Home Breed Brachycephalic Dog Breeds: How to Keep Your Pug, Lhasa Apso, Shih Tzu and Boxer Pup Healthy?

Brachycephalic Dog Breeds: How to Keep Your Pug, Lhasa Apso, Shih Tzu and Boxer Pup Healthy?

by Vetic Editorial

For hundreds of years people have been extremely partial towards brachycephalic dog breeds. It’s easy to see how the cute faces and big puppy eyes have won millions of hearts over the last century. 

frontal vide of a pug breathing with his mouth open. flat-faced dog breeds often breathe with their mouths due to shortened and compressed nasal pathways

These are the flat-faced or short-snouted dog breeds that people have selectively bred exclusively for their flat faces and big eyes. 

If your munchkin is a part of the brachycephalic dog family, you need to keep reading this article. 

Today, we will talk about –

  • What is brachycephaly?
  • What are the brachycephalic dog breeds?
  • Is your dog extremely brachycephalic?
  • What are some of the common health problems of brachycephalic dog breeds?
  • How can you care for your brachycephalic dog?
  • What is the right way of breeding a brachycephalic dog?

And, just in case you are thinking about adopting a flat-faced cutie –

  • Should you get a brachycephalic breed puppy?

So let’s find out everything you need to know about flat-faced dogs, such as Pugs, Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso, French Bulldogs, Pekingese and Boxers. 

What is brachycephaly? 

Brachycephaly means short head. Brachycephalic or flat-faced dog breeds have shorter snouts. 

Experts calculate brachycephaly in dogs using the cephalic index. It is the ratio between the skull width and length. A higher cephalic index indicates a higher extent of brachycephaly. 

What are the brachycephalic dog breeds?

There are quite a number of brachycephalic dog breeds across the world. However, 10 of the most common ones found in India are –

  1. Pugs
  2. Shih tzu
  3. Boxer
  4. English Bulldogs
  5. French Bulldogs
  6. Boston Terriers 
  7. Pekingese
  8. Chow chow
  9. Bullmastiff
  10. Rottweiler

Is your dog extremely brachycephalic?

If your dog belongs to any of the above-mentioned breeds, then they definitely have brachycephaly. Now, you need to understand how extreme their brachycephaly is. 

a Chow Chow puppy. sitting casually, but breathing through their mouth

As you may have already noticed, not all flat-faced breeds have the same degree of flatness. Their cranial index varies significantly, sometimes, even within the same breed. 

You can always get an idea about the extent of your dog’s brachycephaly by careful observation. Or, you can speak to your veterinarian about it. Your vet may be able to give you an idea about your pup’s cephalic index or the extent of brachycephaly. 

You should also keep an eye on your dog’s breathing, sleeping and activity levels. If they are constantly making snorting noises while awake and snoring while asleep, then your dog probably has extreme brachycephaly. In such a case, you should definitely consult a vet and take your dog in for regular check-ups at your local veterinary clinic. 

What are the health problems of brachycephalic dog breeds? 

Selective breeding for hundreds of years for flat-faced pups has led to the accumulation of several genetic disorders among popular breeds. 

Here are some of the common yet serious health problems faced by brachycephalic dog breeds –

Breathing issues 

BOAS (brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome) is severe breathing trouble common in flat-faced dog breeds, such as pugs, French bulldogs and English bulldogs. 

French bulldog complete frontal and side view. flat-faced breed breathing with its tongue out.

It happens due to a hereditary deformation of the upper respiratory tract. Selective breeding has shortened their skull, but the soft tissues inside their head haven’t decreased in volume. 

Additionally, they have narrow nostrils and nasal passages. The upper soft palate exerts pressure on the respiratory tract and causes breathing difficulties. 

The common signs of BOAS in flat-nosed dogs include –

  • Snoring
  • Snorting
  • Noisy breathing
  • Low exercise tolerance
  • Excess panting
  • Nasal discharge
  • Prolonged recovery time after activity
  • Vomiting and regurgitation

Recurrent ear infections

Most brachycephalic dogs are born with narrow ear canals. Cleaning their ears properly isn’t always easy due to the natural structure of the ear canals. 

Breeds like Pugs, Boxers, Shih Tzu, and French Bulldogs are prone to frequent ear infections. The accumulation of natural secretions and improper drainage increases the pressure inside the ears of these breeds. It causes pain, disbalance, impaired hearing, repeated head shaking and irritation in dogs. 

If your dog is showing any of these signs, take them to the veterinarian immediately for a complete physical examination. 

Dental issues

Most flat-faced dogs have a prominent underbite. Although all flat-faced dogs look incredibly cute, it poses challenges in biting and chewing food. 

Pugs, Shih Tzus, Boxers, French Bulldogs and Lhasa Apsos frequently have “bad” dental settings. Even though their jaws are small, they have 42 teeth like other, bigger dogs. It causes overcrowding, tooth rotation, excessive plaque and tartar formation, and subsequent infections of the teeth and gums. 

Improper dental care results in chronic infections of the mouth that can spread to other systems including the heart. 

Eye problems

Small punched-in faces and large baby eyes – that’s the entire charm of the flat-faced dogs. You must have noticed their eyes seem to protrude from their faces. Due to the position and excessive protrusion of their eyes, almost all flat-faced breeds are at risk of eye injury and diseases. 

They are more prone to dry eyes, injuries of the uppermost layer covering the eyeball, development of ulcers on the eye and infections of the third eyelid. The resulting eye diseases are called Brachycephalic Ocular Syndrome (BOS). 

Without proper check-ups, care and treatment brachycephalic breeds can lose their eyesight. In most cases, BOS is manageable via eye drops and ointments. Although some dogs may require repeated surgeries of the eyes. 

