Brachycephalic (short muzzled) breed include Pugs, Pekinese, Boston Terriers, English Bulldogs, Shi-tzus Lhasa Apsos etc. These dogs have been bred through the ages for their cute looks. Unfortunately, the chronic inbreeding has led to a number of problems related to breathing and respiration in these pets. As a result, many of them become respiratory cripples at even an early age.

The “brachycephalic airway syndrome” involves one or more of the following problems:

  • Narrow (stenotic) nostrils
  • Overly long soft palate (soft part of the roof of the mouth)
  • Swelling of the larynx
  • Swollen laryngeal saccules
  • Collapse of the larynx
  • Inappropriately small tracheas

Narrow “stenotic” Nares

Longated plate frontal view

Closeup of long palate

Swollen larynx

Everted Laryngeal Saccules

Demonstration of narrow trachea

Each of these problems causes the airway through which they breathe smaller than normal. This makes breathing much more difficult for them and leads to the symptoms associated with the syndrome which include:

  • Noisy breathing
  • Chronic snoring
  • Nasal congestion
  • Reduced tolerance to exercise
  • Reduced tolerance to heat
  • Difficulty eating

How do our veterinarians diagnose this syndrome?

Diagnosis is made though identification of the problems listed above. During the physical examination, the size of the nostrils, the sound of the breathing, and the amount of labor involved in breathing become obvious to the doctor. Radiographs (x-rays) of the chest and neck can tell us whether the trachea is abnormally small for the size of the dog. To fully diagnose the internal components of the syndrome, we must anesthetize the pet and do a visual or endoscopic examination of the oral cavity, pharynx and larynx.

Brachycephalic breeds can be high risks for anesthesia; therefore, if we are going to anesthetize them, we should be prepared to correct the defects that we find at the same time!

How do our veterinarians treat this syndrome?

Surgery is the only treatment to help these pets. We can do corrective surgery to open up the nostrils, reduce the length of the soft palate and remove any of the swollen laryngeal tissue. Currently, Laser Surgery is the treatment of choice for this syndrome because the laser cuts with a minimal of bleeding, swelling and pain. We have this modality available at our facility and we are finding exceptionally good results with its use.

It is important to understand, that the earlier these surgeries are performed, the better the prognosis for the dog becomes. If we fail to treat the pets early, even the most aggressive surgery may not be enough to help them. We recommend having these surgeries done as early as 3-4 months of age in order to minimize the degeneration of the airways and to improve the quality of life for these pets.

Repair of right nares

Pair of both nares

Preparing to cut palate

Cutting Palate with laser

Are there risks involved with the surgery?

Any surgery of the airways has risks involved. Each case has a different risk factor, generally related to how bad the problem is as we go into surgery and how long it has been going on. We encourage you to discuss the risks for your pet with our surgeons if you are considering having the procedure performed.

What is the prognosis with this surgery?

Again, much of the prognosis depends on how badly the dog is affected prior to surgery and at what age we do the surgery. Most of the pets from Alta Loma, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Ontario, Claremont, Fontana and the Inland Empire that undergo this procedure will breathe much easier within 24 hours of surgery. They will make substantially less noise when at rest. They should develop better exercise and heat tolerance. In general, every brachycephalic pet should be evaluated and treated for this problem at the earliest opportunity to ensure a long and productive life.