Those flat faces and snuffles may be cute, but they can lead to BOAS, otherwise known as Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome. If you love the look of flat-faced dogs, make sure you understand the BOAS in dogs’ symptoms, causes, and treatments before you buy or adopt these types of dogs.

What is Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome in Dogs?

Brachycephalic airway syndrome is when dogs suffer lifelong breathing difficulties. This is caused by their short noses, narrow nostrils, and restricted windpipes. The structure of their heads reduces their ability to breathe meaning they often have to pant to draw enough oxygen in. This can cause problems during exercise, or hot weather when their breathing is placed under more strain.

Dog Breeds Affected by BOAS

Flat-faced dogs are commonly brachycephalic, such as French bulldogs, English bulldogs, boxers, pugs, Boston terriers, Pekinese, Shih-Tzu, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels. It is important to note that not every dog in the breed type will be brachycephalic, it is just that the risk is higher.

Symptoms of Dog BOAS

Unfortunately, lots of the symptoms of dogs brachycephalic airway syndrome are the very things that people find cute in these types of dogs. The snorting and wheezing, the snoring, the inability to walk too far without needing a rest. All these can be symptoms of BOAS and should be taken as a health concern, not accepted as a breed trait.

What are the Causes of Dog BOAS?

If you study old pictures of different dog breeds, you can see how we, through breeding specific traits, have changed the look of certain dog breeds over time. Flat-faced dogs have become more flat-faced, dachshunds have become longer, and the traits that were seen as desirable have been emphasised through breeding. The shorter the nose, the flatter the face the more upper airway abnormalities lie behind those adorable eyes.

Other Problems Causes of Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome

Overweight brachycephalic dogs will suffer more. Even losing a few pounds can massively reduce their symptoms. It becomes a vicious cycle, your brachycephalic dog struggles to walk too far, so you reduce their exercise, they gain weight and then struggle with their breathing even more. On the plus side, it doesn’t take much weight loss to enter a positive cycle, where they can walk further with fewer breathing difficulties, lose weight, their breathing improves, and then they can walk further again. Always seek veterinary advice if you are trying to manage your brachycephalic dog.

How is Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome is mainly clinical. Your vet will use a combination of visible symptoms, the reported symptoms of your dog’s everyday behaviour, and a physical examination to determine the syndrome. Once you have a diagnosis, you can look at treatment and management options to help to improve your pet’s daily life.

Treatment for BOAS

Your vet will discuss the different treatment options with you. There are management treatments, which will help you to manage the symptoms and reduce your dog’s distress, through brachycephalic dog BOAS surgery. Management includes weight loss, reducing exposure to heat, and using a harness rather than a collar. Surgery concentrates on shortening the elongated short palate and enlarging the stenotic nares, which can collapse inwards on brachycephalic dogs.

Is BOAS Surgery Worth It?

In a word – yes. Research shows that 95 – 98% of dogs are improved by surgery. In general, the worse the presenting symptoms of the dogs, the better the results, but even those dogs who outwardly don’t show massive signs of changes, internally their bodies will be under much less stress, extending the length and quality of their lives. Surgery can sound like a big and drastic decision, but the management of brachycephalic symptoms is often only partially successful and requires a lifelong commitment to maintain the level of care required to manage the symptoms. After the recovery period post-surgery, you and your dogs will be able to enjoy more long walks, more sunny days, and more quiet naps. Your pet will be healthier and happier, and so will you and your family.

Final Thoughts

Flat-faced dogs are incredibly cute, but this has sadly been their downfall. Unscrupulous breeders have bred indiscriminately for looks, not health, and this combined with the rise in popularity has led to an increase in the presentation of dogs with brachycephalic symptoms. If you are looking to buy or adopt dogs of this breed, look at the parents, the longer the nose, the less likely they are to have problems. If you already own brachycephalic dogs, make sure you manage them, to reduce the likelihood of the syndrome occurring. If you are concerned about the health of your dog, do consult your vet, who will be able to offer you treatment advice and hopefully give you and your canine chum many happy years together.

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