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Breathing Issues In Pugs And Bulldogs

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Pugs and Bulldogs have breathing problems due to their genetics and unique facial characteristics.
  • Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) affects these breeds and can lead to respiratory distress.
  • Studies have shown that pugs in the UK are almost twice as likely to suffer from health conditions compared to other breeds.
  • BOAS is a lifelong and progressive disorder that affects various parts of the dog's body, including the eyes, upper airways, and ability to give birth normally.
  • Symptoms of breathing issues in these dogs include increased effort in breathing, coughing, shortness of breath, and strange noises while breathing. Treatment options include weight loss, oxygen therapy, medication, and surgery.
A pet lover passionate about educating readers about animal health and care. Love reading studies and recent research.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Wednesday 5 October 2022
Last updated on
Monday 17 July 2023
Breathing Issues In Pugs And Bulldogs
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The flat, smushed-up faces of small dog breeds like Bulldogs or pugs make them so endearingly cute. Unfortunately, these good looks come with a cost — in the form of pug breathing problems.

Let’s explore why pugs and Bulldogs experience breathing difficulties.

Why Do Pugs and Bulldogs Have Breathing Problems?

Pugs and bulldogs belong to the brachycephalic dogs‘ signature traits that make them unique — wrinkled faces and small heads that put them at risk of developing breathing problems and diseases. The genetics of the squat and flat nose leads to various problems with their breathing since it gives them narrow windpipes, tiny nostrils, and long soft palates. The short noses and squished faces put more pressure on the dog’s respiratory system.

A significant proportion of these breeds are affected by Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome. It is a well-known medical condition that can lead to varying degrees of respiratory distress or difficulty breathing.

Studies About Brachycephalic Dog Breeds

recent study in the UK claims that pugs’ overall health is significantly worse than other dogs. Therefore, they should no longer be known as ‘normal dogs’ because of their numerous health problems and risks.

With a sample size of almost 22,000 non-pugs and 4,300 pugs, the study concluded that pugs in the UK are almost twice as likely to suffer from one or more health conditions annually compared to other breeds. Included in the most prevalent diseases are respiratory-related conditions.

study in 2015 conducted at the Royal Veterinary College, University of London, concluded that dogs with shorter muzzles were more prone to suffering from breathing problems and at increased risk of developing BOAS. However, more recent studies claim it isn’t just facial characteristics; researchers should also consider other factors like DNA Mutation.

What Is Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome?

Brachycephaly is a Greek word that means short and head. It pertains mainly to all dog and cat breeds with short heads. Among the most popular brachycephalic dog breeds are French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, and Shih Tzus.

Though, this term does not only pertain to breeds. It is also associated with a well-known breathing condition — Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome.  

Bulldog breathing problems can root in BOAS. It is a medical condition that affects the welfare and health of the animal in various ways. Mainly, it affects the eyes, upper airways, ears, gastrointestinal tract, spine, and the ability to give birth normally.

BOAS Primary and Secondary Conditions

Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome refers to the group of breathing-related conditions that results from the body conformation of dogs with short noses. It is a lifelong and progressive disorder that can affect the dog’s daily life and functioning. It may affect their ability to exercise, breathe, play, sleep, eat, and engage in normal behaviors.

Dogs breeds with short noses have compacted skeletons, leading to several malformations, including in their spine, tails, and nasal cavities. Though, they do have average amounts of soft tissue and skin.

The soft tissue is, therefore, excessive for their skeleton, which is why they have more skin folds on their faces and bodies. Similar folds and excessive soft tissues are also inside their bodies, causing certain obstructions, including in their airways.

An extremely brachycephalic pug tends to have shorter life spans compared to ones with milder brachycephaly. BOAS has two primary categories; primary and secondary conditions.

