exclusions. Choose a pet health insurance policy that covers congenital, hereditary, and breed-related conditions. Insurance can be more expensive for a breed with known health problems, but paying a monthly premium may save you money down the line. If you choose to forgo purchasing insurance, consider setting aside extra money in a savings account designated for your pet’s future care.

Our Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital team loves brachycephalic pets for their undeniable charm and loving personalities, but we know their health maintenance can be challenging, time consuming, and financially demanding. Call us to schedule a preventive care visit, or to discuss your brachycephalic pet’s long-term care and their routine health care needs.

By |2024-02-15T00:08:52+00:00February 9th, 2023|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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