BOAS (short for “brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome”) is the name given to a cluster of health conditions that are caused by a range of conformation defects that can occur in brachycephalic dogs.
Brachycephalic dogs are those with very short, flat faces like the Pomeranian, Pug and French bulldog, and dogs with this physical trait are so popular in the UK today that they have in many ways become a victim of their own success.
Brachycephalic dogs whose faces are moderate – that is, not overly short and flat – rarely suffer as a result of their conformation to any great extent, but those bred for exaggerations may possess one or more of a number of limiting, distressing respiratory problems as a result of their conformation, which all fall under the heading of BOAS.
However, prospective puppy buyers shopping around for a puppy of a brachycephalic breed often find understanding BOAS confusing, and some breeders will sometimes give advice that is incorrect, untrue, or contradictory in order to secure the sale of a dog with a very flat face.
In order to help prospective brachycephalic puppy buyers to get the facts and avoid making an expensive and distressing mistake when picking a puppy, this article will share five frequently asked questions about brachycephalic breed puppies, the heredity of BOAS, and how to choose a healthy pup. Read on to learn more.
BOAS results from one or more conformation defects that can occur to varying degrees in brachycephalic dogs, and which directly correlate in both likelihood of occurrence and severity to the degree of exaggeration of a dog’s features.
Because the features that a dog possesses are a hereditable trait – this is after all how dogs from within the same breed retain their recognisable breed uniformity through subsequent generations – the conformation traits that cause BOAS to develop in dogs are highly likely to then be passed on to their own offspring.
BOAS can’t be caught or contracted, it is not like a virus or a type of cancer – it the result of physical abnormalities that are passed on from parent dogs to their young.
There is not a hard yes or no answer to this, because there are too many variables; and you have to consider both the dam and the sire of a litter when attempting to predict whether or not their puppies will have BOAS.
If the dam has BOAS, the chances of her litter having it too are high. This is particularly true if she has extreme BOAS. The chances of the litter having BOAS in the first place (and of it being severe) increase exponentially if the sire also has BOAS, particularly severe BOAS.
However, if the dam has only mild or moderate BOAS and the sire the same – or the sire does not suffer from BOAS at all – the pups might not inherit BOAS, or only inherit it so mildly as for it to have virtually no impact. The same is true for the above statement if you flip “dam” and “sire” around!
You might not be able to tell if a puppy is likely to develop BOAS whilst they’re very young, but there are some warning signs you should look for and consider these red flags if you spot them. These include:
There are a number of different health schemes and scoring protocols that can be used for brachycephalic dogs as a whole and in some instances, dogs of specific brachycephalic breeds, which assess the conformation of the dog participating, test their respiration in various ways, and return a score or result.
Participation in such schemes is a great sign of a breeder who breeds brachycephalic dogs responsibly – as long as you can see their achieved results, know how each scheme works in order to understand its scoring, and that the breeder only breeds dogs with good scores.
First of all, never buy a puppy whose features, or that of their dam, sire or both, are very exaggerated, as this almost universally comes accompanied by BOAS.
Learn to spot the warning signs of BOAS in a dog’s conformation, and talk in depth to every breeder you’re interested in buying from to get a feel for how knowledgeable they are about brachycephalic health, and how committed they are to breeding for health above profit.
Ask about health scheme participations and always request copies of any claimed results, and avoid breeders who make outlandish claims about dogs with exaggerated features that they are BOAS-free.
Ask breeders if any of their breeding stock have required corrective surgeries for BOAS in the past, how long they have been breeding brachycephalic dogs for, and how long their dogs live for on average – and any health conditions within the breed line, and how severe these have been.
Naturally, irresponsible and unscrupulous breeders won’t be honest with you about these things and it won’t always be possible to find out for sure if what you’re being told is true. However, once you have a basic understanding of brachycephalic health and BOAS, you will begin to spot things that don’t add up.
A great warning sign is a breeder who won’t answer such questions, who gets annoyed that you want a lot of information, or that tries to push you into a purchase.
Finally, always have a contract drawn up and checked by a solicitor when you buy a puppy, which incorporates a caveat on health and hereditary health and conformation issues, covering what recourse you would have down the line if the pup you chose was found to have a severe degree of BOAS.