A Guide to Health Issues of Flat-Faced Dogs

Brachycephalic dog breeds are an incredibly popular choice for dog owners, with many being drawn to their cute facial features. Yet, what is usually most physically appealing about the various breeds is actually what is to the detriment of their overall health.

With increasing news stories of the concerning health problems seen in these breeds and even veterinary practices are beginning to take action, with the British Veterinary Association launching their campaign #breedtobreath, in order to raise awareness to potential owners of the risks and health problems in flat-faced dog breeds.

Flat Faced Dog Breeds

Many popular pedigree dog breeds in the UK fall under the category of a brachycephalic breed. They are also called flat faced, flat nose or snub nose dog breed due to their characteristically squashed faces and noses.

As a result of their cute faces and big eyes, they are extremely appealing to potential dog owners and can often be purchased without any awareness of the common risks and problems experienced in these breeds.

In fact, many owners couldn’t identify the common symptoms of potentially dangerous health conditions, instead thinking such symptoms such as snorting were normal in the breed.

Moreover, a large percentage of flat-faced dogs cannot live happy and healthy lives without the need for veterinary intervention. Therefore, it is wise to seriously consider the factors such as time and cost when making the decision on which dog breed will be best suited to your lifestyle.

Flat faced dog breeds include:

  • Boxer
  • Dogue de Bordeaux
  • Bull dog
  • Bullmastiff
  • Rottweiler
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • English Mastiff
  • Pug
  • Pekingese
  • Shih Tzu
  • Boston Terrier
  • French Bulldog
  • Chihuahua

What does ‘brachycephalic’ mean?

The term ‘brachycephalic’ is most commonly used in the veterinary industry and is the official scientific name to describe short-nosed or flat-faced dogs. Derived from Greek, meaning ‘short’ and ‘head’, the features of a brachycephalic breed are a flattened or squashed muzzle and a longer lower jaw.

Common Health Complaints

Flat-faced dog breed are incredibly appealing to many as they are undeniably cute. Therefore, breeders have increasingly prioritised appearance over health.

Due to their breeding and subsequent biology, flat-faced dogs are at a high risk of experiencing very serious and sometime life threatening health problems.

Some of the health complaints experienced in these breeds include:

Brachycephalic Syndrome

This is a condition which is commonly seen in brachycephalic dog breeds. The syndrome is caused by abnormalities in the dogs’ respiratory system, namely shorted and narrowed airways. This results in severe breathing difficulties in situations such as periods of exertion, exposure to high temperatures and stress. The anatomical abnormalities restrict the dogs’ ability to take deep or fast enough breaths to allow enough oxygen to enter and enough carbon dioxide to exit.

Heart Problems

Usually, heart conditions in flat-faced dog breeds are a secondary problem experienced as a result of the breathing difficulties. Due to their respiratory restrictions, the continuous laboured breathing can put significant strain on the heart as it needs to beat faster to circulate enough oxygen into the bloodstream. This makes the breeds weakened hearts at increased risk of common heart diseases.

Skin, Ear and Eye Problems

Their breeding has produced pronounced eyes, narrowed ear canals. Furthermore, because of the shape of their heads, they have deep skin folds, particularly around their eyes, making these areas particularly problematic in these dogs.

The skin and ears are prone to poor ventilation which increases the chance of experiencing yeast infections, resulting in sore and cracked skin.

The shape and size of the eyes means they are susceptible to ulcers and eye infections.

Dental Issues

Due to the selective breeding, whilst having a shorter upper jaw, these breed still have the same number of teeth as dog breeds with longer muzzles. This means the teeth must fit into a smaller space and often overlap as a result which increases the risk of tooth decay and the potential for gum disease.

Birthing Issues

It is common for certain brachycephalic breeds to experience difficulty with giving birth naturally, often requiring veterinary intervention such as a caesarean section. This is due to the puppy’s heads being too large to travel down the birth canal. Breeds most commonly affected are French and English bulldogs.