Have you ever met a brachycephalic animal? Bet you have! You would certainly know if you have, one clue is that you usually hear them before you see them. “Brachy” is Greek for short and “cephalic” means head. It’s the word used to describe dogs and cats with pushed-in faces such as Pugs, Boston Terriers, Bulldogs and Pekingese. There are also cats that have that feature such as the Persians and Himalayans. Not surprising there is a term for the issues these animals face called Brachycephalic Respiratory Syndrome.
This refers to the snorts, snoring, grunts and other sound affects of the animal trying to breathe through the narrow nostrils and elongated soft palate. The windpipe is often narrow which can affect the trachea as well. Also not surprising, these animals often can’t pant efficiently, which is how dogs and cats cool themselves down. That makes them highly susceptible to heat stroke even on just slightly warm days or with just a moderate amount of exercise.
Clearly these breeds are popular and have huge fan clubs, but how anyone can live with the sounds they make, even when asleep, is beyond me. Some people think these strange noises are cute or funny, but when you realize the whistling and snoring is indicative of an animal fighting to breathe, it becomes much less comical. In fact, I find it rather stressful to think of the animal being in such distress.
We recently had Batman, a Staffordshire terrier mix that was so flat-nosed that he literally couldn’t do any exercise at all without sounding like he was gasping for air! The risk of overheating is constant and can quickly become life threatening. Poor Batman was a young dog and he just wanted to play with his dog friends but he didn’t know when to stop and would quickly get himself in trouble. Extreme cases require surgery to try and widen the nostrils but even that isn’t a total fix.
These breeds have other health issues as well including crowded teeth that results in dental and gum disease at an early age. They are high anesthetic risk patients so even something as simple as routine dentals, which they need because of the crowding teeth, can be life threatening. Breeders of many of these dogs; bull dogs, frenchies, Boston terriers and pugs for example, just have to factor in the expense of C-sections as a routine cost. These dogs have heads that are disproportionately large compared to the rest of their bodies and the pups often get stuck in the birth canal. The large bug eyes are also ripe for problems. Eye injuries are prevalent as are dry eyes that require eye-lubricant drops for life. Brachycephalic cats too suffer from some of the same health issues.
And to think we humans purposely did this to these breeds in order to obtain a certain look – regardless of the health issues it causes. Why anyone would want to breed a large medical bill is beyond me! Fortunately the temperaments of most of these animals are excellent – which is helpful when you’re weighing the expense of a surgical intervention. Breeding health issues is unconscionable in my opinion but for some reason we ignore it for those we find “cute.”
Remember this the next time you hear one of these animals snorting and wheezing. I think health should be the first responsibility of anyone called a breeder and maybe we need legislation to make that mandatory. Meantime, we were able to get Batman a good home. Don’t know how his new parents can sleep through his snoring!
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.