Becoming a pet parent brings so much joy — but it also means deciding what kind of dog might work best for your lifestyle. Some common breeds are brachycephalic dogs, meaning they have shorter snouts than other dogs and rounded heads.
While some consider it cruel to breed brachycephalic dogs, they remain popular dogs mainly because of their cuteness — and their characteristically easygoing nature.
If you’re lucky enough to have one of these pups in your family, or if you’re thinking about an addition to your household, it’s essential to know about health concerns and risks regarding brachycephalic dog breeds.
Overall, if you’re looking for a dog that will run miles at high speeds with you, a snub-nosed dog will not be a good choice. However, if you’d like a loving companion and enjoy spending time indoors, this type of dog could be an excellent fit for your family.
What is a brachycephalic dog?
Brachycephalic dogs are short-muzzled dogs with flattened faces. The word “brachycephalic” is a compound of two Greek words referring to short size and the head.
These dogs may be considered cute for their short-snouted look, but several potential health issues can come along with that facial structure.
For example, stenotic nares are a genetic condition caused by a malformation of the cartilage in the nose. This is just one component of brachycephalic syndrome, a disorder that affects many flat-faced breeds.
Brachycephalic dog breeds
Most popular flat-faced dog breeds are small. Popular brachycephalic breeds include:
Created for guarding, these dogs are known for being long-lived, stubborn, loud barkers. They’re considered quite affectionate and have a coat that requires daily maintenance or regular clipping.
Pugs have been around since 400 B.C., originating in China. Pugs are gentle, clownish, stubborn, and expressive among the first breeds used for companion and lap-warming. They have cute curled tails and wrinkles. Pugs are the largest toy breed, often associated with royalty, and are generally low-maintenance.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
This cheerful companion loves people and animals and will bark for attention. They’re affectionate and easy to please.
Originating from Tibet, Shih Tzus have quickly growing coats. They’re small, sturdy, and alert. Related to the Lhasa Apso and Pekingese, this breed has a historical association with lions, connecting it to royal courts.
Described as bright, amusing, and friendly, Boston terriers have a characteristic “tuxedo” coat. They’re jaunty and goofy.
Also known as the British bulldog, the English bulldog is small, muscular, and usually has a significant underbite. It is a mastiff type of dog weighing up to 55 pounds by the breed standard. These are generally sweet and dependable animals.
The quintessential apartment dog, French bulldogs (“Frenchies”), and their upright, rounded ears love being indoors. They’re incredibly social and attached, prone to separation anxiety, and do best with a pet parent who will take them everywhere or spend most of their time at home.
While most brachycephalic dogs are small, there are some larger short-nosed breeds, such as the Boxer, Mastiff, and Shar Pei.
Additionally, mixed-breed dogs can be brachycephalic, so don’t ignore concerns about noisy breathing and other health issues because your dog’s breed is not listed here.
Every brachycephalic dog deserves consideration and appropriate veterinary care.
Common health problems for Brachycephalic dogs
While brachycephalic dogs are generally as cute as can be, and while some even live longer than most other dogs, there’s no denying it: Their short little snouts create some major health problems.
You can manage most health risks with regular veterinary care, a proper diet, the right amount of (minimal) exercise, and some indoor pampering.
Breathing problems and Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)
One of the most common breathing problems brachycephalic dogs face is BOAS. While brachycephalic dogs don’t do well with anesthesia, many veterinarians recommend correcting BOAS during a dog’s spay or neuter.
BOAS can cause problems for dogs during air travel.
If possible, avoid air transportation with your brachycephalic dog, even if your dog can be in the cabin with you.
Note that some airlines have restrictions on flying brachycephalic dogs, and you should never transport a snub-nosed dog in cargo due to the stress and the changes in temperature and air pressure. Though cargo holds typically have the same air pressure and temperature requirements as cabins, your dog will likely experience more stress in cargo.
Additionally, they’ll be crated, and likely won’t have human attention. Your small dog may rest in a soft crate at your feet in the cabin.
