Brachycephalic airway syndrome is a respiratory condition that most commonly affects certain breeds of dogs. It refers to a number of upper airway issues found in these breeds. By definition brachycephalic means a broad, short head, and these affected dogs usually have an elongated soft palate (which is when the soft palate is so long that the tip of it actually reaches into the airway and partially blocks the airflow) and narrowed nostrils. It sometimes involves the collapse of the larynx.

For dogs with the condition, the airflow is being compromised by a partial blockage in the upper respiratory tract. Those dogs with thick, short necks and a round head with a flat face are the ones most commonly at risk.

The causes of Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome (BAS) are well known. Certain breeds of dogs are prone to this condition due to the shape of their muzzles and noses. In fact, these breeds have structural deformities in them that make them predisposed to BAS. Because of this, the cause is inherited.

For dogs with a very narrowed nostril opening, airflow suffers. These dogs have a “flat-faced” look about them and their muzzles are not well pronounced. The general rule is that the shorter the nose, the more likely that dog is to develop BAS. An elongated soft palate is evident in a large amount of cases. This is when the soft palate reaches into the airway, causing a partial blockage.

For breeds at risk, obesity also plays a key factor. If the dog is obese, it increases its odds of developing the condition.

Non-evasive prevention is always a good place to start, which means avoiding those known risk factors for the dog. The owner should limit outdoor time when it’s humid and hot and try to keep the dog at a healthy weight. When the dog becomes obese, breathing problems will become more pronounced.

There are also surgical procedures that can be done to correct narrowed nostrils and even shortening an overlong palate. By electing to have these procedures done, you will be decreasing the risk of that dog developing the condition.

For a dog that is suffering from Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome, the symptoms are usually easy to spot. They can exhibit many symptoms or just one.

Symptoms may include:

  • panting;
  • narrowed nostrils;
  • coughing;
  • gagging;
  • problems with exercise, especially in humid hot weather;
  • snoring;
  • rapid breathing;
  • sudden collapse;
  • snorting-like sounds while breathing in;
  • discoloration of the mucous membranes and skin;
  • increased effort to breathe;
  • difficulty swallowing or eating; and
  • cessation of breath (temporary), known as apnea.

Dogs at Risk
With Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome there are particular breeds of dogs that are at much higher risk and one that are prone to developing the condition. These breeds are the ones that are short-nosed. These particular dogs often have flattened or smaller-than-normal breathing passages. The condition usually develops around the age of three or four years old. The breeds at risk are the King Charles Spaniel, Boston Terrier, Pug, French Bulldog, English Bulldog, Shih Tzu, Boxer, and Pekingese.

Testing and Diagnosis
After conducting a physical examination, if the veterinarian suspects BAS he or she may perform a tracheoscopy and a laryngoscopy (pharnygoscopy). To perform these tests anesthesia is required. Once the dog is under, the veterinarian will insert a tiny fiber-optic scope into the trachea and larynx/pharynx to have a look.

Treatment and Prognosis
The only reason a dog should be treated is if breathing is compromised. If that is the case, the goal of treatment is to make breathing easier for the dog. In severe cases surgery may be the only option available; in less severe cases there are a number of things the owner can do to help the dog. Treatment is dependent on what kind of symptoms the dog has and the severity.

For those requiring surgery, resection of the extra soft palate may be an option. If the dog is experiencing symptoms due to narrow nostrils, surgery can be done to correct this issue as well.

Outside of surgery, there is plenty an owner can do to make breathing easier for the dog. During the hot, humid weather, limit the amount of outdoor time and exercise so the dog doesn’t over-exert itself. Stress can contribute to breathing issues as well, so keep the dog in a stress-environment to make a significant difference. Sometimes allergies are even the culprit. Perhaps most important is to keep the dog at a healthy weight.

The severity of the condition will determine the prognosis of the animal. For those that don’t have severe BAS, if proper management of the condition is taken and a proper treatment is found, prognosis is quite good.