French Bulldogs can be prone to labored and uncomfortable breathing – a factor that also exacerbates their tendency to suffer from heatstroke. This breathing difficulty is caused by several different factors, all of which are grouped under the term “Brachycephalic Syndrome”, and all of which are a result of the flattened face of the French Bulldog (brachycephalic simply means “short faced”).
Brachycephalic Syndrome is comprised of all or part of the following conditions:
- Elongated soft palate – a condition where the soft palate is too long so that the tip of it protrudes into the airway and interferes with movement of air into the lungs. Present in almost 100% of dogs afflicted with brachycephalic syndrome.
- Stenotic Nares – malformed nostrils that are narrow or collapse inward during inhalation, making it difficult for the dog to breathe through its nose. Present in almost 50% of dogs with brachycephalic syndrome.
- Everted Laryngeal Saccules – a condition in which tissue within the airway, just in front of the vocal cords, is pulled into the trachea (windpipe) and partially obstructs airflow.
Dogs with brachycephalic syndrome may additionally suffer from:
- narrow trachea (windpipe)
- collapse of the larynx (the cartilages that open and close the upper airway)
- paralysis of the laryngeal cartilages
Symptoms of Brachycephalic syndrome include snoring, rapid breathing, noisy breathing when inhaling, frequent panting, difficulty eating or swallowing, coughing and gagging, inability to perform physical activity, and increased risk of heat stroke.
Dogs with brachycephalic syndrome should be kept at a fit weight, and not be allowed to become obese, as this puts additional strain on breathing.
Oral medications such as corticosteroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce inflammation and respiratory distress in the short term, especially when combined with oxygen therapy. This is not a long term treatment, however. Surgical correction in extreme cases of brachycephalic syndrome is a necessity.
Generally, three procedures are performed during surgery to correct brachycephalic syndrome:
- Soft palate resection – the palate is stretched and the excess tissue is removed with blade or scissors
- Removal of everted laryngeal saccules are everted, if present
- Correction of stenotic nares, if present
Prevention of brachycephalic syndrome requires modern breeders of French Bulldogs to take a long and impartial look at their breeding programs.
Breeders must intentionally choose dogs who have normal palates and nares that score 1 (or better, if possible) on the FBCoE “Judging for Health” scale. Dogs with labored breathing, clinically elongated soft palates, or pinched nares should be altered, placed as pets, and not allowed to be used as part of a breeding program. Needless to say, French Bulldogs who have had surgical correction of palate or nares should never be allowed to be bred from or to.
Most of all, we must re think what defines a ‘good’ French Bulldog. Exaggerated, huge heads with grossly flattened fore faces and muzzles should never be rewarded in the show ring, or allowed to become the goal of our breeding, no matter what trends might arise in the ring. Pet owners, who too often ask for the ‘biggest head’ or the ‘flattest face’ must also understand the ramifications of choosing exaggerated looks over long life and health.
Perpetuating breedings that create more dogs who suffer is cruel and unfair, and has no place in the breeding program of a caring breeder. Our French Bulldogs deserve better.
French Bulldog Club of England – “Judging for Health”
VCA Hospitals – Brachycephalia in Dogs
Veterinary Partners – Brachycephalic Syndrome