BOAS can spell trouble for Pugs, French Bulldogs, and more
For so many of us, the adorable snorts and snores of short-muzzled dog breeds—like French Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, and Boxers, and even some cats, like Himalayans—are irresistible. In fact, the French Bulldog in particular is so beloved it recently overtook the Labrador Retriever as the number one most popular dog breed in the United States! At CHFA and BVAC, we love these dogs too, and some of our staff even have them as members of our families.
It’s important to note, however, that these breeds of dogs, which also include Bull Mastiffs, Shih Tzus, Pekingese, and Lhasa Apsos, are the products of years of selective breeding. Because of their short muzzles, they are considered Brachycephalic, meaning they have broad, short skulls. Brachycephalics need to be evaluated by their veterinarian early in life for a debilitating condition called Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS).
“With a normal muzzle length, air is able to flow more smoothly; the nasal passage is able to help with airflow and prepare the air their lungs receive,” explains Dr. Clayton Siegle. “With Brachycephalics, there is the same amount of soft tissues, tongue, and palate in a smaller space. It’s harder for air to navigate or maneuver through. It’s almost like trying to breathe through a small straw.”
“It starts with the folds in their nostrils being narrowed and everything is compressed,” says Dr. Siegle. Other anatomical/physiological issues can include an elongated or thickened soft palate, an increase in the production of mucus, a narrowed windpipe, and what is known as macroglossia, or an oversized tongue. “Of course, if we see a pug with a big tongue hanging out of the side of their mouth it’s cute or funny,” Dr. Siegle says. “But it’s actually quite dangerous! Their tongue is taking up a disproportionate amount of space in their mouth.”
Symptoms of BOAS include traits that we often associate with Brachycephalic pets: snorting, snoring, excessive panting, exercise intolerance, less energy (especially in heat and humidity), coughing, and nasal discharge. With older pets, secondary effects such as collapsing episodes and respiratory distress can occur. Other long-term consequences of BOAS go beyond the breathing and can affect their GI tract and heart. “It’s a progressive illness and a lot of the symptoms seem cute to the pet parent,” says Dr. Siegle. “But the snorting and snoring are not necessarily normal or healthy.”
Checking the problem early
“We start to talk about this issue as early as possible, at puppy visits, even for dogs that don’t outwardly seem to be affected,” says Dr. Siegle. “We can do a thorough upper airway exam on these pets. There are almost 30 anatomical structures we assess, so these exams are best done under a light plain of anesthesia. We often like to do these at the same time as the spay or neuter. But it can be done at any age.”
With a client’s approval, if we find an issue while the pet is under anesthesia during the exam, we can often perform surgical corrections, whether it’s a nostril surgery called a nares resection, shortening an elongated soft palate (roof of their mouth), or removing saccules, at the same time as the spay or neuter. These preventative measures not only help prolong the pet’s life, but also add to the quality of life. “Of course, we can also perform surgery later in life, but we prefer to use these treatments as proactive rather than reactive measures,” says Dr. Siegle.
Better quality of life
Mia, Pet Care Assistant Anna’s French Bulldog, recently underwent a nares resection from Dr. Siegle to improve her breathing. “I have definitely noticed that Mia’s quality of breathing has improved,” says Anna. “She does not snore nearly as much as she used to. After hard play sessions and being outside, I’ve noticed that Mia is able to reset her breathing to a normal rhythm quicker than before. Even when she is simply hanging out with me she seems more comfortable. Plus, she’s loving all the extra smells!” The change has had some aesthetic improvements for Mia as well: “Her little nose has received so many compliments post surgery!”
Dr. Siegle loves seeing success stories like Mia’s and encourages Brachycephalic pet parents to have their pets evaluated as young as possible. “One of the scariest things in any situation is a pet in respiratory distress,” says Dr. Siegle. “We don’t want anyone to have to go through something as scary as that. Surgery is the best way to improve your Brachycephalic pet’s quality of life, but it’s also important to keep them cool, keep them from overworking themselves or overworking their airway. Keep them at a healthy body weight. They want to be able to play!”
Give us a call if you’ve got a Brachycephalic pet in the home to learn how we can make their life more comfortable!