Dog breathing problems | Brachycephalic airway syndrome best practice

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Dog breathing problems in pets

Dog breathing problems | Brachycephalic airway syndrome | TravelingPetSafety

While dog breathing problems can seem scary, conditions like brachycephalic airway syndrome are actually very common in some breeds and can oftentimes be managed through small changes. Here at TravelingPetSafety, we think that owners have the right to know how to keep their pup healthy. So, read on to learn more about how your short-snouted pal’s and how to keep them snortin’ away for years to come.

A canine’s respiratory system is complex and has several connecting parts. A dog respiratory system contains the nose, mouth, throat, trachea (windpipe), and lungs. Any issues to any part of this respiratory structure can cause breathing problems in dogs.

Note, dog breathing problems can occur in any breed of any age. It is not only limited to flat-faced breeds with elongated soft palates and narrowed nostrils, like pugs, boxers, and French bulldogs.

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What is brachycephalic airway syndrome?

brachycephalic airway syndrome

Brachycephalic airway syndrome is a set of respiratory problems afflicting dogs in breeds with brachycephaly, which is a fancy name for dogs who have been bred to have short snouts and have a “flat-faced” appearance. When the muzzle is unnaturally shortened, it can also change the shape and efficacy of parts of the upper respiratory system, leading to difficulty breathing.

What are some examples of brachycephalic dog breeds?

Certain breeds are predisposed to have brachycephalic airway syndrome, it is common in the list of breeds below:

brachycephalic dog breeds

  • English Bulldogs
  • French Bulldogs,
  • Boxers,
  • Pugs,
  • Pekingese,
  • Chihuahuas,
  • Boston Terriers.


I am pretty sure you’ve noticed the dogs on the list are some of the most popular breeds. These pooch undeniable smushed up faces are adorable. However, beauty is a pain: these brachycephalic dogs have been bred to have shorter and shorter snouts to up the “cute” factor and now have a slew of health problems as a result.

How to recognize brachycephalic airway syndrome?

brachycephalic dog breeds will all deal with these symptoms to some extent. If your dog is exhibiting these symptoms a lot, or really struggling to breathe. It’s a good idea to ask your vet if your pet may be suffering from brachycephalic airway syndromeHere are the symptoms to watch for:

Noisy breathing

The video below demonstrates what it looks and sounds like when a dog has an obstructed airway. As you can see and hear the pug in the video struggles to breathe and make a snoring sound. Do not take Dog breathing problems lightly.

Brachycephalic breeds are known for their snorts, snuffles, and grunts. However, sometimes this can point to a bigger problem. While it is normal for your pup to pant a bit loudly after exercise. It is alarming if you can hear them when they’re just walking around the house or wheezing. You definitely should keep that in mind and observe your dog for other signs.

Couch potato

flat faced dogs

Your pooch may not just be lazy: exercising isn’t fun when you can’t get enough oxygen into your blood. While most brachycephalic dog breeds aren’t exactly bred to be Olympic athletes, one sign to for is exercise intolerance. If Rover can’t walk down the block and back even in nice weather, he may be having some trouble breathing.

Exercising isn’t fun when you can’t get enough oxygen into your blood. Click To Tweet

Sleeping problems

brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome

Dogs with brachycephalic airway syndrome often have trouble sleeping. This is because it is more difficult for them to stay in a position that allows for easy breathing. Excessive snoring is a sign to look out for. Additionally, dogs with breathing problems will often sleep in odd positions: keeping their head up while sleeping, sleeping with a toy between their teeth in order to breathe through their mouth, or even sleeping on their backs, all in order to get that sweet, sweet oxygen.

Heat Intolerance

The heat can present a major problem to brachycephalic dog breeds. Their shortened nasal passages make it more difficult for them to effectively cool the air coming into their lungs. So, these dogs will struggle to cool themselves: panting excessively, lethargy, and excessive water consumption are all signs of this.

Please, do not be duped by false claims or believing that fit and healthy dogs can’t suffer from heat strokes as well. Overheating can occur in any dog if they’re in hot temperatures, lack of air circulation and water.