These policies vary significantly by airline. Before you decide to fly with your short-muzzled dog with a flattened face, consider that the United States Department of Transportation found that half of all air travel-related dog deaths occurred in brachycephalic dogs.
Reverse sneezing in Brachycephalic dogs
Experts debate whether reverse sneezing in brachycephalic dogs is harmful.
The pug, in particular, is famous for the “reverse sneeze.” Generally, the reverse sneeze isn’t as harmful as it looks since the dog is affected but not in distress.
Indoor activities are great for most brachycephalic dogs, especially smaller breeds. Playing fetch, teaching tricks like “spin” that involve movement, and engaging in tug-of-war activities can help dogs stay active indoors.
Despite concerns that the dogs’ narrow nostrils cause exercise intolerance, snub-nosed dogs experience more risk during exercise than other breeds, but most of them can still exercise safely.
Exercise can help them keep weight off, which helps prevent further breathing problems.
If your brachycephalic dog weighs too much, breathing risks increase. Overweight dogs are more likely to experience asthma, other breathing difficulties, and more medical concerns in general.
Consult your veterinarian for the appropriate weight for your dog, as breeds prone to weight issues may also have naturally stocky, muscular builds (such as English bulldogs and pugs).
Problems with heat and cold
Flat-nosed dogs don’t pant very efficiently, which is unfortunate because panting is a dog’s way of regulating temperature.
The English bulldog is the most susceptible to this issue and should never be outside when it’s hot. You can reduce the risk of extreme temperatures by ensuring your dog is always in a climate-controlled environment and has access to water.
Dogs demonstrate heat exhaustion with heavy, nonstop panting and excessive water consumption. If a dog has heat stroke (105-degree body temperature or more), they’ll get restless, have diarrhea, feel warm to the touch and appear disoriented. A dog with heat stroke must receive veterinary attention immediately.
If your dog has a thick coat and is brachycephalic, they are at additional risk, as its coat retains heat.
Have you ever heard a flat-faced dog snore?
It can be endearing, even if your pet keeps you up at night. As with humans, poor sleep quality in dogs means poorer overall health.
Dogs who don’t get quality sleep may be more prone to sleep apnea, anxiety and agitation, forgetfulness, and other health issues.
Some brachycephalic dogs have characteristic underbites.
If you’ve observed your dog’s teeth, you know there probably isn’t enough room for all of their teeth, which can lead to overcrowding and improper development. If there isn’t enough room for puppy teeth (also called deciduous teeth), the adult teeth may not properly protrude, creating even more issues.
Short snouts can also cause your dog’s tongue to hang out if it’s long enough.
While this isn’t a problem nor a feature limited to brachycephalic dogs, dogs with exceptionally long tongues can have problems eating or drinking.
Always consult your vet, but if your dog can eat and drink normally, they are likely okay. Pugs, Boxers, and Pekingese dogs are particularly prone to developing long tongues.
Brachycephalic dogs are 1.25 times more likely to develop dental diseases than their longer-snouted counterparts. Still, you can help your dog avoid dental issues with regular brushing by feeding them a diet conducive to positive dental health.
Brachycephalic spaniels like the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are at even higher risk than all small dogs.
Investigate the costs of dental care, and if you can, save for dental procedures and cleanings.
Brachycephalic dogs are also prone to skin and ear issues, sensitive stomachs, eye diseases, and difficulties giving birth.
Caring for your Brachycephalic dog
Although many brachycephalic dogs have inherent health issues, many experience regular veterinary care and come from loving, kind homes.
Ensuring your dog is up to date on its shots and medications, taking veterinary advice from a professional, and ensuring your dog has a safe and caring environment are steps to ensure the dog’s quality of life and extend their lives.
Some activists try to shame the pet parents of brachycephalic dogs without considering these details.
If you’re considering a brachycephalic breed, look into breed-specific rescues and adoptions. If you buy a puppy from a breeder, ensure that the breeder is reputable and well-reviewed.
Ask the breeder about what steps they take to mitigate the health problems associated with a short snout, and make sure you can meet the puppy’s parents to ensure a healthy-shaped snout and good temperament.