Recently, there has been a surge in the popularity of short-nosed dog breeds such as the French Bulldog, Boxer and Pug. In fact, the French Bulldog and the Boxer are now the sixth and eighth most-popular breeds in the American Kennel Club Register, respectively. While they do have a delightful personality, this is also because of their appearance – those cute big eyes, domed head, and squished-up nose are definitely charming. However, what are the effects of these characteristic features on their health?
Brachycephalic (or short-nosed breeds) such as Pugs, Boxers, Boston Terriers, French Bulldogs, and English Bulldogs tend to have excessive skin folds on their face, shallow eye sockets, an elongated soft palate, and narrower-than-normal nostrils. These can cause ongoing problems.
The folds on the face can predispose them to bacterial skin infections between the rolls of skin. These are painful and smelly, and may need surgery to correct the situation permanently. The skin folds can also rub on the corneas, which results in pain and discharge. Because the eye sockets are so shallow, there is an increased risk of the eye itself being prolapsed, or coming out of the socket, and of irritation of the eye due to exposure.
However, the main issues with these breeds are the changes to their respiratory tract. Dogs rely on panting to control their body temperature. Airflow through the nose and mouth evaporates moisture and it is the evaporation that cools them down, much like the evaporation of sweat in human beings. The brachycephalic breeds have a number of issues that can affect their ability to do this. They often have an extra-long soft palate and narrow nostrils, both of which restrict airflow. The result is an increased risk of heat stress, which in severe cases can be fatal.
If you're keen on adding a Frenchie or Pug to your family, what can you do to make sure your dog is as healthy as possible? First, buy from a reputable breeder. This may mean you have to wait until your pup is born, but the wait will be worth it. Good breeders are fully aware of the health issues associated with their breed and do what they can to address them while still complying with the breed standard. Avoid a breeder that favors characteristics that cause problems, such as breeding for an extremely short nose or for larger skin folds on the face.
When you bring your pup home there are things you can do to keep them as healthy as possible. Be aware of the risk of overheating and only walk your dog in the cool of the early morning or late evening. Avoid overfeeding because overweight dogs have an increased risk of heat stress. If your pet has skin folds on the face, it's important that you watch for early signs of infection such as discharge or reddening of the skin. Look for eye irritation too, which can be characterized by red watery eyes and squinting. Early detection means early treatment and a better outcome for your four-legged companion.