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Flat-faced dogs, also known as brachycephalic dogs, are known for their short snouts, thick wrinkles, and upbeat, loving personalities. They're some of the most popular dog breeds in the United States, and many believe they're more attentive to people than other breeds. Everyone who loves dogs has met at least a few flat-faced dogs like Pugs, French Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers.
Unfortunately, even though these dogs make loyal companions, they're prone to health conditions like breathing problems and eye, skin, and oral health conditions. Wondering if a flat-faced dog is right for you? Keep reading to learn about short-snout dogs, their health problems, and how to care for them.
- History of Brachycephalic Dogs
- Health Issues for Brachycephalic Dogs
- Flat-Faced Dog Breeds
- Caring for a Flat-Faced Dog
- Final Notes
History of Brachycephalic Dogs
Many dogs didn't originally have short snouts. Short-snout dogs were bred for their physical appearance rather than function. Ultimately, people believed the short snout was cute and decided to make more dogs with short snouts. It's theorized that in ancient times, dog owners desired dogs with more infantile faces, reminding them of human babies, unlike dogs with longer snouts. "Petface" refers to the features common to certain breeds like flat-faced dogs as part of the "baby schema effect," which refers to a set of facial features like a large head and round face that elicits the "cute response." 1 Since humans are more willing to care for things they believe are cute, owners of brachycephalic pets may give them more attention and are more willing to make eye contact, forming a stronger bond.1
The history of each brachycephalic dog breed is different. For example, bulldogs were bred as fighting sport dogs, requiring a flatter snout and a stronger jaw for fighting baiting bulls. (Hence the name "bulldog.”)
Health Issues for Brachycephalic Dogs
Because these dogs were bred mainly for their appearance, many pet parents don't know that these breeds have some of the highest risks for health issues. Dog brachycephaly can cause various diseases and health issues, such as:
- Breathing problems: Many brachycephalic breeds suffer from Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS), which refers to a range of health issues caused by their short snout including stenotic nostrils, elongated soft palate, and everted laryngeal saccules.2 The most common symptom of BOAS is difficulty breathing due to obstructed airways. BOAS includes difficulty breathing, especially during exercise or when it's hot outside since these breeds can't pant properly to cool themselves.2 BOAS is also characterized by a narrow windpipe requiring more breathing effort. BOAS typically worsens with age and if your dog gains weight.2
- Eye problems: Brachycephalic breeds are predisposed to eye conditions like Lagophthalmos, a condition in which they can't fully close their eyelids due to shallow eye sockets. This condition may also be caused by an abnormal eyeball protrusion or paralysis of the facial nerve. Dogs with this condition may experience scarring, abnormal coloring, and slow-healing sores in the cornea.3
- Facial problems: Brachycephalic pets are prone to dog skin allergies and infections due to their extra folds around the nose and mouth, which create the perfect environment for bacteria and yeast growth. Short-snout dogs are prone to cleft palate or cleft lip caused by jaw and face deformation. Flat-faced dogs have up to a 30% risk of developing a cleft palate, which is inherited in most cases.4
Tooth problems: Brachycephalic dogs have smaller jaws and the same number of teeth as other dogs, causing tooth problems like overlapping, cramping, and unerupted teeth. Unerupted teeth remain under the gum line, and flat-faced breeds are more prone to them because they have shortened heads. These teeth should be extracted as soon as possible to avoid cysts.5
Flat-Faced Dog Breeds
There are several flat-faced dog breeds, all with their own temperaments, but they all make great pets for first-time dog owners. However, flat-faced dogs generally are considered smart, loyal, loving, and playful. Some flat-faced dog breeds include:
- Boxers: Boxers are known for their loyalty and affection. They're among the most popular dog breeds because they're one of the few large brachycephalic dog breeds. Their life expectancy is 10-12 years, and they can grow up to 25 inches tall and weigh 80 pounds.6
- English Bulldogs: The English bulldog is kind and courageous with flappy jowls you can't help but love. These loyal companions are easy to care for and love spending time lazing around on the couch with their pet parents. Bulldogs have a life expectancy of up to ten years and can weigh up to 50 pounds even though they stand at just 14-15 inches.7
- French Bulldogs: Frenchies are one of a kind with large ears and playful yet adaptable personalities. French bulldogs are affectionate and loyal and have a low barking level, making them great for apartment dwellers. This small breed stands at just 11-13 inches and weighs under 28 pounds, with a life expectancy of up to 12 years. 8
- Boston Terriers: Recognized by their tuxedo-like coat, the Boston Terrier is lively and loves spending time with their human companions. These short, compact dogs are gentle and affectionate with family, including young children. Boston Terriers are just 15-17 inches tall, weighing less than 25 pounds, with a life expectancy of 11-13 years.9
- Pugs: Perhaps one of the most well-known dogs on this list is the Pug, a small brachycephalic breed that's known for its affectionate demeanor and fun-loving personality. The Pug is playful, happy, and curious, making them ideal for families. The Pug is just 13 inches tall, weighing between 14 and 18 pounds, with a life expectancy of 13-15 years.10
- Chow Chow: If you're looking for a large brachycephalic breed, consider the Chow Chow. Standing at 17-20 inches and weighing up to 70 pounds, the Chow Chow is an aloof yet powerful breed known for its furry, bear-like coat and black tongue. Chows come in many colors and enjoy lazy days with their owners. The Chow can live up to 12 years.11
- Bullmastiff: The Bullmastiff is the latest of the brachycephalic dog breeds, standing up to 17 inches tall and weighing up to 130 pounds. This breed is loyal and affectionate, making it a good watchdog due to its protective nature. Bullmastiffs can live up to 9 years and are best suited for experienced pet parents who can handle large dogs.12
Caring for a Flat-Faced Dog
Now that you know about the various health issues brachycephalic dogs are prone to, you must learn how to properly care for them. Here are some things to set your dog up for a healthy life:
- Exercise Regularly: Brachycephalic dogs are not typically high-energy adults. However, they still require some regular exercise since some may be prone to weight gain. Since flat-faced dogs are prone to breathing difficulties, it's best to avoid vigorous exercise. Instead, a walk around the block should be enough to maintain your dog's healthy weight. Of course, be careful not to overexert your flat-faced dog in hot weather since they have a difficult time cooling themselves off, which can lead to heat stroke and possible death. Pay attention to your dog's body language when exercising to ensure they're not having difficulty breathing or are getting too warm. Signs your dog is overheated include heavy panting, difficulty breathing, and collapse.
