Brachycephalic Dog Breeds List - Characteristics and Care

Brachycephalic Dog Breeds List - Characteristics and Care

Brachycephalic syndrome is a condition which affects many different dog breeds. Thanks to selective breeding, these genetic traits have lead to health problems, many of which badly affect their respiratory system. Such breeding has been purposeful. Physical traits are desirable in these breeds because they make them adorable. Brachycephalic dogs are some of the most playful, happy and charismatic breeds you can find. While we may question whether it was ever a good idea to breed dogs prone to brachycephalic syndrome in the first place, there is no question that we need to look after these dogs as best we can while under our care.

Here AnimalWised brings you our brachycephalic dog breeds list so you can know what dogs fall into this category. We'll also provide you some information on what to expect in terms of health and well-being.

What is brachycephalic syndrome?

As is often the way with canine health problems, if we look at the etymology of brachycephalic syndrome we can get some insight into how it functions. Originating from the Greek, brachycephalic is made up of the terms brachy (brakhús) + cephalic (kephalikós) meaning “short” and “head”, respectively. If you look at the brachycephalic dog breeds on our list, you will see that this shortness in the head, particularly in the snout, is a defining feature. It not only gives them a certain visual presence, but this shortness leads to physical abnormalities.

Known fully as brachycephalic airway obstructive syndrome, the condition has certain features which are problematic. They include:

  • Elongated soft palate: the soft palate is the soft tissue at the back of the dog's mouth. It is used to help swallowing and breathing. If it is too long, it can obstruct the airways and increase risk of respiratory problems.
  • Reduced trachea: also known as a hypoplastic trachea, if the windpipe is too small it allows less air into the lungs. This means at times when they need more oxygen, such as during exercise or when they are overheated, they don't always get the amount they need. It can even lead to a tracheal collapse which is potentially life threatening[1], but surgical treatment can improve quality of life.
  • Stenotic nares: a nare is another term for the nostril and in brachycephalic dog breeds they are often too narrow. This also reduces airflow and can also cause problems with the build up of mucus and other fluids. This occurs in varying degrees, but in acute cases of stenotic nares, surgery is required to open the nasal passages.
  • Laryngeal saccules: these are soft tissues which are located on the larnyx. Although not well understood, in brachycephalic dog breeds, they can cause the laryngeal opening to be compromised which leads to obstruction.

These characteristics of brachycephalic dogs mean they often have very restricted breathing. Many of these breeds will exhibit similar symptoms, but the severity of the problem depends on the individual dog. Some dogs within the same breed may have a longer or shorter muzzle, but generally, the shorter a dog's snout, the more likely they will develop this syndrome. Common symptoms include:

  • Breathing through an open mouth
  • Wheezing
  • Noises and grunts when breathing normally
  • Lifting head to breathe better
  • Gagging
  • Food regurgitation
  • Snoring/sleep apnea
  • General breathing difficulty (dyspnea)
  • Inability to exercise well

Not all individual dogs which are on this list will develop all of these symptoms. However, they will be much more likely than other dog breeds to develop these conditions[2]. To see some of the breeds which are included on this list of short muzzled dogs, keep reading.

1. English Bulldog

One of the most iconic English dog breeds, the English Bulldog is known for being loving, loyal and full of character. They can also be quite stubborn and are known for moving at their own pace. Obesity is a particular health risk and they will need to proper care to ensure they get sufficient exercise.

2. Boston Terrier

One of the cutest dog breeds on this list, Boston Terriers are well known for their bat ears and very friendly disposition. They are very friendly, but, like their ancestor the English Bulldog, they can be quite stubborn. Unlike English Bulldogs, they are a little more agile, although they still can suffer if exercise is too demanding.

3. French Bulldog

With a similar compact appearance to the Boston Terrier, the French Bulldog is a brachycephalic breed which seems to be becoming ever more popular. They were bred from dogs known for their strength and agility, but the French Bulldog's respiratory issues means more care needs to be taken. Although they have a short smooth coat, they can become prone to overheating so are not recommended for very warm climates.

4. Pekingese

A longer haired dog than the previous brachycephalic dogs on this list, the Pekingese is known for its adorable little face and prim appearance. However, they are so associated with shortened muzzles that their name has been lent to Persian cats. Persian cats with the ultra-typing of a shortened muzzle are known as ‘Peke-face Persian’ cats.

