The word brachycephalic comes from the Greek language and translates to short-headed. You may have never heard the word before but are guaranteed to recognize the brachycephalic breeds: Pugs; English Bulldogs; Shih Tzus; Boston Terriers; Persians; Himalayans to name a few. The genetic pressure of selective breeding has caused the smooshed-face characteristics to become more and more pronounced over the last half century and has led to the current versions of these well known popular breeds.
If you are considering adopting one of these adorable animals there are multiple health concerns that you should be aware. Here is a short list of some things to be aware of, but always do your due diligence when investigating any breed prior to adding to your family.
Imagine a Golden Retriever’s muzzle. Now picture that muzzle being accordioned back on itself so that it looks more like that of a smooshed-faced dog. An adult dog should have 42 teeth and an adult cat should have 30. In the brachycephalic the teeth are compressed into a much smaller ‘container’ and are crowded or rotated to fit into the smaller space. This increases the potential for periodontal disease and for impacted teeth. Malocclusions, such as under- or over-bites are common and considered the norm. Impacted teeth that are trapped below the gum line are not uncommon and, with time, can lead to jaw damage.
While the skull of the head has decreased in length, the associated soft tissue has not changed. The cartilage, soft palate, and tongue are all the size they should be were the skull not shortened. The nostrils are often narrowed to slits, rather than the usual round openings and can narrow down even further on inhalation through the nose. These anatomic changes can lead to open-mouth breathing, panting when not under exertion, and increased risk of exercise intolerance and respiratory distress while under stress or in heat and humidity.
When the muzzle is shortened the skin that lies flat against the muscle and bone is folded back on itself. The folds create a warm and moist environment that encourages growth of the normal bacteria and yeast that make up the skin flora. This can lead to chronic inflammation and irritation. The nasal folds can sometimes be so large that they rub on the eyes, causing ocular changes and requiring the folds to be surgically removed.
Big bulging eyes are a characteristic look of brachycephalics. With their shallow eye sockets the eyeballs are more prone to prolapse with trauma, and sometimes even with light pressure. The eyelids over these large eyes are often not large enough to close completely, leading to chronic changes to the cornea due to exposure. Big eyes that don’t close properly and that are not protected from the length of the muzzle are exposed to scratches from tall grasses and low branches.
They are loved to bits, these Brachycephalic animals, but it is important to inform yourself about them prior to adding them to your family.
Stay tuned to the next part of this blog: Brachycephalic Syndrome