Recently brachycephalic (short-faced) animals have become increasingly popular to own. While they look cute, a proportion of these animals (dogs, cats and rabbits) struggle with day-to-day life due to extreme breeding. Brachycephalic breeds have shortened face bones, which give them their flat-faced, child-like appearance, but this changes the relationship of the soft tissue and bone of the head. These changes affect the airway, and can have considerable animal welfare implications.
While some brachycephalic animals have good respiratory function, some will have Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome. This is a group of abnormalities that can occur when animals are bred for a shortened face. It includes narrow nostrils, elongated soft palate (excessive soft tissue at the roof of the mouth restricting the airway) and a hypoplastic trachea (underdeveloped narrow windpipe). Brachycephalic animals can have one or more of these abnormalities, and if significant to an individual, it is equivalent to a human breathing through a straw all of the time.
Animals with brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome can show a wide range of symptoms from noisy breathing or snoring, to exercise intolerance, collapse due to inadequate oxygen, heat stress and even death. Although noisy breathing can be common with brachycephalic breeds, it is not normal for a healthy animal and should be assessed by your veterinarian to see if corrective surgery can improve the quality of life of your pet.
Thankfully the future of these breeds is optimistic as there is ongoing research to evaluate their ‘respiratory function’ with a view to enabling breeders to select parents who will improve the welfare of the breed as a whole.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding the breathing of your pet, please contact us at Levin and Horowhenua Veterinary Centre, to arrange a time to have your pet assessed.