Brachycephalic dogs can also often have stomach problems, and they are prone to vomiting, acid reflux, and retching. The University of Pennsylvania Vet School notes that these symptoms are important to take note and shouldn’t be ignored. Brachycephalic dogs are more prone to aspiration pneumonia due to the unique arrangement of their respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts.


If the condition is severe, dogs can even collapse due to a lack of oxygen. During these episodes, the tongue will often appear cyanotic, meaning a blue color that indicates low oxygen levels. If your dog collapses frequently, that is a definite sign that he needs veterinary intervention in order to manage his airways.

Why does brachycephaly cause dog breathing problems?

Brachycephalic airway syndrome is a result of the structural abnormalities of flat-faced dogs. Here are the changes that lead to breathing problems in dogs:

Stenotic Nares

Stenotic nares

Dogs’ noses are naturally open and allow for adequate air transfer. However, dogs with brachycephalic airway syndrome can suffer from stenotic nares, which means that the dog’s nostrils are abnormally narrow or small. If a dog has stenotic nares, they are likely to have trouble breathing through their nose, causing them to pant. If this causes the dog significant problems, a veterinarian can surgically fix the nostrils to help them breathe.

Elongated soft palateElongated soft palate

Elongated soft palates are extremely common in brachycephalic dog breeds, and is also the cause of their adorable habit of sleeping upside down shown through excessive snoring and panting. When the soft palate is too long, it can obstruct the throat, causing difficulty breathing. The American College of Veterinary Surgeons states that these dogs sleep on their backs to keep their elongated soft palates off of their throat and allowing them to breathe easier.

Elongated soft palates are extremely common in brachycephalic dog breeds Click To Tweet

 Everted Laryngeal Saccules

Everted Laryngeal Saccules

Everted Laryngeal Saccules is a severe condition that can result from labored breathing that inflames the laryngeal saccules and causes them to turn out and further obstruct the dog’s airway. This condition can be fixed through surgery.


Tracheal Stenosis

Tracheal Stenosis

The tracheal pipe is made up of strong rings of cartilage through which air is transported to and from the lungs. However, the tracheal rings can narrow or even collapse causing air flow to squeeze through which results in honking cough. This can cause serious breathing problems in dogs.

What can I do for my dog with brachycephalic airway syndrome?

Monitor weight

The most important thing you can do to manage your dog’s brachycephalic airway syndrome is to keep an eye on the scale. As obesity makes life more difficult for dogs with breathing condition. Here are some ways you can keep your dog’s weight down

Limit table scraps

Although it may be hard to resist their begging if you’re trying to have your dog lose weight. It’s best to avoid feeding your dog table scraps as much as possible. Human food is often high in calories and has a lot of added salt and fat that dogs don’t need

Switch their food

Switching to a dog food designed for weight loss can really help your dog shed the pounds. These foods are available at almost any pet store, and probably even in the same brand that your dog is currently eating. These foods have a lower calorie content that will make a big difference in your dog’s weight.

Less treats

Treats can be a hidden source of extra calories in your dog’s diet. While they’re often not well-labeled for calorie content, oftentimes these little morsels can pack a punch of extra calories that your overweight dog doesn’t need. So, try to feed treats less often. If your dog is really desperate for some extra affection in the form of food and convinces you they’re starving, some low-calorie treats like carrots can help keep them happy and feeling full.

Limit exercise

Exercise Moderation is key for flat faced dogs. While exercise has great health benefits, including keeping weight in check, you should remember your pet has limitations. It’s important to limit the amount of exercise your dog gets to keep them comfortable.

Intense activities like tag at the dog park or sprinting to play fetch are not the right fitness regimen. They can lead respiratory distress or fainting spells mentioned earlier.

Rather, short walks of 10-15 minutes at a moderate pace should do the trick, but this is just a guideline. Tune into the cues that your dog is giving you. Are they eager to keep going, or do they stop to take breaks frequently?

