Breathing Impairments in French Bulldogs

The word “brachycephalic” should be used to describe all dog breeds with short muzzles, including but not limited to bulldogs, pugs, and french bulldogs. The exact structure that bestows upon our dogs the coveted “Flat Faced” appearance can also lead to breathing and airway issues that, in extreme cases, pose a threat to the animal’s life.

For instance, a lot of people don’t realise that dogs do not sweat as humans do. Sweating allows animals, including humans and certain other mammalian species, to cool their bodies internally. When air enters a dog’s lungs after passing through the rest of the dog’s respiratory system, it has been cooled. When it comes to breeds that have short noses, the air has a shorter distance to travel. Because of this, certain breeds are much more likely to suffer from heat stroke when exposed to extremely hot temperatures.

Other conditions are “congenital,” which means they were present at birth. They could have an effect on the health of the dog ranging from extremely moderate to severe. The information that follows is intended to serve as a concise guide to the diseases that might impact French Bulldogs. Please visit your veterinarian for a more in-depth analysis of the diagnosis.

Stenotic Nares: are narrow nostrils that tend to collapse inward as the affected Frenchie inhales. The harder the dog breathes, the more the nostrils collapse, so that just when the dog is trying to pull in more oxygen, it can’t. You can mimic this effect by inhaling sharply and noting how much your own nostrils contrict and how much less air you move than while breathing quietly. A Frenchie wih stenotic nares is easily diagnosed simply by watching his nose as it breathes. A normal Frenchie will have its nostrils dilate slightly as it inhales. A Pug with stenotic nares will have his nostrils collapse.

The disorder is present at birth. In severe cases, the nares may be operated to enlarge the opening. If there is further impairment of the breathing system other than the nares, this may not correct all breathing problems. Occasionally, a young puppy with stenotic nares will have the condition improve with age and avoid the need for surgical correction.

Cleft Palate: The palate (roof of the mouth) separates the nasal and oral cavities. It has two parts: the hard and soft palate. The hard palate in the anterior (front) part of the mouth is formed by two bony plates, one on each side, that normally fuse at the midline during fetal life. The soft palate at the caudal portion (rear) of the mouth is basically muscle. Both palates are covered by a mucous membrane. The cleft palate of the type seen in Frenchies is formed when the two bony plates of the hard palate fail to fuse normally in the fetus. This failure of fusion leaves a hole or slit in the roof of the mouth, allowing communication between the nasal and oral cavities. The slit can vary in both length and width from a very small hole to a cleft that involves nearly the entire roof of the mouth. Portions of the soft palate may or may not be involved, and a cleft lip can occasionally occur with the cleft palate.

The disorder is present at birth, and the diagnosis can usually be made by simply observing the roof of the mouth after the animal is born. Diagnosis is often made when milk is seen running from a puppy’s nose while it is nursing. On occasion, with a very small cleft, a radiograph may be helpful.

The only treatment is surgical closure of the cleft by covering the hole with tissue from the surrounding mucous membrane. This difficult procedure is not generally recommended except in experimental situations. Severely affected puppies are generally put down at birth. Breeding studies in West Highland White Terriers have shown that the trait is polygenic: i.e. it does not have a single-gene mode of inheritance. It is recognized that at least 22 teratogenic agents can cause cleft palate in dogs. These agents affect the in utero environment of the fetus, but nearly all of them are experimental agents and are not generally available to dogs.

Cleft palates in Frenchies should be considered to be genetic unless proven to be otherwise. Cleft palate has been observed in nearly all breeds of dogs.

Elongated Soft Palate: This is one of the most common airway obstruction in Frenchies. The soft palate is an extention of the hard palate wich forms the roof of the mouth. The soft palate is supposed to act as a mobile flap to prevent food and water entering the nasal passages during swallowing. An elongated soft palate hangs in front of the airway or falls into the larynx during inhalation.

Affected dogs will breathe rather noisely when exited. Frenchies with elongated soft palates often sound like someone slurping the last of their soda throug a straw. They frequently gag in an attempt to clear their airway, bringing up foamy saliva while eating, drinking, or excited. Dogs with elongated soft palates may have “reverse sneeze” attacks where they appear to be in a great deal of distress caught in a spasm of breathing very rapidly and noisily during inhalation. A Frenchie can often be broken out of a “reverse sneeze” attack by rubbing its throat or blowing sharply on the nose to cause it to swallow and displace the soft palate. The harder the affected dog breathes, the more turbulence causes the palate to swell and elongate even more over time.

An elongated soft palate is almost impossible to positively confirm in a conscious Frenchie. It can sometimes be visualized on a radiograph but is best diagnosed by direct examination under anesthesia. It is usualy surgically corrected at the same time. Care must be taken while shortening a soft palate not to remove too much, as an overly short palate can lead to difficult swallowing.

Collapsing and hypoplastic (small, narrow) Tracheas: are usually congenital in Frenchies. Affected dogs usualy suffer from a chronic “honking” cough or dyspnea (difficulty breathing) during exercise. These conditions are usualy diagnosed on radiograph. Narrowed or collapsed tracheas are very difficult to surgically correct and are usualy treated medically with cough suppressants and bronchodilators.

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