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Dr. Evan Antin shares: the risks of breeding brachycephalic pets

Here’s how to help your brachycephalic cat or dog live a healthy life.

You may be surprised to learn what a brachycephalic cat or dog experiences daily — for some pets, breathing is nearly impossible due to their air holes being smaller than coffee straws.

And that's not the only health issue they struggle with. From constant itchiness to unnatural skin folding to some breed's inability to give birth naturally, there's so much to learn.

We love all pets, and shelter animals always need our help, but the more these animals are intentionally bred, the worse their conditions get. 

To further understand the risks of breeding flat-faced pets, we spoke to Dr. Evan Antin, a practicing small animal, exotics and wildlife veterinarian at Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital and a member of Fetch by The Dodo’s Veterinary Advisory Board.

Can you describe what a brachycephalic pet looks like? 

They have very short muzzles and are intentionally bred that way for the aesthetics desired by people. 

What are popular brachycephalic dog and cat breeds?

Some of the most common brachycephalic dog breeds include Pugs, French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers and English Bulldogs — and for cats, Persian and Himalayan are the most popular.

How do brachycephalic pets’ lives differ from non-brachycephalic animals?

These pets experience life differently with every breath they take. Unfortunately, making cute smushy faces inadvertently severely compromised the upper respiratory tract of these pets. Breathing, especially inhalation, is very restrictive. 

Most brachycephalic dogs can also expect to deal with varying degrees of skin health issues, which these animals experience as chronic itching and hot spots

Speaking of health concerns, can you elaborate on certain conditions brachycephalic breeds might experience?

Yes, major health concerns. The number one is brachycephalic airway syndrome (BAS). This syndrome is a combination of congenital and acquired anatomic abnormalities that progressively worsens the upper airway tract’s health as the pet ages. 

The congenital abnormalities include stenotic nares (tiny nostril holes), an elongated soft palate and a hypoplastic trachea (proportionally small trachea). The acquired abnormalities are everted laryngeal saccules (pouches inside the larynx or voice box) and laryngeal collapse. 

Congenital abnormalities cause chronic severe negative pressure on the upper respiratory tract during inhalation. That chronic stress leads to eversion of the laryngeal saccules and eventually laryngeal collapse, potentially life-threatening medical concerns. 

Veterinarians surgically address stenotic nares and elongated soft palates as this has been shown to improve daily quality of life for breathing, improve sense of smell and reduce the occurrence of the progression to the acquired laryngeal anatomic changes from BAS.

A brachycephalic cat is one of the truly saddest things in the pet world, in my opinion. Their nostrils are literally smaller than coffee straws. Every single breath they take is a struggle, and it sincerely blows my mind that anyone thought this was a good idea. 

Most brachycephalic dogs have excessive skin folds on their faces and many at the base of their tails, especially English Bulldogs. A dog’s skin isn’t meant to be folded in 24/7, and these skin folds are highly prone to chronic bacterial and fungal infections. 

If you’ve ever noticed an English Bulldog constantly rubbing their eyes and face on things and scooting their butt on rugs or carpets, it’s because they’re very itchy. They can get chronic skin fold infections, which can cause intense pruritus (aka itchiness). 

Brachycephalics are also prone to orthopedic issues because they’re relatively heavy for their skeletal frame, among other congenital orthopedic proportional abnormalities, including the oversized heads and undersized pelvis of many brachycephalic dog breeds. For example, French Bulldogs can’t give birth naturally. They 100% require c-sections for puppies to be born. 

RELATED: Dr. Evan Antin shares: how travels abroad impact his vet practice

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How does brachycephalic breeding contribute to a pet's health issues?

Continued breeding perpetuates the worsening health of these breeds. Often the most aesthetically and physically-desired individuals are bred because they have the smushed face, but that translates to the fact that they also have the most extreme health issues, especially regarding their respiratory tract health.

Something that took me aback was seeing an image of an English Bulldog sire from around 1960. They looked much more like a modern-day Boxer. In the last 60 years, the face smushing has intensified drastically, and I’m pretty much certain that the health issues have, too. 

What are some ways brachycephalic pet parents can help their pets live happy, healthy lives?

Maintain a healthy weight because being overweight isn't just bad for their orthopedic health, but it’s very straining on their breathing. 

Keep close tabs on their skin folds every single day. Many of my brachycephalic pet parents need to wipe those skin folds literally every single day to prevent infection and discomfort. Regular vet exams are even more important and pet health insurance is, too. 

For young, healthy pets, it shouldn’t be so different than welcoming other breeds but make an extra effort to accommodate them on hot days. Make sure they have spots to cool down, and don’t let the house get too warm. Provide water dishes in multiple rooms. 

For brachycephalic cats, I also like to elevate their food bowls slightly. This seems to help with those “in-between chewing” breaths they take and makes them more comfortable. 

Do brachycephalic pets usually end up in animal shelters?

Compared to other breeds, no. They tend to be more highly desired pets, and their price tags often reflect that. For example, it’s not surprising to see certain French Bulldogs listed for $6,000 to $8,000.

The Dig, Fetch by The Dodo’s expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too. Fetch provides the most comprehensive pet insurance and is the only provider recommended by the #1 animal brand in the world, The Dodo. 

Photo by JC Gellidon on Unsplash and Dr. Evan Antin

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