Keep them cool

Summer can be a difficult time for dogs with breathing problems. This is because their altered airways make it more difficult for them to cool down through panting.

Remember that your pooch doesn’t have sweat glands like humans, and the only effective ways dogs can release heat is through panting and through their paws. So, in the summer, try to keep your dog in air conditioning as much as possible, avoid humidity, and if you’re outside, stay in the shade. It’s also a good idea to give them access to a kiddie pool to stand an play in to cool off!

Summer can be a difficult time for dogs with breathing problems. Click To Tweet

Limit stress

High-stress situations can cause dogs to hyperventilate, too! However, this can cause dog breathing problems for pets with brachycephalic airway syndrome. So, try to have your dog live as much of a stress-free life as possible. If they hate going in the car, only take them on necessary trips like vet visits. If they hate being around other dogs, avoid the dog park and walk in more secluded areas.

Can Canine’s with dog breathing problems still go on walks?

You can most certainly still enjoy walks with your dog, as long as you take certain precautions to make sure that they’re comfortable. As previously mentioned, it’s a good idea to go on walks with your dog in cooler weather and limit their walks in extreme heat. As the cooler condition is easier on snub-nosed pets with dogs breathing problems.

Use a harness

Best harness for pug

It’s important to use a harness rather than a collar on brachycephalic dogs. Traditional collars put pressure on the windpipe, making it even more difficult for dogs with breathing problems to get enough air. In severe cases, collars can even contribute to causing a collapsed windpipe. So, harnesses are a great alternative because they allow you to keep control of your dog without inhibiting their ability to breathe. For more information about how a harness can help dog breathing problems read our article on this topic. In case you’re in the market for a dog harness, you can find a great one by RUFFWEAR on

What if my dog is still struggling with their breathing?

Although some mild cases can be managed through lifestyle changes alone, dogs with severe brachycephalic airway syndrome may require corrective surgery in order to fix their airways.

Should all brachycephalic dogs have surgery for their breathing?

Not all dog breathing problems need to have surgery in order for them to live long and happy lives. If your dog is getting along fine and not having too much trouble with daily activities, it’s likely that they can simply be monitored for a worsening of symptoms. However, if your dog frequently suffers from respiratory distress, collapses, or has worsening symptoms. It’s a good idea to talk to your vet to see if they recommend surgery.

How is brachycephalic airway syndrome diagnosed?

Chances are if have a pooch that is suffering from dog breathing problems your veterinarian may have briefly explained brachycephalic syndrome with you during routine wellness examination. Another reason you may take your canine in for a checkup is that of a possible a fainting episode or other dog breathing problems.

Symptoms of dog breathing problems are usually diagnosed based on the dog’s breed. Dog breathing problems also appear with symptoms of everted laryngeal saccules, elongated soft palate, and stenotic nares.

Your vet can diagnose some signs of brachycephalic airway syndrome, like stenotic nares, just from a simple physical examination. However, other characteristics of the disease that are internal require your dog to undergo anesthesia for diagnosis. Vets will look inside the dog’s mouth to look for signs of the condition, such as an elongated soft palate. The vet may also perform an endoscopy of the nasopharynx in order to look for inflammation caused by the condition and associated structural deformities.

What does surgery involve?

Surgery to fix brachycephalic airway syndrome changes the structure of the dog’s airways in order to help them breathe better. If you want to get into the nitty gritty of what exactly will happen to your dog on the operating table, here it is:

Widening of stenotic nares

The vet will use a scalpel in order to enlarge the dog’s nares. The University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School says that this is the most important factor to fix in brachycephalic dogs. As this is often the primary factor that causes dog breathing problems.

The first rule of thumb is to speak to your vet and determine if your dog has brachycephalic airway syndrome. If so, then your vet may recommend that your dog has surgery earlier rather than later. Trust me, your pooch will thank you, as surgery will have a positive impact on the dog’s quality of life.

Fixing an elongated soft palate and removing everted laryngeal saccules

If your dog’s soft palate is obstructing their upper airways, the vet may shave away some of the extra tissue in order to open them up. At the same time, if the vet sees everted laryngeal saccules, they will often remove them as well in order to prevent the problem from happening again. The vet may also leave them in in the hopes that they will naturally right themselves.

