How to care for brachycephalic dogs

Posted by Argos. April 23rd 2014.

Certain breeds of dogs and cats have wrinkles on their faces, wrinkly bodies or just flat or squashed looking faces. They may have just one of these features or a combination, and they may be bred specifically to include these, with the depth and amount of the wrinkles varying.

Whilst they do look adorable (especially puppies!), they are not without their problems. It’s essential to have an understanding of these features so you know how to look after pets who have them.

The technical name for pushed in, squashed faces is brachycephalic. They have the same bones and tissues as other animals, but the layout is different.

Breeds that have this broad, short shaped skull conformation include: the Pug, English Bulldog, French Bulldog, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Boston Terrier, Shih Tzu and Pekinese. Persian cats also have a brachycephalic conformation.

Incorrect (or lack of) maintenance can result in an unhappy pet and a lower bank balance for you, which is no good for any pet owner.

Wrinkly Puppies

Some of these changes can cause physical problems for the affected dog:

  • The nostrils are narrower
  • The nose (muzzle) is narrower and shorter
  • The tongue is too long
  • The trachea (windpipe) is narrower
  • The tonsils can be abnormally large
  • Prognathism (relationship between upper and lower jaws is comprised)
  • Tear duct abnormalities

Symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Mouth breathing
  • Noisy breathing
  • Snoring
  • Snorting
  • Gagging
  • Bluish/purple tinge to the tongue and gums due to a lack of oxygen
  •  Lack of energy
  • Exercise and/or heat intolerance
  • Syncope (fainting)


How to help our flatty friends

Protect them from heat and humidity, and don’t let them over exercise – they really can’t withstand this. (I’m totally with them on the exercise part.) Dogs and cats don’t sweat (apart from a little from the paw pads), so their main way of cooling is by breathing or panting. They already have difficultly doing this, so breathing faster and harder to keep cool results in them overheating.

  • Walk them during cooler periods of the day. Go for gentle exercise, with no long runs.
  • Maintain an ideal weight. Obesity and extra weight exacerbates the breathing difficulties.
  • If outside in the summer, provide lots of shade. Children’s paddling pools with cool water in are excellent.
  • Provide cool, wet towels to sit on if needed.
  • Keep the nose, nostrils and eyes clean and free from mucous and dirt.
  • Use a harness (instead of collar) for walking.
  • If they are snoring while sleeping, extend their necks or try moving them into a different position.
  • If abnormal snoring starts, seek veterinary advice. Please do not think that noisy breathing and snoring is ‘just the way these pets breathe’… It means they are having problems.

Beauty regime for wrinklies

  • Check weekly to make sure there’s no redness or smell from between the skin folds.
  • If your pet’s smell changes or becomes worse you need check in with your vet.
  • Clean with warm water every couple of days. Wipe in between each fold (wrinkle) with a clean soft cloth or cotton wool buds.
  • After wiping them clean, the folds must be dried. If left damp, this leads to red and sore skin. Bacteria LOVE this type of environment and will cause infection in no time.
  • Signs of infection include: redness, sores, oozing skin, bald patches, smell, irritation and itching.
  • Brush them weekly, particularly if they are shedding a lot. Loose hair irritates the skin in between the folds.
  • Regular baths will help keep them in tip-top condition.
  • Keep feet dry by using a towel or hair dryer following walks.
  • Keep nails short. Overly long nails will encourage them to chew their feet.
  • If your pets have long fur in between their pads this needs to be kept trimmed short. Long fur and knots in their feet will also encourage chewing, leading to damp areas… cue bugs and infection.

Note: To itch their wrinkles and folds, our furry friends will rub their faces or body parts on objects or the floor, which can be a nightmare if you have happen to have cream carpets. Again, check this with your vet as it’s not a display of cute behaviour.


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