- Prevent Obesity: Weight gain can exacerbate BOAS, so it's best to keep your dog at a healthy weight to prevent further breathing difficulties. Feed your dog high-quality dog food and ensure they get enough exercise to maintain their weight. If you're worried about your dog's weight, talk to your vet about weight management dog food.
- Dental Care: Since brachycephalic dogs are prone to tooth issues, you should maintain their dental health with daily brushing and checking their teeth for signs of issues. Talk to your vet about professional cleanings to prevent infections and periodontal disease.
- Skin Care: Brachycephalic dogs have skin wrinkles that trap moisture and become ideal breeding grounds for bacteria and yeast, leading to skin irritation and issues like dermatitis and yeast infections. Gently wipe wrinkles every day to remove dirt and debris to keep their skin folds clean, especially on their faces. If you notice symptoms of skin infections, talk to your vet as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment.
- Eye Care: Unfortunately, there's not much you can do in terms of caring for your dog's eye health since their facial structure makes them prone to eye issues. However, you should try to prevent trauma that may cause the eye to pop out of the socket, so it's usually recommended to avoid potentially dangerous physical activities and always use a harness instead of a collar when walking your pet. In addition, because flat-faced dogs may not be able to completely close their eyelids, you should beware of any irritation to the cornea that may cause eye damage in the future, and talk to your vet about potential treatments.
- Limit traveling: Flat-faced dogs are sensitive to warmth and humidity, so they may have difficulty traveling on flights. They may also experience breathing difficulties due to the change in altitude. Talk to your vet before traveling with your dog to ensure it's safe for them.13
Brachycephalic dogs are some of the most popular breeds in the world because they were bred to be adorable. However, their short snouts can cause breathing difficulties that can be dangerous. Flat-faced dogs also have eye, facial, and skin issues that should be monitored. Even if your pet is in relatively healthy condition, you should be aware of the different types of health issues that can affect these dogs of all ages.
Since breathing difficulties and BOAS are one of the most significant concerns, always keep an eye on your dog when they're exercising or playing outside, especially in the heat. Since their short snouts don't allow them to cool themselves properly, brachycephalic dogs can get overheated faster than dogs with longer snouts.
When looking for a flat-faced dog, you must consider the potential health issues to ensure you're prepared for them. Having a vet at your side can help you overcome all the health challenges associated with these dogs. Dutch's telemedicine for pets can help you properly care for your flat-faced dog to ensure their health problems don't get in the way of a quality life. Try Dutch today.
Bognár, Zsófia, et al. “Shorter Headed Dogs, Visually Cooperative Breeds, Younger and Playful Dogs Form Eye Contact Faster with an Unfamiliar Human.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 29 Apr. 2021, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-88702-w.
“Flat-Faced Breeds: What You Need to Know.” PDSA, https://www.pdsa.org.uk/pet-help-and-advice/looking-after-your-pet/all-pets/flat-faced-breeds-what-you-need-to-know.
Gelatt, Kirk N. “Disorders of the Eyelids in Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, 18 Oct. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/eye-disorders-of-dogs/disorders-of-the-eyelids-in-dogs.
Pearson, Lisa K. “Congenital and Inherited Disorders of the Digestive System of Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, 18 Oct. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/digestive-disorders-of-dogs/congenital-and-inherited-disorders-of-the-digestive-system-of-dogs.
Reiter, Alexander M. “Dental Disorders of Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, 18 Oct. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/digestive-disorders-of-dogs/dental-disorders-of-dogs
“Boxer Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, 6 Nov. 2017, https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/boxer/.
“Bulldog Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, 6 Nov. 2017, https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/bulldog/.
Greenberg, Aurora. “French Bulldog Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, 6 Nov. 2017, https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/french-bulldog/.
“Boston Terrier Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, 6 Nov. 2017, https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/boston-terrier/.
Greenberg, Aurora. “Pug Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, 6 Nov. 2017, https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/pug/.
Pessah, Steve. “Chow Chow Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, 6 Nov. 2017, https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/chow-chow/.
“Bullmastiff Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, 6 Nov. 2017, https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/bullmastiff/.
Sassafras Lowrey, CTDI. “Brachycephalic Dog Breeds: A Guide to Flat-Faced Dogs.” American Kennel Club, 10 June 2022, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/dog-breeds/brachycephalic-dog-breeds/.