Cute, but can they breathe?

With their small stature, larger than life personalities and cute faces, French Bulldogs have soared in popularity over the last few years. While they make lovely pets, their appearance has come at a price for their animal welfare.

These dogs have been selectively bred to have a flat-face, which means they have a shortened skull, jaw and nose, with the same amount of soft tissue squashed into a now much smaller space. This creates a significantly reduced airflow, leading to chronic breathing difficulty and compromised quality of life. They live in a chronically oxygen depleted state and are more prone to heat stress and regurgitation. 

These disorders are similarly seen in many other Brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds, including English Bulldogs, Pugs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Pekingese. 

Many factors contribute to the breathing difficulty, but the main issues are:

1) Stenotic nares – narrow nostrils

2) Elongated soft palate – structure at the back of the mouth that can cover the opening to the larynx

3) Everted laryngeal saccules – prolapsed tissue in the larynx

4) Macroglossia – long and thick tongue

5) Tracheal hypoplasia – under developed windwipe 

Snoring and noisy breathing are the obvious abnormalities that owners observe, however there are many other more subtle behaviours that also indicate breathing difficulty.

Falling asleep while sitting, resting with an object in their mouth to keep the airway open, sleeping with the head elevated and frequently waking to change positions are all concerning signs. If you notice any of these behaviours in your pet, it will only get worse as they get older.      

Some of these abnormalities can be surgically corrected, however due to the complexed nature of the obstructive airway disease, they will never be able to breathe like a dog with a normal length nose. Surgery is most successful when done at a young age.

Please come and speak to one of our veterinary surgeons if you think your pet would benefit from surgery or if you would like more information.

Credit for images to The University of Cambridge BOAS Research Group.