Vet Blog

Brachycephalic Pets

January 07, 2023

Brachycephalic (i.e., flat-faced) pets, such as French bulldogs and pugs, have become increasingly popular, largely because of their adorable, squishy faces. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of these breeds' health risks and the special care their owners must provide them.

If you have a brachycephalic pet or are considering one, read our team's guide to these unique pets.

What makes a pet brachycephalic?

The term brachycephalicderives from two Greek words-brachy (i.e., short) and cephalic (i.e., head)-which summarizes these breeds' dominant characteristics. These flat-faced pets' shortened skull and inward-pushed flat muzzle make them easily identifiable. Typically, a brachycephalic pet's lower jaw (i.e., mandible) is longer than their upper jaw (i.e., maxilla), often causing the mandible to protrude. Because of these features, brachycephalic pets have narrow nostrils and smaller airways.

Which breeds are brachycephalic?

Most people associate flat-faced traits with dogs. However, cats and rabbits can also be brachycephalic.

One of the most popular dog breeds is the French bulldog. No one can resist the Frenchie's soulful face. Many other sweet-faced brachycephalic dog breeds include:

  • Pugs
  • Boston terriers
  • Bulldogs
  • Pekingese
  • Boxers
  • Shih tzus
  • Brussels griffons
  • Lhasa apsos
  • Cavalier King Charles spaniels

Although canine brachycephalic breeds are numerous, many cat lovers melt over feline brachycephalic breeds' huge eyes. Brachycephalic cat breeds include:

  • Persians
  • Himalayans
  • Burmese

Many people have pet rabbits, and brachycephalic rabbit breeds are popular. Brachycephalic rabbit breeds include:

  • Netherland dwarf rabbits
  • Mini, dwarf, and French lops
  • Lionheads

What are the health risks for brachycephalic pets?

Brachycephalic breeds' physical appearance is quite endearing. Although many people own or plan to purchase or adopt a brachycephalic pet, these breeds have many health risks, including:

  • Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS)- This syndrome is a respiratory condition aptly named for these breeds. Pets with BOAS have narrow nostrils, an elongated soft palate, a narrow trachea, or everted laryngeal saccules that can dangerously restrict breathing. These pets often snore loudly and breathe noisily, and as a result of low oxygen levels, they can develop a blue tongue or gums. Other common BOAS signs include:
    • Exercise intolerance
    • Breathing difficulties, especially when excited, or in high heat or humidity
    • Increased retching or gagging
    • Postexercise fainting or collapse

Obesity can worsen BOAS signs. A pet with severe BOAS signs may require surgery to correct their airway, easing their breathing difficulties.

  • Dental issues- Because brachycephalic breeds have much smaller jaws but the same number of teeth as other pets, their teeth can overlap, becoming cramped and causing extreme pain. Food and debris can easily become trapped in and around the crowded teeth, leading to excessive bacterial growth and plaque and tartar accumulation. Brachycephalic pets require routine at-home dental care, such as daily toothbrushing, and frequent professional dental cleanings to remove debris, extract malpositioned or broken teeth, and prevent or slow periodontal disease.
  • Eye problems -Brachycephalic breeds have extremely shallow eye sockets. As a result, their eyes bulge slightly, leaving them vulnerable to injury, such as:
    • Corneal damage, which can lead to ulcers and infection
    • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (i.e., dry eye), which requires lifelong treatment
    • Entropion, which can lead to inward-rolling eyelids that rub against the cornea, causing irritation and requiring surgical correction in most cases
  • Skin infections - The extra wrinkles and folds around a brachycephalic pet's face-a feature owners find especially precious-can easily trap moisture and debris. To prevent bacterial and yeast infections, you must regularly clean your brachycephalic pet's face.
  • Increased heatstroke risk - Panting is necessary for temperature regulation, and brachycephalic pets' flat face and narrow airway makes panting difficult. Because of these features, brachycephalic pets can become easily overheated, increasing their heatstroke risk.
  • Obesity - Obesity is concerning for all pets, but especially for brachycephalic pets, as excess weight exacerbates their many health risks, such as heatstroke, skin infections, and respiratory problems.

How should I care for my brachycephalic pet?

If you own a brachycephalic breed, you must understand their unique care needs. Follow these tips to keep your flat-faced pet happy and healthy, and minimize their risk of developing health issues:

  • Maintain a healthy weight - Brachycephalic pets require a healthy, appropriately portioned diet and regular exercise to maintain their healthy weight. When walking your brachycephalic pet, use a harness, because flat collars can further restrict their airflow if they pull against the neck restraint.
  • Limit heat exposure -To prevent heatstroke, avoid exercising your brachycephalic pet in hot, humid weather.
  • Practice good hygiene - To remove your brachycephalic pet's eye discharge and facial debris, gently wipe these areas with a warm, damp washcloth every day. Medicated wipes may be necessary to ward off bacterial and yeast overgrowth in your pet's facial skin folds.
  • Brush their teeth - To prevent your brachycephalic pet from developing dental disease, brush their teeth daily at home, and schedule regular professional veterinary dental cleanings.

Brachycephalic breed pets are adorable, but you must be prepared to provide for their special care requirements and likely future medical intervention. To help ensure your flat-faced furry friend enjoys a healthy, happy life, schedule their routine wellness care appointment with our team.

Same-day appointments available.