Brachycephalic airway syndrome occurs in dogs that suffer from certain anatomic abnormalities, particularly dogs that have flat faces. This flat face appearance causes changes in the anatomic structure of the dogs; causing the dog’s upper airway to be restricted in addition to the stenotic nares, elongated soft palate, nasopharyngeal turbinates, and hypoplastic trachea. This can lead to everted laryngeal saccules and laryngeal collapse.
The syndrome is accompanied by several signs. Common signs of the condition are open-mouth breathing, noisy breathing, and snoring within your furry friends. This can also progress further and lead to exercise intolerance, coughing, gagging, and vomiting.
Dogs that suffer from this condition may require corticosteroids, oxygen, and environmental management. If the syndrome is very progressed within the dog, surgery may be needed to correct the palate, nares, and everted saccules. With surgery, the prognosis is usually very good, and the severity of the disease becomes less. It is best that the surgery is performed when the dog is younger, as young dogs tend to recover and respond much better to corrective surgery.
What Is Brachycephalic Syndrome?
Brachycephalic airway syndrome is a condition that refers to abnormalities that appear within the upper airway of dogs. This particularly affects brachycephalic dogs. This condition is also referred to as brachycephalic respiratory syndrome, brachycephalic syndrome, or congenital obstructive upper airway disease. The syndrome involves a variety of abnormalities and respiratory distress. These abnormalities include stenotic nares, extended nasopharyngeal turbinates, an elongated soft palate, laryngeal collapse, hypoplastic trachea, and everted laryngeal saccules. Dogs that suffer from this syndrome can show a variety of these abnormalities or just one.
Stenotic nares refer to dogs that have abnormally narrow or small nostrils. This narrowing of the nostrils has a restrictive effect on the amount of air that reaches the dog’s lungs.
The abnormality referred to as laryngeal collapse is caused by stress that is placed on the cartilage of the dog’s larynx. Eventually, this causes the larynx to not be able to open as wide as it used to. This leads to the airway becoming obstructed, which reduces the amount of oxygen that the dog receives.
Nasopharyngeal turbinates refer to the ridges of bone that are covered by tissue that helps to humidify and warm the air that the dog inhales. If these turbinates extend past the nose into the dog’s pharynx, it can cause airflow obstruction and decrease the amount of oxygen that the dog receives.
An elongated soft palate refers to the soft part of the roof of the mouth. A dog that has an elongated soft palate or a soft palate that extends further in the mouth can cause a blockage at the entrance of the trachea. This can cause the dog to receive less oxygen with every breath and make physical activity very difficult.
Breeds That Are Prone To Developing Brachycephalic Syndrome
There are some dog breeds that are more prone to developing brachycephalic syndrome. The word brachy means shortened, and cephalic means head. So, brachycephalic dogs have a skull that is shorter and a face and nose that appears pushed in. Due to this abnormal appearance, the dog can suffer from a variety of conditions that restrict the flow of oxygen into the dog’s lungs. In addition, other soft tissue structures can be altered, causing the dog physical problems.
Some breeds that are prone to developing this condition are called brachycephalic breeds. Some of these brees are Bulldogs, Boxers, Boston Terriers, Pekingese, Chinese Pugs, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzus, and Bull Mastiffs. All of these dogs are characterized by their short snouts, making them prone to develop brachycephalic syndrome.
Signs Of Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome
There are several signs that may indicate that your dog is suffering from brachycephalic airway syndrome. Any of the upper airway abnormalities can cause the dog to experience resistance within its airway. Typically, the more abnormalities that the dog has, the more severe the signs of the syndrome may be. Many dogs that suffer from this condition find it much easier to breathe through their mouths than their noses.
This syndrome is diagnosed based on assessing the clinical signs that are present, the breed of the dog, and a thorough physical examination by a vet. Some of the conditions can be diagnosed by visual inspection, such as stenotic nares. If your dog is suffering from some of the other abnormalities such as an elongated soft palate, everted laryngeal saccules, or other anatomical changes in the mouth, the vet will have to sedate the dog for proper observation.
Treatment For Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome
Dogs that are overweight are more likely to suffer from brachycephalic airway syndrome. So, since obesity causes the problem to become worse, weight loss and exercise are very important to treat and manage the condition. If your dog is only displaying mild signs of the syndrome, it can possibly be managed with control and minimal exercise. Be sure that you avoid taking your dog out for a walk when it is very hot or humid. If you live in an area that gets hot in the summer, keep your dog in an air-conditioned environment and avoid exercise when the temperature is high.
In addition to exercise, the vet may prescribe corticosteroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and oxygen therapy to relieve symptoms and provide short-term relief for inflammation in the airways. These treatments only provide a temporary fix; for a more permanent fix, corrective surgery is needed to fix the abnormalities.
Surgery is the best treatment option for dogs that suffer from brachycephalic airway syndrome. If the syndrome is causing severe anatomic abnormalities, the vet will likely recommend corrective surgery. Stenotic nares can be corrected with surgical intervention by removing the wedge of tissue from the nostrils. This surgery allows the airflow to be improved within the dog’s nostrils.
In addition, if your dog has an elongated soft palate, it can be surgically shortened to mimic a more normal length. Lastly, everted laryngeal saccules can be removed with surgery as they tend to obstruct the passage to the larynx. With these corrective surgeries, your dog will be able to minimize the symptoms that it experiences due to brachycephalic airway syndrome.
Preventing Brachycephalic Syndrome
There are some steps that you can take to help your dog avoid developing brachycephalic syndrome. It is best for your dog to avoid stress and exercise in high temperatures. Dogs that are overweight are more likely to suffer from the syndrome, so be sure that your dog receives enough exercise and does not eat too much food. In addition, you should use a harness instead of a collar to avoid putting extra pressure on the dog’s trachea.
The risk that your dog develops brachycephalic syndrome increases as the dog’s muzzle becomes shorter. So, it is important that you purchase your dog from a reputable breeder who chooses to breed dogs with more moderate features rather than extremely short or flat features. Responsible breeders avoid breeding dogs with breathing difficulties as well as dogs that require surgery to fix breathing difficulties.
What Is The Prognosis For Dogs With Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome?
The overall prognosis for canine companions that suffer from brachycephalic syndrome is generally pretty good, depending on how many anatomic abnormalities the dog has. The prognosis also depends on how old the dog is and how early on the dog received medical intervention.
As we previously mentioned, dogs that are younger tend to respond better to corrective surgery. Dogs that are under two years of age tend to have a better post-operative prognosis than dogs that have been suffering from the syndrome for a while. Dogs that only require surgical correction for stenotic nares or elongated soft palate have a much better prognosis than dogs that are suffering from more defects.
If your dog also suffers from other conditions, the prognosis may not be as good. If your dog has conditions like allergic airway disease or if your dog has developed a secondary infection or secondary problem from the airway disease, the prognosis is not as good. Most of the time, however, the syndrome can be managed or significantly improved with corrective surgery and preventative care.