Brachycephalic (i.e., flat-faced) pets have captivated our hearts and taken over our homes. In 2022, French bulldogs surpassed the Labrador retriever in American Kennel Club (AKC) registrations—the first breed to do so in 31 years.
Brachycephalic pets, which include French bulldogs, boxers, and pugs, have big round eyes, soft wrinkles, and playful personalities, and the Guardian Veterinary Care team understands why they attract such a large fan base. Unfortunately, their special quirks and features can lead to large veterinary costs.
Here are five ways to ensure your flat-faced friend enjoys a well-rounded and healthy life.
#1: Have your pet screened for brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome
The brachycephalic pet’s characteristic features are the result of selective breeding, which has progressively altered the skull and created a large round dome (i.e., forehead), shallow eye sockets, and a shortened—sometimes almost nonexistent—muzzle.
Unfortunately, these iconic features come at a cost. Many brachycephalic pets suffer from brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS), which is a collection of upper airway abnormalities that makes breathing more difficult and can predispose affected pets to emergency conditions such as heatstroke. BOAS abnormalities include:
- Narrow or closed nostrils
- Small (i.e., hypoplastic) trachea or windpipe
- Elongated soft palate
- Everted laryngeal saccules (i.e., small structures inside the airway that can be pulled inward during inhalation and obstruct normal air flow)
Ask your Guardian Veterinary Care veterinarian about BOAS and whether your pet may be at risk because of their adorable features. If your pet is affected, treatment may involve lifestyle modifications or corrective surgery.
#2: Keep your brachycephalic pet lean and fit
Blame it on their adorable good looks—brachycephalic pets seem predisposed to obesity.
Excess weight can worsen BOAS signs and make normal respiratory function more difficult. Obesity can also shorten your pet’s life by almost two years and increase their risk for chronic diseases, such as arthritis, cancer, heart disease, and kidney failure.
Keep your brachycephalic pet lean by feeding a complete and balanced veterinary-recommended diet and avoiding table scraps and high-calorie treats. Measure your pet’s food with a measuring scoop to ensure they receive consistent portions. If you’re unsure about your pet’s daily caloric needs, talk to your Guardian Veterinary Care veterinarian. Finally, provide plenty of safe, low-impact exercise, such as brisk leash walking and toy play.
#3: Keep your brachycephalic pet cool in the heat
Brachycephalic pets are at increased risk for heatstroke (i.e. hyperthermia), because their short muzzles and narrow nostrils can make cooling themselves through panting ineffective. Brachycephalic pets are also highly excitable, which can lead to hyperventilation and increase their overheating risk.
Heatstroke is a potentially fatal and rapidly progressing emergency. Ensure your brachycephalic pet stays cool and calm in hot weather with precautions that include:
- Limiting time outdoors — Restrict your pet’s outdoor access during warm weather and do not leave them unsupervised.
- Exercising indoors — Don’t skimp on your pet’s daily exercise—simply exercise indoors or reschedule for the early morning or late evening when the air is cooler.
- Taking your pet with you — Never leave your brachycephalic pet in a parked vehicle.
- Providing ample water and shade — Ensure your pet has unrestricted access to these key resources when outdoors.
- Avoiding stress and overexcitement — Heightened emotions can trigger hyperthermia and hyperventilation, so encourage your pet to stay calm.
#4: Care for your brachycephalic pet’s teeth and gums
Brachycephalic pets commonly have crowded teeth, because of their shortened muzzle and underbite. As a result, plaque and tartar accumulate more rapidly and can be difficult to remove without routine dental cleanings under anesthesia.
Prevent your brachycephalic pet from suffering unnecessary oral pain and disease by implementing a consistent dental care routine that includes:
- Toothbrushing — Brush the outside surface of each tooth with a pet-safe toothpaste to break down invisible biofilm (i.e., sticky plaque-causing bacteria). Try to brush at least three times per week.
- Dental diet — Specially designed dental diets create a scrubbing action as your pet chews. This can help reduce plaque bacteria in hard-to-reach places that a brush can’t access.
- Yearly dental cleanings under anesthesia — Like your dental care, brachycephalic pets need routine dental cleanings and full-mouth dental X-rays to assess their oral health. Annual dental cleanings ensure your pet’s mouth stays healthy and dental disease prevention can save money and pain in the long run.
For tips on brushing your pet’s teeth or for pet dental product recommendations, talk to our team.
#5: Monitor your brachycephalic pet around other dogs or cats
Brachycephalic pets are known to be gregarious and fun-loving and are typically outgoing and friendly. Unfortunately, many pet owners don’t realize that other pets may perceive their brachycephalic pet’s respiratory noises, such as snorting and snuffling, as growling. Similarly, the brachycephalic pet’s prominent eyes, expressive face, and sometimes curled or docked tail can alter their ability to communicate clearly with canine or feline body language. Sadly, these misunderstood signals can lead to attacks from unfamiliar dogs and cats.
Closely supervise your pet when introducing them to new dog or cat friends and remove them Immediately if the other pet becomes defensive or aggressive.
What the brachycephalic pet lacks in muzzle, they make up for in heart. These loveable dogs and cats enrich their owners’ lives and enchant everyone with their infant-like expression and impish behavior.
The Guardian Veterinary Care team would love to get to know your brachycephalic pet and help ensure they live a long, healthy, and happy life. Contact us or request an appointment online to ensure your flat-faced friend receives well-rounded veterinary care.