There are a number of breeds that fall within the ‘short nose’ category within the dog world. Pugs, French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs are some of the most well known; but this can also include dogs like some Chihuahuas, Shih Tzus, Boston Terriers, Boxers and so on. They are sometimes called brachycephalics.
What is Brachycephaly?
Brachycephaly is the term for dogs with a short snout. They typically have flat faces; eyes that appear larger and protrude more; some have skin rolls over their noses; sometimes called nose ‘ropes’ and can typically retain ‘cute’ baby-like features. However, the internal anatomy of Brachycephaly is not just characterised by what they look like on the outside with their variably shortened muzzle and a rounded, often massive, head.
Compared with dogs with a normal length snout (mesaticephalic) dogs, there is usually a widening of the skull together with shortening of the muzzle which can cause issues; one of the main ones is issues with their airways.
What‘s Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome?
You may have heard of Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome (BAS) or Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS). These are categorised by a number of anatomical abnormalities.
This is down to a varying degree of redundant soft tissue that remains, even when the bony structure of the skull is reduced in size. This can result in the excess tissue obstructing the upper airway, known as Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS).
What does this cause?
There are both primary and secondary anatomical abnormalities that cause issues in our short-nosed dogs.
These issues include:
- Stridor (High-pitched breath sounds resulting from airflow through an obstructed airway)
- Exercise intolerance
- Respiratory distress
- Cyanosis (Bluish skin colour due to decreased amounts of oxygen)
Anatomical abnormalities in dogs with BAS include
- Stenotic nares (Small, restricted nares)
- Elongated soft palate (Long soft tissue that can cause obstruction at the back of your dog’s throat)
- Nasopharyngeal turbinates (long, narrow bone spurs in the nasal cavities that help to warm and moisten the air that flows in through the nose. The turbinates are also called the nasal conchae. If the turbinates are too large, they can actually block airflow.)
- Hypoplastic trachea (cartilaginous rings that make up the structure of the trachea fuse or overlap which lead to its narrowing.)
All these anatomical issues can cause secondary abnormalities due to the continued trauma of the soft tissue in your dog’s airway. It causes swelling, saccule eversion and laryngeal collapse.
Does this cause problems?
While numerous people clearly desire this phenotype in their pets, many of these dogs unfortunately experience several issues; including major problems with breathing and thermoregulation (maintaining a safe and healthy internal temperature); as well as gastrointestinal, ophthalmological (eye-related), dermatological (skin), reproductive and even dental problems.
In some cases, dogs that are predisposed to issues that cause huge issues with health and welfare. For example, one study assessing which predispositions and protections to disease particularly differentiate English Bulldogs from the remaining general canine population, the study’s authors focused particularly on ultra-predispositions by breed: i.e., those conditions which are seen at particularly high levels in English Bulldogs, with odds more than four times higher than in dogs that are not English Bulldogs. They found that the English Bulldog population in the study showed ultra-predispositions to nine recorded disorders. The study results suggest that the health of English Bulldogs is substantially lower than other dogs and that many predispositions in the breed are driven by the extreme conformation of these dogs. Consequently, the study authors concluded that immediate redefinition of the breed towards a moderate conformation is strongly advocated.
This concern was mirrored by a study from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), which suggested that urgent intervention is required. This study found that the identified health issues of French Bulldogs are closely associated with its extreme body shape.
With these issues, what is their life expectancy?
Given all the issues we have seen occur in short nosed/ flat faced dogs, it is not uncommon to see their health issues directly impact their life expectancy.
In one study, four flat-faced (brachycephalic) breeds were found to have the shortest life expectancy with French Bulldogs only expected to live 4.5 years from age 0, followed by English Bulldogs at 7.4 years, Pugs at 7.7 years and American Bulldogs 7.8 years.
The flat-faced breeds identified as having the shortest life expectancies are heavily associated with several life-limiting disorders such as breathing problems, spinal disease, and dystocia (difficulty giving birth).
So, are there any healthy ones?!
Over recent years, The Kennel Club has made some efforts to alleviate drivers for extreme conformation from the show-ring. Since 2012, The Kennel Club has identified the English Bulldog as a breed at particularly high risk of conformation-related disease. The breed is currently grouped in Category 3 on The Kennel Club’s Breed Watch list, with show judges urged to prioritise health in their show-ring decisions. Unfortunately, despite this change the 2022 Best in Breed for English Bulldog still failed to pick a suitable candidate with health and welfare at the forefront of decision making.
Going forward, BVA guidance sensibly suggests that we should be:
- Reviewing breed standards according to evidence
- Encouraging research to better understand and address the welfare impacts resulting from brachycephaly
- Supporting the Kennel Club’s project to develop Breed Health and Conservation Plans and considering the potential role for evidence-based outcrossing
- Developing brachycephalic health assessments and using standardised exercise tolerance tests (ETTs) and functional grading systems
Breeders who engage in health testing to include, but not limited to, The Kennel Club and University of Cambridge’s Respiratory Function Grading Scheme, other key tests for ocular health, cardiac health, spinal health, and musculoskeletal abnormalities. Those that breed for a LESS exaggerated morphology and conformation should be supported, as should those who have made the decision to out-cross to speed up the results seen in producing puppies with much less extreme looks – but who ultimately may be producing healthier dogs and therefore have higher welfare and happier pets.
It can’t all lie in the kennel club
With an estimated 70% of UK dogs not registered with The Kennel Club and only a tiny proportion (2%) ever attending dog shows – Kennel Club dogs are just a drop in the ocean in comparison to some of the extreme conformation dogs being bred outside this scheme.
The real power for change rests with the public
We can demand and purchase only those types of dogs with moderate and healthier conformations. We should avoid buying and supporting dogs with extreme conformation, including the recent rise and popularity in dogs called ‘micro bullys’ or ‘pocket bullys’
Despite substantial efforts by members of the UK Brachycephalic Working Group (BWG) to discourage extreme exaggerations, these findings suggest further progress is needed to reduce the high rate of health issues in the overall UK population of English Bulldogs and other brachycephalic dogs.
We should be aiming to follow the example of progressive breeders; and to support moving the flat faced dogs away from their current extreme body shape. We want to aim for a longer face, smaller head and non-wrinkled skin, representing a more moderate and healthier conformation.
So, to answer the original question, yes there are some healthy short nosed dogs, and yes there are some that thrive and live to a great age. But, as it currently stands we have a HUGE proportion that are not, or where owners are sadly unaware of the issues because they believe they are ‘normal’ for the breed.
How many people tell me that their flat faced dog sleeps with a toy in its mouth (actually something they do to open their airway), how many tell me that their flat faced dog doesn’t like walking (is it actually exercise intolerance because they simply cannot manage), how many tell me that their dog snores all night? This is not normal, and we should not normalise this. We should continue to work towards a better future for these dogs – it is the public who can help, by not buying or supporting this extreme breeding.