Flat-faced breeds: What you need to know

You’ve probably seen flat-faced breeds like Pugs and French Bulldogs in the news a lot recently. Dogs like these have become really popular but there hasn’t always awareness of the health problems they can have. This is being reported more in the media to try and help owners understand these problems and improve the welfare of these breeds. So, what are these health problems and why are vets so concerned about these pets?

What are 'brachycephalic' or ‘flat-faced breeds’?

Flat faced breeds are any dogs, cats or rabbits that have short, squashed noses (flat-faces). There’s been a lot of focus on dog breeds like Pugs but these aren’t the only pets that can have health problems because of the way they look. Flat-faced breeds include:

Flat faces aren’t the only features that cause problems for pets. Find out more about other issues pets can have.

What is the problem with flat-faced breeds?

Many of these dogs and cats will suffer from something called Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome or BOAS. This is a range of health problems all caused by their shorter snout. The most obvious sign of BOAS is difficulty breathing.

Not every flat-faced pet will suffer from the worst symptoms of BOAS but many will have some symptoms that cause health and welfare problems. These are often overlooked because they’re seen as ‘normal’ for those breeds. If you own a flat-faced breed, it’s important to understand BOAS so you can get your pet help from a vet if they show any symptoms.

What is Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)?

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) is made up of a range of health problems, including:

  • Difficulty getting enough air with each breath. This is a real problem for dogs during exercise or in the heat if they can’t pant properly to cool themselves down.
  • A narrow windpipe (the tube that pulls air from the nose to the lungs) which means it takes more effort to pull air into the lungs. This can put a lot of strain on the muscles and tissue around the windpipe, gradually making the situation worse.
  • Not enough oxygen in the blood. If they can’t get enough air into their lungs, they’ll have less oxygen in their blood. This can eventually lead to heart failure.
  • The extra effort to breath can also cause heartburn (acid reflux) which is really uncomfortable and causes vomiting.

BOAS can get worse as your pet gets older. It will also get worse if your pet puts on a lot of weight.

Signs your pet has breathing problems

Pets with BOAS have symptoms such as:

  • Noisy breathing and panting
  • snorting and sneezing
  • lots of snoring
  • difficulty cooling down when it is warm
  • difficulty recovering after exercise
  • sleeping sitting up or falling over when sitting up
  • collapse
  • bluish gums (gums should be salmon pink colour)
  • narrow nostrils.

It’s important to recognise that this isn’t ‘normal for the breed’. These are signs of your pet struggling to breathe and that they need help. If you notice any of these signs of BOAS, speak to your vet and get your pet treated. Read more about the kinds of treatments your vet might suggest.

Other health problems in flat-faced breeds

Flat-faced breeds often suffer from other health problems, as well as struggling to breathe. These include:

  • Tooth problems. These breeds have to fit the same number of teeth into a much smaller jaw. Their teeth can be cramped or overlapping. This can cause painful dental problems.
  • Skin infections. Extra folds and wrinkles around their nose and mouth are the ideal breeding ground for infections. This can cause red and infected skin.
  • Eye problems. Flat-faced breeds have very shallow eye sockets and this often means their eyes bulge out slightly. This makes them more likely to get eye infections and injuries.
  • Difficulties giving birth. Some breeds have difficulty giving birth naturally because of their litter’s large heads. They might need a caesarean (C-section).

Getting a flat-faced dog or cat

We’d always recommend thinking carefully before you buy or rescue a flat-faced breed. It’s important to put their welfare first and make sure you’re prepared for any health problems they might face.

Read our advice on getting a pedigree and how to choose a healthier pet

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