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Brachycephalic Syndrome

Posted March 08, 2013 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Pugs, Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, and Boxers all have something in common: that familiar, endearing, smooshed-in face. There’s a name for that adorable face: brachycephalic. The above breeds, and many more, are considered brachycephalic breeds and all possess the flat face, pushed-up nose, narrow nostrils, and large eyes.

Unfortunately, because of this peculiar anatomy, brachycephalic dogs often have a hard time breathing and have respiratory abnormalities. This condition is known as brachycephalic syndrome, and it is characterized by one or more of the following:

  • An elongated soft palate
  • Stenotic nares
  • Everted Laryngeal Saccules
  • A narrow trachea

We explain each of these issues in greater depth in separate articles, but below is a general overview of brachycephalic syndrome.

Elongated soft palate
Ever notice that Bulldogs do a lot of snorting? That’s probably due to an elongated soft palate.

The soft palate is the soft part at the back of the roof of the mouth that separates the nasal passages from the mouth. In brachcephalic breeds, the soft palate often extends into the throat and may partially block the trachea, or windpipe.

As bad as those snorts sound, an elongated soft palate actually isn’t usually a big issue and doesn’t generally cause significant respiratory distress. However, lots of barking and panting can cause the tissue to swell, which can lead to breathing problems and respiratory distress. To help correct this problem in excitable dogs that like to bark and pant a lot, the elongated soft palate can be surgically corrected.

Stenotic nares
Stenotic nares is the medical term referring  to narrowing of the nostrils. This can limit the airflow, making breathing through the nose difficult. If the nostrils are extremely narrow and cause significant breathing problems, corrective surgery is possible.  

Everted Laryngeal Saccules
Laryngeal Saccules are small pouches that are located behind the larynx, or voicebox.   Over time, due to the increased respiratory effort, the pouches will turn inside out and stick out into the trachea, further obstructing the airways.  These are often surgically corrected at the same time as the elongated soft palate.

Narrow Trachea
The trachea, or windpipe, can often be very narrow in brachycephalic breeds, making breathing difficult.

Risks and Symptoms
Symptoms of brachycephalic syndrome really vary with the severity of the abnormalities, and can range anywhere from noisy breathing, snorting, snoring, and coughing to exercise intolerance and even collapsing or fainting after exertion.

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