Dog breathing problems

Brachycephalic airway syndrome

Brachycephalic airway syndrome (BAS) is condition that is more common with short-muzzled, flat faced dogs. Narrow nostrils and a long soft palate cause dog breathing problems that get progressively more severe as your dog gets older. This is only made worse by exercise, heat and obesity that most commonly occurs in the brachycephalic breeds. Obstructing tissues stretching the ligaments in the larynx lead to severely laboured breathing and eventually collapse of the larynx altogether.

Breeds commonly suffering from brachycephalic airway syndrome are:

  • pug
  • Shih tzu
  • Cavalier King Charles spaniel
  • boxer
  • bulldog
  • Staffordshire bull terrier
  • Pekingese
  • Boston terrier

In these dog breeds the skull is shortened and results in distortion of the soft tissues involved in breathing, narrow nostrils, short nasal passage and long soft palate, meaning that as a result your dog is struggling to breath.

There are four main components of this syndrome:

  1. Stenotic nares (closed nostrils)
  2. Long soft palate
  3. Everted laryngeal saccules
  4. Laryngeal collapse

An example of stenotic nares (closed nostrils)

A normal dog nose with no obstructing tissue

The first two components, nasal stenosis and elongated soft palate, increase the negative pressure during breathing that results in chronic inflammation and swelling within the upper respiratory tract and leads to eversion of the laryngeal saccules and collapse of the larynx.

In these patients early correction of the closed nostrils and long soft palate will dramatically reduce the resulting secondary changes that occur over time.

Some classic symptoms to look out for are difficulties in breathing and snoring that are made worse with exercise and high ambient temperatures. These patients often arrive at veterinary hospitals in severe respiratory distress, suffering heat stroke, and they often collapse.

What preventative measures can be taken?

Surgery – to widen the nostril openings and therefore increase airflow, and shorten the long soft palate – should ideally be performed between six and 12 months of age before any secondary changes have occurred.

Our protocol at Sydney Animal Hospitals is to widen the nostrils and/or shorten the soft palate of these patients at the time of desexing or before two years of age. These procedures will often make a significant difference to these pets' ability to breath in the long term and prevent any secondary components from developing.

We often recommend nostril widening at the time of desexing as this single procedure has been shown to make a significant improvement in air flow, and is easily done at the same time as the desexing while your pet is already having a procedure performed under anaesthetic.

The most common breeds to warrant this preventative surgery are: pugs and their crosses, who all seem to have stenotic nares and very commonly have very long soft palates; and Cavalier King Charles spaniels and Staffordshire bull terriers, who have a very high incidence of elongated soft palates.

Please inquire about your options if you are concerned with your dog breathing problems.

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