Few things are more frightening than realizing, “My dog can’t breathe!” My first dog was a pug named Mandy who had the cutest little smushy face, the sweetest little curly tale, and decidedly un-cute, not-at-all-sweet trouble breathing.
She snorfled and snored throughout her life, sometimes doing what pug lovers call the “reverse sneeze.” Mandy lived a long, happy life, and I have to admit, her powerful snore was endearing! But I wish I had known more about the respiratory issues that plague pugs because there’s a chance she could have been more comfortable if I had known how to help during her episodes.
Short-snouted dogs are adorable, which accounts for their popularity in the United States. If you’re the proud pet parent to a short-nosed dog, you may have at some point wondered if your dog’s snorting was normal, or the sign of something worse.
Unfortunately, the breed standards for short-snouted cuties can lead to compromised respiratory systems, and while a dog making snorfling sounds can be cute, those sounds may indicate a more serious problem. It’s important to know the difference between normal snorfling and a major respiratory issue.
Short snouts lead to shortness of breath
The technical term for a short-snouted animal is brachycephalic, which comes from latin roots meaning “short headed.”
Common brachycephalic breeds include pugs like Mandy, as well as bulldogs, Pekingese, boxers, and certain types of Chihuahuas (see a full list of brachycephalic dog breeds here). Other types of dogs can develop breathing problems, but in short-headed breeds, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll notice some funny breathing.
As the American College of Veterinary Surgeons explains:
“These dogs have been bred to have relatively short muzzles and noses and, because of this, the throat and breathing passages in these dogs are frequently undersized or flattened.”
Those compromised breathing passages are the cause of the snorting, gasping, and other funny sounds our short-snouted friends make. Almost all short-snouted dogs are prone to mild snoring and snorting, but sometimes, short snouts lead to more serious breathing problems.
The general term for respiratory problems in short-snouted breeds is “Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome,” which covers a range of upper respiratory problems affecting the throat, nose, and mouth of our short-muzzled friends.
They may have a small windpipe, smaller nostrils, or an elongated soft palate that obstructs breathing in the back of their throat.
Of course, this is just the technical explanation for why some short-muzzled dogs have trouble breathing. The next step is to know how to identify breathing problems in your own dog.
How to tell if your dog can’t breathe
It’s common for a French bulldog or pug to snort from time to time, so if your dog seems happy and healthy and hasn’t keeled over from breathlessness, you’re probably in the clear. But if your flat-faced pup is breathing rapidly, gagging, or coughing constantly, she may have a more serious respiratory issue going on.
In more severe cases, animals may make pronounced noises when they breathe, seem to tire out more quickly when they exercise, and may faint or collapse after exertion (source). By observing your dog’s daily behavior and noticing changes in their breathing or exercise recovery, you can identify these more serious problems.
If your dog has a serious breathing episode, or if her noises seems to have gotten markedly worse, don’t delay in getting her to the vet. Oxygen therapy and anti-inflammatories can help in the short-term, and your vet can help you work on a plan to help your best friend breathe easier going forward.
For dogs with serious respiratory problems, surgery can become necessary to widen nostrils and/or shorten elongated patellas.
Help your dog breathe easier
While respiratory issues are most common in short-snouted dogs, breeds with more elongated head shapes can develop breathing problems as a result of obesity, infection, and more. For all dogs, maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise will help to maintain healthy breathing.
Of course, where your short-snouted dog is concerned, over-exertion can lead to a scary respiratory episode, which makes exercise difficult. So what’s a chubby pug to do?
If your brachycephalic buddy is out of shape, it’s time to start a slow and steady weight loss plan under the guidance of your vet. A moderate diet and limited activity in cooler weather will help keep her healthy. You can help your dog breathe easy by controlling her exercise level, keeping her out of heat and humidity, and reducing stress in her life.
Remember, you know your dog best, and if her breathing is becoming a problem, you’ll notice. For the vast majority of short-snouted dogs, mild respiratory issues are simply a part of life. If more serious problems develop, there are treatment options to help your dog live a long, oxygenated life. And as long as your pet is healthy and happy, you can enjoy a few cute snorts and snorfles here and there.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Top image via Flickr/oezz