Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome

We love our smooshed-faced dogs in America. So much so that French bulldogs have reached their way to becoming the most popular breed of dogs in the United States!

Brachycephalic breeds are beloved by many but, unfortunately, are also prone to specific health challenges, especially concerning their respiratory system. The unique skull structure of these breeds leads to variations that can significantly impact the upper respiratory tract. These structural differences often manifest as the characteristic snorting sounds many find endearing, yet they signal underlying breathing issues. Understanding and addressing these health concerns is important for the well-being of brachycephalic dogs.

There are a set of issues that can occur that lead to BOAS.

The primary components of the brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome include any of the following:

  • Elongation of the soft palate: In many cases, the flesh of the soft palate acts like a stopper when the dog takes in a breath.
  • Stenotic nares: The nostrils in affected dogs are too narrow. They often pinch closed whenever a breath is taken.
  • Everted laryngeal saccules: There are tissues near the vocal cords that pull inward with a breath and can block airflow.
  • Laryngeal collapse: In this condition, the rings of the trachea are weak and cause the windpipe to restrict when a breath is taken in.
  • Hypoplasia of the trachea: This condition is less common, but affected dogs have a trachea (or windpipe) that is too narrow and restricts airflow.

What are the symptoms associated with upper airway disease in brachycephalic dogs?

  • Symptoms progress over time which makes it harder and harder for the dog to breathe.
  • Noisy breathing, such as wheezing, snorting, or snoring Elongated Soft Palate in a French Bulldog
  • Becoming easily tired or "winded" when exercising
  • Labored breathing
  • Gagging when drinking water or eating food
  • Breathing with the mouth open
  • Gums have a bluish color instead of being pink
  • Sometimes, the gums and tongue may always look bright red due to the strain of breathing.
  • Collapse and hyperthermia can occur in severe cases

Is BOAS something that is really that big of a deal?

Surgically Amputated Dog Soft PalateFor dogs with mild Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS), maintaining a healthy weight and minimizing stress can temporarily manage symptoms. However, even those mildly affected by BOAS are at risk of developing serious respiratory issues as they age.

Without treatment, BOAS can escalate into a critical emergency, necessitating interventions like oxygen therapy, sedation, or even urgent surgery. Dr. Jacobson has witnessed numerous brachycephalic dogs facing severe distress in warm conditions due to their compromised ability to regulate body temperature through efficient breathing. This can lead to dangerously high body temperatures, panic, hyperthermia, and in severe cases, a life-threatening coma. Regrettably, such scenarios have often resulted in fatalities.

How is BOAS treated? I have heard that dog surgery is risky.

Surgery is the treatment for most dogs suffering from BOAS. While there are many reports of surgery disasters, the use of surgical laser has changed most BOAS surgeries into routine outpatient procedures. French Bulldog After Soft Palate Surgery

Early correction of the elongated palate and stenotic nares will usually eliminate the progression of the disease.

Dr. Jacobson observes that his BOAS surgery patients wake up instantly breathing better than they have ever breathed during their entire lives! Because correction improves a dog's life so drastically, he finds BOAS corrective surgeries to be some of the most rewarding procedures in veterinary medicine.

If you have a brachycephalic breed dog that has never been evaluated for BOAS, see a veterinarian experienced in treatment for a screening.

To schedule a surgery or consultation with our veterinarians at our animal hospital in Marshalltown, Iowa,
give us a call at 641-758-3333 or click here!