Brachycephalic Syndrome

Overview

Brachycephalic syndrome, also known as brachycephalic airway obstruction syndrome (BAOS), is a respiratory condition that affects brachycephalic dogs (dogs with shortened heads e.g. Bulldogs).

All UK dog breeds that inherit their “squished” shortened skulls will suffer from this condition to a degree. The respiratory nature of this condition is all too prevalent in these breeds due to the restrictive characteristics that occur with a shorter nose and skull.

The condition can occur in a number of forms or as a combination of issues. Most notably the smaller nostrils, smaller palate and undersized throat of the dogs can all contribute to the condition.

Each form produces obvious respiratory difficulties for the dog which is present across the affected breeds with few exceptions.

Symptoms

As can be expected from above, the majority of the symptoms that UK dogs experience with brachycephalic syndrome are breathing related.

Respiratory related symptoms for brachycephalic syndrome include:

  • Heavy breathing
  • Loud Snoring
  • Regular ‘snuffing’
  • Excessive Coughing
  • Gagging
  • Mucus

Some dogs may suffer from one or many of these symptoms simultaneously and it is very unlikely that these symptoms will ever subside.

Along with the respiratory related symptoms above, many UK dogs of all breeds also present with other symptoms.

Other symtpoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Lethargy
  • Exhaustion

It is important that any UK dog suffering from brachycephalic syndrome be monitored for any signs of the condition worsening throughout their life.

Careful attention to not over-exercise these dogs is also a key factor as the exhaustion from a run may lead to the dog being unable to breathe in enough oxygen due to the restricted airways.

UK veterinarians primarily achieve diagnosis through close observation of the restricted airways and by monitoring the dog’s behaviour at the clinic. In many cases there will be no need for treatment but some dogs may need surgery depending on the severity of their condition.

Affected Breeds

As mentioned above this condition is almost entirely isolated to dog breeds with genetically shorter skulls and faces but has been observed occasionally elsewhere.

Dog breeds particularly likely to suffer from brachycephalic syndrome are:

None of these breeds are immune from the condition but there are a very small group that suffer less severe symptoms than their counterparts. This is normally due to a ‘defect’ where their skulls are larger than what is usual for a dog of that breed.

Treatment

As mentioned above, treatment for brachycephalic syndrome is highly dependant on the severity of the dog’s condition.

Where needed, the primary option of surgery is normally undertaken to clear the obstructed airway. This can be achieved via a number of techniques depending on which airway is obstructed: the mouth, nose or throat.

Whilst treatment exists in the form of surgery for all three of these areas, issues within the throat are notoriously difficult. Many veterinarians are reluctant to attempt throat related procedures on UK dogs suffering from brachycephalic syndrome as the risks to the dog outweigh the rewards of the surgery should the surgery even be successful.

In terms of treatments relating to the nose or mouth, there are some surgical procedures readily available across the UK.

Whilst many of these surgeries are completed every week by certified UK veterinarians, they also come with their own risks attached. Excessive bleeding or asphyxiation are real dangers whilst the dog is treated and such complications can in themselves be deadly.

Thankfully fatalities from brachycephalic syndrome surgery are minimal as of 2020 in the UK.

Treatment Cost

The cost of treating brachycephalic syndrome is much like other conditions, highly dependable on the individual characteristics.

Mouth related surgery such as soft palate resection are likely to cost anywhere from £400-£1250 depending on geography and severity.

Nasal surgery such as stenotic nares resection will likely cost anywhere from £100-£750 depending on geography and severity.

Both of these procedures are intricate and specialised so it is very important to research the operating veterinarian fully before committing.

Further Reading

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