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Brachycephalic Dog Breeds: What Owners Need To Know

Written by Ella White



You’ve probably noticed that some of the most popular dog breeds have short, flat faces and noses. These are known as brachycephalic dog breeds and, in 2017, the American Kennel Club listed two of these breeds in their top 10 most popular, and eight in its 31 most popular.

But what are brachycephalic dog breeds, what does it mean, and what should owners of these short-nosed dogs be aware of?

The following dog breeds are considered brachycephalic by the American Kennel Club:

  • Affenpinscher
  • Boxer
  • Bulldog
  • Brussels Griffon
  • Bullmastiff
  • Boston Terrier
  • Cane Corso
  • Chow Chow
  • Dogue de Bordeaux
  • English Toy Spaniel
  • French Bulldog
  • Japanese Chin
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Pekingese
  • Pug
  • Shih Tzu

The word brachycephalic comes from the two Greek words meaning ‘short’ and ‘head’. It’s the scientific term for dogs with a flattened muzzle that looks like it’s shortened or squashed – or ‘short headed’. 

Often, brachycephalic dog breeds have longer bottom jaws which gives the effect of a sticking out lower jaw compared to their shortened top jaw.

Though brachycephalic dog breeds are becoming increasingly popular as pets, they are prone to a number of health issues as a result of their flattened noses. However, almost 60% of owners of these breeds aren’t aware of the signs that their pet is struggling to breathe – this is likely because brachycephalic dogs often make more noise than longer-nosed dogs while breathing, eating, and sleeping.

Not all brachycephalic dogs will develop health problems as a result of their nose and head shape. However, these features do put them at greater risk of brachycephalic airway syndrome, a condition caused by abnormalities in their upper airways.

These abnormalities include:

  • An elongated soft palate, whereby the soft tissue on the roof of the mouth extends into the back of the throat and causes blockage to the trachea.
  • Hypoplastic trachea, where the windpipe is narrower in diameter than normal.
  • Stenotic nares, or simply put: small or narrow nostrils, which can restrict the airflow while breathing.
  • Everted laryngeal saccules, usually caused by one of the previous problems. It causes the small sacs on a dog’s larynx to turn outwards and obstruct their airway.

Because dogs regulate their temperature through panting rather than sweating, dogs with short muzzles can take longer to cool themselves down, and are more likely to overheat and even die in hot conditions.

If your dog has a history of breathing and snoring very loudly, reverse sneezing, tracheal collapse, or a sensitive gag reflex then they may be more at risk of developing brachycephalic airway syndrome. These breathing issues put brachycephalic dogs at higher risk of heat stroke and heat exhaustion, and mean they have a lower tolerance for exercise. This can also put strain on their heart and lead to long-term heart issues.

Because loud or difficult breathing is considered to be normal in brachycephalic dogs, it can be harder for owners of these breeds to spot issues. Some signs to look out for include:

  • Tight or narrow nostrils
  • Wheezing when inhaling
  • Snorting or grunting sounds as a result of overlong soft palate
  • Coughing or gagging as a result of narrowed airways

As well as their short noses, obesity is another leading cause of breathing issues in these dogs and they may need to be put on weight-loss plans if they do gain too much weight. This can be trickier to manage in dogs that have a low tolerance for exercise, heat, and humidity which is why it’s extra important for these breeds to be fed healthy diets as a preventative measure. 

In severe cases of breathing problems, brachycephalic dogs might need surgery to increase their airflow.

All dog breeds are prone to a certain selection of illnesses and issues, and while brachycephalic breeds are most susceptible to breathing problems, there are some other potential issues that owners should be aware of. 

Tooth Problems

Because brachycephalic dogs are bred especially for their flattened faces, they have less space in their mouths to fit the same number of teeth – all dog breeds grow 42 adult teeth regardless of their face shape. Because of their small muzzles, brachycephalic dogs’ teeth can overlap and cause decay and gum disease.

Ear Problems

Brachycephalic dogs often have deep folds of skin on their face and narrow ear canals. These areas often don’t get enough ventilation which can cause yeast infections and soreness.

Eye Problems

As they often have prominent or bulging eyes, these dogs are vulnerable to eye injuries as their tear film doesn’t spread effectively across the eyeball. They can also easily develop ulcers on their eyes.

Neurological Problems

Their compressed skull means that brachycephalic breeds are more likely to suffer from brain problems. The most common of these issues is Syringomyelia, which causes cavities or cysts to form in the spinal cord.

Other issues faced by brachycephalic dogs include:

  • Disturbed sleep
  • Heatstroke
  • Obesity
  • Joint issues
  • Skin infections

Due to over breeding for their short-nosed look, the sad fact is that these days most brachycephalic dogs will need veterinary intervention as a result of their short muzzle at some point in their life. Most dogs can live happy and healthy lives, but the chances that their breathing will affect their health at some point is very high. The less flat-nosed a dog is, the less likely they will be to need medical intervention.

This means that owners of brachycephalic breeds should be willing to dedicate more time to their dog’s health and wellbeing than owners of other breeds might. They should also be aware that this care can be expensive and long-lasting – meaning they’re not a good choice for owners with limited budgets to spend on their pets.

If buying a brachycephalic breed from a dog breeder rather than rehome, owners should always ask to see the relevant genetic health tests and certificates for the puppy’s parents. If a mother has had to have a cesarean birth it’s likely that they are not healthy as a result of their brachycephalic breeding, and their litter will probably inherit their same genetic issues. Similarly, if either parent displays signs of brachycephalic airway syndrome, their pups will lead less healthy lives as a result.

Some breeds of brachycephalic dogs, like bulldogs and mastiffs, were bred to have a shorter nose that would make them better at fighting and hunting. It was believed that their stronger jaws would be an advantage against other animals.

Another theory is that ancient dog owners thought the tiny heads of brachycephalic breeds looked like the heads of infant children, and bred them as lap dogs that signified wealth. Neither of these two reasons seem morally compelling enough to outweigh the potential health risks for brachycephalic dogs, but even now their continuum popularity proves their cuteness will prevail. 

So while it’s no surprise that potential owners are drawn to these breeds as life companions – many of which are known for their loving, intelligent, and affectionate nature – it’s important to be aware of all the side effects that come as a result of having such an aesthetically-appealing pup.