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Breathless brachy breeds

I have just bought a gorgeous nine-week-old English Bulldog puppy, and have been warned by my friends about BOAS syndrome. Is this something I ought to be worried about?

Paul Manktelow advises...

BOAS, or brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome, is found most commonly in breeds with shorter heads, such as French and English Bulldogs and Pugs. Signs can vary from mild snoring to severe breathing difficulties, due to narrowed nostrils or an elongated soft palate, which is found at the roof of the mouth at the entrance to the windpipe. Narrowed nostrils reduce the amount of space that air can travel through, and an elongated soft palate can obstruct air from going through the windpipe into the lungs; both significantly increase the amount of effort required to breathe effectively.

There are various degrees of BOAS, and in the most severe cases dogs can collapse due to lack of oxygen. This is exacerbated in hotter weather, if they are overweight, or if they are exercising too strenuously. If a dog is showing signs of breathing problems, surgical options are available with the aim being to widen the nostrils and, if required, shorten the soft palate. Although it is impossible to create a completely normal airway, and dogs will still need to be monitored carefully during exercise or in the heat, surgery can significantly reduce the risk of life-threatening problems.

If you are at all concerned that your dog is showing any signs of breathing difficulties, it’s important you visit your vet as early as possible to discuss further options, and create the best plan to prevent breathing issues in the future.