Skin problems

Many of the pups are prone to allergic dermatitis and allergies related to food. At the same time, the numerous folds on their faces are prone to fungal and bacterial infections. 

It is a must to clean their facial folds properly at least once every 3 days. If you cannot manage to keep your puppy’s precious face clean you should contact professional groomers for weekly complete grooming services. Look for dog grooming near you before you get a flat-faced pooch.

It is imperative to keep their nails trimmed so they do not cause additional damage to their already delicate facial skin and ears. You should be able to keep their skin problem-free with daily cleaning. If there are fungal and/or bacterial issues, your veterinarian can help you by prescribing oral and topical medicines. 

Digestive issues of flat-faced dog breeds

Apart from problems in chewing, flat-faced breeds also have trouble with swallowing and digestion. Reflux and vomiting are quite common among these breeds. 

Their entire GI tract faces motility issues that result in improper movement of food from the mouth to the large intestine. Gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) is common and worsens dental issues due to repeated regurgitation of stomach acids. 

If your pooch is showing clinical signs of GERD, such as lip smacking, extending their head while swallowing, retching, vomiting, surface licking, restlessness during the night and anorexia it’s time to take them to the best veterinary clinic near you. 

Sleep disorders in the flat-faced breeds

Breathing issues in brachycephalic breeds are similar to obstructive sleep apnea in humans. So, when these dogs sleep, they tend to be uncomfortable and distressed. 

front closeup view of a French bulldog pup. It's a flat-faced dog that has severe health issues involving its teeth, breathing, eyes and ears.

The signs of sleep disorders in breeds like French Bulldogs, Pugs, Shih Tzus and Boxers include loud snoring, snorting, open-mouthed breathing, resting their mouths in elevated positions, fragmented sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness. 

All dogs with similar sleep disorders face risks of heart problems in the long run. Your dog may benefit from physical therapy, medication or surgery. Speak to a good veterinarian with experience in brachycephalic breeds today!

Problems of the spine and tail

Pugs have a “screw tail.” We know how adorable that is, but it is still a malformation. The vertebrae (bones) inside the tail sometimes fuse to form a twisted structure. 

A dog with a screw tail often has other issues of the spine causing neurological symptoms, such as pain, inability to walk properly and urinary and faecal incontinence. 

How can you properly care for your brachycephalic dog?

When you get your puppy, get in touch with the veterinarian. You need to ensure they receive proper nutrition that their digestive system can accept and manage. 

You should always focus on facial cleaning and dental cleaning

Make it a habit of cleaning their ears and trimming their nails since their puppyhood. 

Flat-faced dogs do need more medication and supplements as compared to others. Do not miss their doses simply because they “look healthy and active” to you. 

If you are the pet parent of an adult brachycephalic breed dog get in touch with their veterinarian for a proper check-up. Many of the problems faced by the breeds we have mentioned above are internal. So, you will need a veterinary clinic with advanced diagnostics (imaging) to see if your dog is in good health.  

Here are a few points every Pug, Shih Tzu, Boxer and Pekingese owner should remember –

  • Avoid heat and heat stress at all costs
  • Try to use a harness instead of a collar
  • Don’t feed them more than their stipulated diet
  • Do not let them become overweight 
  • Clean their teeth regularly and opt for a professional dental cleaning at least once a month
  • Clean their faces after each meal
  • Choose professional grooming to clean their face and ears whenever possible
  • Go to professional groomers for the proper and complete cleaning of their paws and anal glands 
  • Clean their tear stains regularly to prevent skin infections and irritations
  • Never miss their regular health check-ups

Switch to a digitally-powered veterinary service like Vetic. The app sends you reminders before every appointment. You will receive calls from the veterinary services team before every vaccination and vet appointment and after every procedure. 

What is the right way of breeding a brachycephalic dog?

Due to selective breeding for hundreds of years, brachycephalic dogs have accumulated several disorders that also affect their reproductive system. 

  • A majority of these breeds cannot give birth via normal delivery. They require C-sections. 
  • If you are thinking of finding a suitable mate for your female dog, ensure that the potential mate has as few disorders as possible. 
  • Cross-breeding has similar challenges. And breeding a brachycephalic female dog with a bigger male is not a great idea. 
  • The best way to breed a flat-faced dog is by consulting a veterinarian before they go into heat. 
  • You should stay in touch with the veterinarian after mating and throughout your dog’s pregnancy to ensure the safety of the mother and her puppies. 
  • Your dog may need more than one blood test and USGs to confirm the good health of the mother and pups.

If you are planning on breeding your brachycephalic princess, find a good vet hospital near you that has in-house diagnostics, experienced doctors, and world-class veterinary surgery infrastructure, just like Vetic. 

Should you get a brachycephalic breed puppy?

Flat-faced breeds are cute and we love them. So, if you want to adopt or buy, it should be fine as long as you have a good veterinarian and veterinary hospital near you. 

Lhasa apso is a long-haired brachycephalic breed. Small flat-faced dogs like this breed often face difficulties in breathing, and chewing

Before you get the puppy –

  • Meet with the breeder or owner and ask questions about the health of their mother and father. 
  • Ask if the puppies have been born via C-section and if so, if they have received proper care since birth. 
  • Always inquire whether the mother and father of the puppy have any inheritable issues such as BOAS or GERD. 
  • If the father and mother don’t have extreme brachycephaly, you can choose a healthy and playful pup easily. 
  • Before bringing the puppy home, learn about their current diet, deworming and vaccination status. Speak to the veterinarian and set up a proper diet, deworming, vaccination and maintenance regimen for your pup. 

Once you bring your pup home, you should give them plenty of time and attention. You should find time to relax and engage with them. They will need a lot of your time and energy to grow up into well-trained dogs. 

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