Bulldogs and Brachycephalic Syndrome

Written on May 27, 2013 by Lauren L. Blaeser, DVM, DACVS Hospital: Bulger Veterinary Hospital

bulldogpuppyThe Breed

The term “brachycephalic” means “short-nosed” and refers to dogs with those adorable “smushed” faces. We are referring to breeds such as the Bull Dog, Pug, Pekinese and the Boston Terrier. This unique characteristic makes for “kissable” faces and adorable personalities, making them a favorite for many people.

It is believed that all brachycephalic breeds are derived from short faced dogs common in China. The history of the British Bulldog in particular, is controversial and contested. Some believe the British Bulldog was a cross between Chinese dogs brought to Europe in the late 1500s by traders, and the Mastiff. Others believe the Bulldog is of purely British origin, developed from British stock and carefully bred over generations to achieve its current breed characteristics.

bulldog_basketballBrachycephalic Syndrome

Unfortunately because the Bulldog and related breeds have relatively short muzzles they are often cursed with a medical condition known as Brachycephalic Syndrome.

This condition will ultimately block the flow of air into the lungs. It involves an excessively long soft palate that acts like a valve blocking the entrance of the airway, and a malformed nostril that is too narrow and collapses in when the dog is trying to take a breath. To make matters worse the trachea, the breathing tube, is sometimes more narrow than in other breeds, thereby restricting air flow further. When the dog has to increase the effort to breathe, he or she will start to pull additional tissue into the airway, obstructing airflow even more.

Dogs afflicted with this syndrome exhibit classic symptoms such as exercise intolerance, and breathing heavily and noisily after a relatively short period of activity. Sometimes the patient’s gums or tongue will turn blue, or worse the dog will collapse after activity because of a lack of oxygen. These symptoms can be made worse by excitement and warm weather.


Luckily we can help these dogs with a relatively painless cosmetic surgery. By cutting away the extra nasal tissue and trimming the excess soft palate, the patient is given room to breathe.

Often these surgeries are performed on an emergency basis after the patient has collapsed. The key to success is to evaluate your dog early; the condition can become more severe over time.

Useful Links:

American College of Veterinary Surgeons – Elongated Soft Palate, or Brachycephalic Syndrome

A New Look at the contribution of the eastern brachycephalic breeds to “bull breed” history.

Wikipedia – The history of Bulldogs

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