Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Brachycephalic Syndrome In Dogs and Cats, by Dr. Christine Ross

 Brachycephalic Syndrome In 
Dogs and Cats

We've all seen them. The adorable little smoosh-faced dogs and cats that happily snort and grunt their way through life. But what is considered normal? And is there a point where all that noise can be dangerous?

Brachycephalic syndrome is something that is commonly seen in our Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, and even Persian cats to name a few. These breeds of dogs and cats have very short noses, but have all the same parts as our Doliocephalic breeds (those with long noses, like Collies and Shepards). This makes it harder for them to breathe because there is more tissue for the air to get through. The classic symptoms of Brachycephalic syndrome can range from mild snoring, grunting, an noisy breathing to severe respiratory distress and collapse. It is important for owners of these breeds to be very careful with them in heat and monitor their exercise and activity, especially in warmer climates. Severely affected dogs can benefit from surgery to improve breathing before a life threatening emergency arises.

The excess noise we hear in these dogs is caused by four different abnormalities, which are all characteristics of these breeds. So although they are adorable (I have 3 bulldogs myself), it is a genetic condition we continue to pass from generation to generation. 

Firstly, bulldogs in particular tend to have a smaller airway opening than other breeds of similar size. We call this a hypoplastic trachea. 

Secondly, there is excessive tissue hanging in the back of the throat (elongated soft palate), covereing the opening down into the lungs. This is what creates the snoring sound we hear because the tissue vibrates as air passes. This is something that can be surgically corrected in dogs with severe disease. 

Third, the nostrils of these animals can also be narrowed or stenotic. Instead of having a big round opening, sometimes they look more like 'coin' slots, and only a small amount of air can pass with each breath. This can also be corrected with surgery. 
Before Surgery
After Surgery
Lastly, if a dog has severe issues with the 3 things above, over time the pressures required in the lungs to breathe will elevate. Once this happens we can see a part of the larynx (voicebox) collapse and partially or completely obstruct the airway. At this point, surgery must be done to save the animal. Sometimes this means putting in a temporary or permament breathing opening in the neck, which of course carries it's own risks and complications.

So how do I know if my dog's noises are normal? If you own one of the predisposed breeds, it is a good idea to have their airway evaluated by a veterinarian. If they would be a good candidate for surgery, you may be referred to a specialist or someone who is comfortable performing the procedure. Evaluations may include a good physical exam (which is sometimes done under sedation to evaluate the back of the throat/soft palate), and possible radiographs of the airway and chest.

So next time your cute little dog wakes you up snoring, you may want to ask yourself if this could be a warning sign for future!

Blog Written by: 
Dr. Christine Ross
Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice

(407) 487-4445
Dr. Christine helps families in the greater Orlando, Florida area

Blog posted by: Veterinarian Mary Gardner

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