How serious is the surgery?

The most effective way to help with dog breathing problems is through surgery. The surgery itself is fairly minor in regards to other procedures, and the main factor to take into consideration is whether your dog is capable of undergoing anesthesia. Your vet should run bloodwork to see if your dog is up for the surgery, and this is usually only a problem for dogs who are elderly or have other illnesses.

In the video above the surgeon explain what happens when there is a blockage in the nasal. He also performed an amputation of the excess blocking pug’s nose. As you can see the pug is no longer suffering from dog breathing problems and is able to breathe with little to no effort.

The most effective way to help with dog breathing problems is through surgery. Click To Tweet

Is the surgery risky?

Elongated soft palate surgery

 Thankfully, this surgery is low-risk with big rewards. The University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School reports only a 4% mortality rate in dogs undergoing surgery for brachycephalic airway syndrome. Studies also show the quality of life afterward is often greatly improved. A large portion of fatalities resulting from surgery is actually caused by aspiration pneumonia that occurs when dogs inhale vomit. Additionally, there is a small possibility that tissue inflammation may require your vet to perform an emergency tracheostomy. However, they say that there are steps that vets can take to reduce the risks of this surgery:

Early oxygenation

Providing supplementary oxygen 5 minutes before the dog is induced can help to improve their outcome.

A kinda sad but fun fact about oxygenation: while most dogs freak out when they are intubated, many vets and vet techs report that brachycephalic breeds often appear calm and happy, likely because it’s easier than normal for them to breathe!

Administering anti-emetics

Before surgery, your vet can give your dog anti-emetics, which are drugs that reduce vomiting. This can help to prevent aspiration pneumonia by preventing the dog from vomiting in the first place.

Close monitoring

It’s a good idea for your dog to stay in the vet’s office after surgery so they can monitor them for side-effects of the procedure, and so they can notice possible signs of aspiration pneumonia and nip them in the bud.

How should I care for my dog after surgery?

Your dog shouldn’t feel too bad after surgery, but they will have to wear a cone for a bit. Some coughing and gagging are normal, and MedVet notes that they’re simply likely to have a “sore throat”—kind of like getting your tonsils out. They recommend feeding your pup softened food for about a week.

What is the prognosis?

The University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School has found an improved quality of life in approximately 85% of dogs who undergo the surgery. So, this is a fairly low-risk surgery that can have significant benefits to your pooch’s well-being.

How much does surgery cost?

While the rate varies according to what needs to be done, a general estimate of the cost for the surgery is around $500-$1500. Talk to your vet to get an idea as to what they charge.

What you can do to cure brachycephalic airway syndrome?

Brachycephalic airway syndrome is an example of irresponsible breeding that has prioritized looks over the health of the dogs. So, here are some ways that you can help to limit the spread of the disease and ensure that even flat-faced dogs can live long happy lives.

Don’t buy from irresponsible breeders

If you’re looking for a breed that is predisposed to brachycephalic airway syndrome, be sure to ask breeders for their dogs’ health histories and what they are doing to improve the health of the breed. Buying from “backyard breeders” or puppy mills encourages these irresponsible breeding practices.

Spay or neuter your pup with brachycephalic airway syndrome

Brachycephalic airway syndrome is a hereditary disease, meaning that it is passed down from one generation to the next. So, if your dog has a litter of puppies, they will inherit the same breathing problems. Neutering your pup ensures that new generations will not have to deal with the same breathing problems.

Although brachycephalic airway syndrome can be stressful both for dogs and people. Imagine having to watch your dogs struggle to breathe. Thankfully we know enough about the disease so that it can be managed. One through lifestyle changes and through surgical correction so that your dog can live a long and happy life. If you liked this article, please subscribe to’s Pawsome newsletter to learn more about important topics like this and to hear about our latest events.

P.S. don’t forget to check out my newest article Clear tick infested dog in 10 minutes.

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