Dear Dr. Jorden: We are considering getting a bulldog or maybe a pug. We just like that smashed-in nose look. I have heard that they have a lot of problems. Is that true, and what are they?
Dear Reader: Several breeds have the smashed-in noses. They are called brachycephalic breeds, which means, “shortened skull.” Most of the shortening shows up in the nose. These breeds would include the pug, bulldog, Boston terrier, Lhaso apso and Shitzu.
Yes, they do have problems. These breeds have been bred for this unusual characteristic, and it has not necessarily been good for their health. Most of the problems are concerned with breathing.
Before I get into that, you should know that the bulldog is probably the worst of all these breeds for problems. Besides the breathing, they have lots of difficulty having puppies, with most of them having to be delivered by caesarian section. They just aren't built to have puppies anymore.
The breathing problems come from several places. First, these breeds have very small windpipes, or tracheas. I would say they are almost half the size of other dogs'. So, to begin with, less air is available to the lungs at all times. Any time we have to anesthetize one of these breeds, we have to be prepared to deal with that physical problem. Even small amounts of phlegm accumulation during anesthesia will cause a blockage in the airway.
Next, they often have very narrow nasal openings. The nares often lie across the opening in such a way that blocks the air from getting into the nose. This is a relatively easy surgical procedure to have done when they are quite young. Part of the nares are removed so the opening is larger.
When the puppy has a struggle getting the air into the lungs, a lot of negative pressure is created. This causes inflammation of the respiratory tract and also stretching of the throat area. This negative pressure may cause the laryngeal area to evert in, causing another narrow spot in the system. The tonsils may also be sucked in to get in the way as well.
Next, these breeds are prone to have elongated soft palates, which is the soft tissue in the upper part of the back of the throat. If it is extra long, it, also, gets in the way of the air passage.
If the dog has all or any of these problems, the symptoms may include snoring, labored breathing, coughing, gagging, fainting or episodes of collapse and possibly difficulty in eating. If you have a dog that is doing this, it is important to see what can be done to alleviate some of the problems because, with time, having just one of the problems may create the others to develop later in life.
These are the facts. The other part is that bulldogs, pugs, and the others are adorable, loving dogs that you can easily fall in love with. If the love is there, then it is good to at least be aware of the problems they have. Not every dog has the problems or might only have minor problems. I would suggest that you include a veterinary exam of any puppy you might purchase right from the start.
Have questions about pets? Write to: PetVet; c/o The Billings Gazette; P.O. Box 36300; Billings, Mont. 59107-6300. Questions of general interest may become topics of future columns.