Let’s all breath a little easier!

There has been much media attention of late about brachycephalic dog breeds and the breathing problems they face. But many owners do not realise there is an operation that can help their brachys breathe a little easier.

Fur Life Senior Vet Duncan Runciman gives us the lowdown on the procedure, as well his perspective on brachycephalic dog breeds.

adjective (Anatomy)
having a relatively short skull (typically with the breadth at least 80 per cent of the length).

What’s the problem?

Brachycephalic breeds refer to flat-faced dogs with short-noses and heads. Think Pugs, Pekingese, Boxers, Boston Terriers and Bulldogs (French, British & American) to name a few. Because of their unique anatomy – small head, nose and airways and long, soft palate – many of these dogs have difficulty breathing.

Duncan says: “It’s all about how hard they work to breathe. It’s similar to trying to suck up a milkshake through a straw and hitting a big blob of ice cream. You suck so hard the straw collapses. That’s what’s going on when they breathe. They suck really hard with each breath, and that puts immense pressure on their airways and larynx. Gradually, they get weaker and weaker to the point of collapse, or in the worst case, suddenly die,” he says.

There is a fix for some breathing issues

Duncan is quick to point out brachys don’t need to live with breathing problems. There is an option owners can consider that can vastly improve their dog’s quality of life – soft palate surgery.

“We can do three things in the surgery. We can widen the outside of the nose, we can remove excess tissue around the larynx, and we can shorten the soft palate. This long, soft palate is the biggest problem they have so making it smaller is really important,” he says. “These three things can dramatically improve the amount of air the dogs get with every breath. It varies from dog to dog but overall, the results are fantastic.”

Duncan is also a fur-parent to a brachy – a happy, little French Bulldog by the name of Winston. In Winston’s case, he only needed a soft palate resection as he has a wide, open nose. But it made a world of difference to his running abilities – something Duncan’s kids are happy about…but not so the cattle when Winston finds his way through the fence!

There was another added bonus of the surgery: “Winston no longer snores so he can sleep in the house,” Duncan laughs.

Indicators that your dog could benefit from soft palate surgery:

  • They snore
  • They struggle to draw breath, or pant excessively, in everyday activities

Do all brachycephalic breeds need surgery?

This is something that is assessed on a case by case basis as some dogs have good-sized noses. But Duncan recommends most brachycephalic breeds should be assessed by a vet by six months of age, and that most will benefit from at least having their soft palate shortened.

Special Care Needs of brachycephalic breeds

In addition to surgery, there are many things you can do to keep your dog safe:

  1. Watch their weight – excess fat puts added strain on organs and airways
  2. Don’t push them when exercising – know their limits & take short walks at cooler times
  3. Use a harness rather than a neck collar
  4. Keep them cool – small dogs overheat quickly. It doesn’t have to be hot; a long walk can do it
  5. Know the heat stress signs

*If your dog snores have him checked by a Fur Life Vet so you can both breath a little easier!

Heat Stress Signs

1st stage – increased panting & slowing down

2nd stage – excessive panting, raised body temperature, collapsing, vomiting &/or diarrhoea

At the second stage, your dog is overheating internally and in real danger. Get them out of the sun, cool them by dousing them with water and seek immediate vet attention.

As you can see, there are some important treatment options available to help brachycephalic breeds breathe a little easier.

*If your dog snores have him checked by a Fur Life Vet so you can both breath a little easier!

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