5. Pug

Anyone who has ever spent time with a Pug will know just how full of life they are. They love to run around and spend time with their human pals. Unfortunately, they will need a little more care than other dog breeds and should not be allowed to exercise to the point of exhaustion.

6. Lhasa Apso

Another longhair brachycephalic breed, the Lhasa Apso needs lots of care and attention to look after their luscious coat. They are not as prone to respiratory problems as some of the dogs on this list, but their breathing should be taken into consideration when we are monitoring their overall health.

7. Shar Pei

Another dog breed which is not as short muzzled as some, the Shar Pei is considered a brachycephalic breed and has a body structure similar to many bulldogs. They also have other specific health problems related to their very wrinkly coat. Shar Pei fever is a condition which owners need to be careful of.

8. Shih Tzu

One of the smallest brachycephalic dogs, the Shih Tzu is loyal and wonderful company to its family. They can, however, be a little territorial when it comes to other dogs and people. Special care is needed to look afer their coat and they are very common dog show participants.

9. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

This dog can come in a range of different colors, but usually have a black and white coat with tan markings. They are very playful dogs and are particularly good for indoor living. As exercise is problematic with brachycephalic dogs, dogs like the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel often go well with owners who are not as active (although they will still need exercise).

10. Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Staffies are a pit bull type breed who get given a bad reputation by some. However, with proper socialization and continued care, they can be one of the most loyal, loving and friendly dogs you will come across. Although brachycephalic, they can tolerate more exercise than some dogs on this list.

11. Boxer

Boxer dogs have some of the biggest personalities in the canine kingdom. Although they are energetic, they are also patient and loving dogs with great intelligence. Their muzzles are not as short as some dogs, but they can still be prone to problems such as stenotic nares, so care needs to be taken when exercising.

Caring for brachycephalic dogs

Dogs which are more prone to brachycephalic syndrome can suffer from a variety of health problems. The extent of these problems will depend on the individual dog and how acute their problems are. Some will breathe easily, others will be prone to coughing, nausea, regurgitation, noisy breathing and even episodes of collapse and exhaustion. Generally, all of them show little tolerance to heavy exercise and can be prone to heart related health problems.

Here are some tips to help you when caring for your brachycephalic dog and to help best prevent health problems:

  • Heat: overheating in brachycephalic dogs is particular dangerous. Dogs do not sweat, so they pant to regulate their heat. A shortened muzzle, blocked nasal passages or compromised trachea means that these dog breeds cannot pant as well. This means a rise in temperature can cause significant dangers to their health such as heat stroke, exacerbated by dehydration.
  • Exercise: when a dog exercises, they need more oxygen to compensate. If a brachycephalic dog is in need of more oxygen, they are not always able to intake the air required and can pass out. We need to be careful not to get these dogs too over-excited or push them past their limits.
  • Feeding: as brachycephalic dogs have restrictions in their mouth and throat size, it is not only air which has difficulty in passing through. Eating can be difficult and many of these dogs have problems swallowing. This can lead to choking and is dangerous, especially if a dog eats too quickly. Vomiting and retching is also common in these breeds. If the problem is acute, they may need to be fed in small portions.
  • Obesity: as brachycephalic dogs cannot always exercise as much as they should, it means they can become overweight easily. Their body structure is also often predisposed to larger frames. This can lead to mobility issues and result in problems such as hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. The strain obesity puts on the heart and other vital organs is also a worrying aspect of their care.

Brachycephalic dogs will also need to have extra care given when travelling. Also, during anaesthesia and other medical applications, they will need extra care. This is something which should be well-considered by any veterinary health professional.

As selective breeding has resulting in brachycephalic syndrome, many veterinary health professionals are calling for the cessation of breeding these characteristics into breeds. A 2015 Royal Veterinary College report specifically calls for the perception that snort muzzles are attractive to be “avoided by owners, breeders and pets alike to prevent undertreatment of individuals and the perpetuation of this serious disorder to future generations of dogs[3]”.

If you want to read similar articles to Brachycephalic Dog Breeds List - Characteristics and Care, we recommend you visit our What you need to know category.