Brachycephalic (brak-ee-se-fal-ik) literally means “shortened head.” Some of the most popular dogs today such as Bulldogs, Pugs, French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Shih Tzus, and Boxers are all considered to be brachycephalic breeds (shoutout to the French Bulldog which took over the #2 most popular breed!). As adorable as these pups are, due to the shape of their heads, these breeds frequently have obstructive breathing patterns. “Brachycephalic airway syndrome” refers to a set of structural abnormalities that can cause noisy breathing, snoring, coughing, and exercise intolerance.
There are three main components to brachycephalic airway syndrome: stenotic nares, everted laryngeal saccules, and elongated soft palate. Stenotic nares are abnormally narrow and small nostrils that collapse inward during inhalation. (See the photos below for an example. Note: stenotic nares aren’t breed-specific, however, some breeds are more prone than others.) Everted laryngeal saccules are small sacs of tissue in the larynx that can be pulled into the trachea and obstruct airflow. A soft palate that is too long will block the entrance to the trachea, also making something as simple as taking a breath difficult.
So I think my dog could have brachycephalic airway syndrome ….. now what??? First thing’s first – see your pet’s veterinarian for a physical exam. They can easily determine if this is something your pet is struggling with. Next, make sure your dog is at a good body weight. Ask your pet’s veterinarian what an ideal weight is for them and make sure they’re eating a healthy diet. Being overweight makes their breathing issues so much worse! Finally, talk to your veterinarian about surgical procedures that can be performed to help improve your pet’s quality of life. The earlier the abnormalities are addressed, the better the long-term prognosis. Stenotic nares can be widened by removing a small wedge of tissue from each nostril. Everted laryngeal saccules can be removed and an elongated soft palate can be shortened to the appropriate length. Any of these procedures alone would be helpful in giving your pup better respiratory health, but sometimes multiple procedures are needed.
Follow up with your primary care veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns about your pet.
-Dr. Kristi Underwood