Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome is the name given to a collection of health issues that can affect dogs with brachycephalic faces including the French bulldog, English bulldog and pug, and which can mean that such dogs struggle to breathe normally in certain situations and have a great number of limitations placed on their lifestyle and quality of life as a result.
If you own a brachycephalic dog, it is very important to find out whether or not they suffer from any functional problems as a result of BOAS; and the degree to which any dog’s face is flat directly affects how likely they are to have BOAS, and how severe it is in its turn.
However, a huge number of puppy buyers every year find themselves unwittingly choosing a puppy that suffers from BOAS, but which may only become evident as the pup gets a little older. All too many buyers of puppies of brachycephalic breeds have never even heard of BOAS until their vet provides it as a diagnosis for their pups’ problems, often not realising at all that dogs with flat faces also sometimes come accompanied by limiting health issues as a result of their conformation.
If you are considering buying a brachycephalic dog, already own one, or are concerned about the care implications of dogs with BOAS, this article will answer five of the most frequently asked questions posed by dog owners caring for a dog with BOAS for the first time. Read on to learn more.
Brachycephalic dogs with muzzles that are moderate in length and not overly short are rarely acutely affected by BOAS, and can generally be seen haring around the dog park with other dogs of all types, having a great time and not generally struggling to breathe any more than other dogs will be, as long as their owners are careful about recalling them before they go too far.
However, if your dog has been diagnosed with BOAS it is very important that you clarify with your vet what degree they are affected to, and so, how this might limit their ability to exercise.
When a dog exerts themselves, they need to breathe more air in and out to support their heart and lungs, and also, because panting is the main method by which a dog keeps themselves from overheating.
A dog with BOAS to some degree will generally need to have special care taken when exercising to ensure that they retain the ability to get enough air - which might mean avoiding certain activities, and/or scheduling in frequent rest breaks and avoiding very vigorous play. The degree to which this is necessary depends on the severity of their BOAS.
Dogs with BOAS are more sensitive to the heat than other dogs, and so, more prone to overheating and more likely to get dangerously hot when they do.
This is because as mentioned, dogs pant to cool themselves down and so if your dog can’t exchange enough air because of BOAS, they will become dangerously hot and also, struggle to breathe.
Special care must be taken of all brachycephalic dogs in hot weather to keep them cool, limit exertion, avoid overheating and ensure they can breathe comfortably, but again, how acute this is depends on the level of BOAS in play.
Overheating is very dangerous for dogs with BOAS, so talk to your vet to get tips on keeping your dog cool.
Dogs with BOAS need special care, and you will have to be more vigilant than you would with most dogs to spot signs of distress or difficulty.
Getting to know your dog’s normal behaviour and breathing norms and how affected they are by BOAS is a vital part of this, and something your vet will assist you with.
For instance, some dogs with more acute BOAS have audible breath sounds and breathe noisily when awake, whilst others might snore only when asleep; if your dog’s normal breath sounds worsen or change, this might indicate a new problem.
If your dog is panting hard, gasping for breath, too hot, pale in their mucous membranes, or appears faint, weak, or highly distressed, these are all acute symptoms that mean you need to contact your vet immediately and work to keep your dog calm and cool in the meantime.
If your dog’s symptoms are regularly or continually acute and indicate suffering and a poor quality of life or huge limitations on their normal behaviour, your vet may advise a corrective surgery to make the dog’s life easier and more comfortable.
BOAS introduces a number of complications for affected dogs that can in serious situations result directly in the death of the dog (such as by means of such severe overheating as to prove fatal, or if the dog suffocates as a result of being unable to get enough oxygen) but when properly diagnosed and carefully managed, such events are not hugely common in dogs under the care of vigilant owners.
However, the limitations that BOAS can place on affected dogs in terms of exertion and exercise and the potential for frequent issues with getting enough air all have an effect in the long term too, and can mean that such dogs can’t maintain the same sort of level of health and fitness and others, which in turn, has an impact on their eventual lifespan.