Primary Conditions 

A brachycephalic French Bulldog, English Bulldog, or pug can be born with primary conditions classified under BOAS. These are conditions that the dogs are born with:

  • Stenotic Nares (Narrowed Nostrils)  They have nasal cavities compacted in a short and small nose, leading to increased resistance in airflow.
  • Thickened or Softened Palates  They have a soft palate, which is too thick and long for their flat face, obstructing the back of their throats. It leads to loud snoring at best or complete respiratory obstruction at worst.
  • Macroglossia (Enlarged Tongue)  Many brachycephalic dogs have tongues that are too big for their mouth due to the skull changes from selective breeding for their flat-faced appearance.
  • Hypoplastic Trachea (Narrow Windpipe)  Their windpipe is not developed correctly, leading to less air entering the lungs.

Secondary Conditions

There are instances when the brachycephalic dog develops a secondary condition, often a consequence of the primary conditions.

  • Balloon Balloons of tissue can pop from the strain of obstruction, leading to further obstruction of the windpipe.
  • Collapsed Larynx  The windpipe loses structural firmness, sometimes leading to collapse. Note that a collapsed larynx can be incredibly distressing and would require immediate action.
  • Thermoregulation  A typical nose plays a significant role in regulating the dog’s body temperature. Since brachycephalic dogs have shorter snouts, they may find it hard to cope with the heat.
  • Heart Failure – can occur because of inadequate oxygenation of the blood found in the lungs, mainly due to airway obstructions. In response, the capillaries in a specific part of the lungs are poorly ventilated and constricted. Eventually, it can lead to right-sided heart failure.

Symptoms of Breathing Issues in Dogs

Knowing when your bulldog or pug is experiencing difficulty breathing is necessary. Here are pug breathing problems symptoms you need to look out for:

  • Increased effort in breathing
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath and panting
  • Sleep problems where the bulldog will wake up frequently during the night or adopt abnormal sleeping positions to help them breathe
  • Inability to exercise normally
  • Sudden collapse 
  • Froth around the mouth
  • Strange noises while they breathe

BOAS typically affects young to middle-aged brachycephalic dogs, but most will require surgery before they reach middle age. Overweight dogs, untreated older dogs, and dogs with prior existing health problems are at more risk.

Pay close attention to your dog’s breathing. Once you notice the dog is struggling to breathe, consult your vet immediately. While so, ask your vet about the necessary first aid or treatment you can give your dog. 

Treatment for Breathing Difficulty in Brachycephalic Dogs

If your dog displays symptoms of BOAS, you will need professional veterinary advice. Various treatment options can reduce obstruction to your canine’s airway and improve its respiratory abilities. Note that early intervention can prevent or slow the progression of symptoms.

If your dog is overweight, weight loss is essential since obesity can worsen the signs of BOAS. For bulldogs with only mild symptoms, you can manage the condition conservatively by avoiding hot or humid conditions, controlling exercise levels, and preventing stress.

A pug or bulldog brachycephalic treatment option is oxygen therapy for short-term relief of respiratory distress or airway inflammation. You may also use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or corticosteroids. However, these are only short-term solutions and would not fix the underlying anatomical abnormalities.

Is Surgery Necessary?

Surgery is an option for dogs with anatomical abnormalities that interfere with their breathing. It can remove laryngeal saccules to eliminate the obstruction in the dog’s larynx. Stenotic nares can also be surgically corrected by removing the tissue wedge from the nostrils. Moreover, it can surgically shorten an elongated soft palate.

These surgical corrections can help the dog take in oxygen better. In extreme circumstances, the dog needs to use a breathing tube to aid its breathing. 

BOAS is a condition that can escalate and progress quickly. It would be ideal to contact your vet immediately. Ensure that you are aware of the disease and its symptoms to ensure that you can help them better. 

Do not shy away from reaching out or visiting the vet. People tend to think that difficult or noisy breathing is typical for these breeds — that is not the case, though.

In recent years, brachycephalic breeds are becoming increasingly popular. If you own one, it would be beneficial to know more about bulldogs and pugs breathing problems and issues. That way, you would know how to care for them properly.

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