Ask the Vet: Flat-Faced Breeds Prone to Health Problems
Q: My dog Hugo is the cutest, most lovable French bulldog I know. When I submitted a photo of him to a calendar contest, they refused to accept it because he is a brachycephalic dog, and they consider it inhumane to promote unhealthy dogs. I hope you can explain their discriminatory position, because I am mystified.
A: Brachycephalic dogs have short (brachy-, BRAKE'-ee) heads (-cephalic) without a pronounced muzzle. French bulldogs are typical of these flat-faced breeds, along with Boston terriers, boxers, English bulldogs, Pekingese, pugs, Shih Tzus and others.
Sadly, these dogs inherit multiple life-threatening health problems that accompany the short, flat facial conformation. While other dogs typically survive 12.7 years, brachycephalic breeds live an average of only 8.6 years.
Their most common health problem is brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome, or BOAS, caused by malformation of many structures in the head and neck. BOAS makes it hard to breathe, so their blood is not as well oxygenated as normal dog blood. BOAS also increases the risk of sleep apnea, heat stroke and collapse.
Brachycephalic breeds have an underbite with misalignment and overcrowding of teeth that makes chewing difficult. Most of these dogs develop severe dental disease and premature loss of their teeth.
The flat face of brachycephalic breeds also predisposes them to eye problems that cause pain and reduce vision. For example, these dogs are 11 to 20 times more likely to develop corneal ulcers than normal dogs. Many have eyelashes and facial hair rubbing against the surface of the eye, as well as abnormal tear production and impaired tear drainage.
Brachycephalic dogs also experience gastrointestinal disorders more often than other dogs. Gastroesophageal reflux disease, hiatal hernia and esophagitis cause regurgitation and related problems.
In addition, these dogs inherit skull and spine abnormalities that cause neurologic dysfunction. Intervertebral disc disease, spinal arthritis and scoliosis induce pain and make walking difficult.
Finally, brachycephalic pups have such large heads that most can't be delivered naturally but require cesarean section.
These medical problems contribute to the dogs' poor health -- and to their families' high veterinary bills. I suspect that's why the calendar company refuses to feature brachycephalic breeds.