What Is Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome in Dogs?

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September 12, 2022 / Dog Health / By: Melanie Evans0 Comments

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DVM Chyrle Bonk

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As we all love our fur kids and want to do everything we can to make sure that they stay as happy and healthy for as long as possible.

Some diseases and conditions that commonly affect dogs are not easily preventable though, and there are some you can really do nothing about at all. In these cases you're best off, to learn about them, understand them and be prepared should they one day affect your pooch. 

One such condition is the Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome or BOAS.

What Is Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome?

Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome is a condition that affects short nosed dog breeds that can lead to respiratory distress. The degree of distress can vary, from mild to life threatening.

What Causes Brachycephalic Syndrome and Are Certain Breeds More At Risk?

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome in Dogs

Left: Pug, Center: French Bulldog, Right: Boxer

BOAS primarily affects what are known as  “brachycephalic” breeds.

The word brachycephalic means 'short-headed' and so, as you might have guessed it actually affects some of the most popular of today's breeds including the English Bulldog, Boxers, the French Bulldog, the Pug, Boston Terriers, Chow Chows, Shih Tzus, Pekingese, Lhasa Apsos and any other pup that has a short nose and flat face.

The syndrome occurs as a result of the makeup of these dogs' facial anatomy. It can include one or more of the following issues:

Elongated Soft Palate 

The soft palate is the fleshy part of the roof of the mouth that extends past the bony part. In dogs with BOAS it can be unusually long and hang too far down into the back of the throat

This can obscure the airway so that it is harder to draw deep breaths of air into the lungs.

Stenotic Nares

This is a term given to nostrils that are very narrow and tend to collapse inwards as a dog breathes, once again restricting airflow and making it harder for a pup to breathe.

Everted Laryngeal Saccules

Laryngeal saccules are pouches of tissue located just inside the larynx. They become sucked into the larynx when a dog is having difficulty breathing from issues such as stenotic nares and an elongated soft palate. This just further restricts proper breathing.

Laryngeal Collapse

"Laryngeal collapse occurs when repeated stress on the larynx, or voice box, causes the structural ccartilage to collapse, impeding airflow through the larynx. "

Dr. Chyrle Bonk, DVM

Hypoplastic Trachea

Some dogs with BOAS also have a smaller than normal diameter to their windpipe to further exacerbate their breathing issues.

In a nutshell, BOAS means that your pup will have a hard time catching his breath, sometimes in what you might think are simple, safe situations.

Being aware of the tendency of these flat faced cuties to suffer from the problem will help you make sure that you are doing all the right things to help keep them healthy and breathing as deeply as possible.

How Can I Tell If My Dog Has Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome?

Why do dogs snore?

There are some common, easy to spot signs that your pup may have breathing problems associated with BOAS. Affected dogs are usually noisy, heavy breathers and often prefer to sleep on their backs as they discover that by doing so the soft palate tissue is moved away from the larynx.

Other signs include exercise intolerance - your dog becomes 'winded' very quickly when walking or playing, heat intolerance, snorting or snorting, and cyanosis, which is a bluish tinge to the gums that is caused by a lack of oxygen.

Obesity in a dog will only worsen the symptoms.

How Is Brachycephalic Obstructive Syndrome Diagnosed?

Stenotic nares are easy to diagnose as they are very visible.

An elongated soft palate and/or everted laryngeal saccules can really only be diagnosed by an oral exam when a pup is under anesthesia. This will also give your vet a better idea of just how seriously affected your dog is and therefore the best way to proceed.

Treatment Options for Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome

As you may be dealing with one or more different issues, the treatment recommended for your dog will vary from that of anyone else's.

For an elongated soft palate, a surgery called a staphylectomy is performed to remove the excess length. In this procedure, while under anesthesia the palate is stretched and the excess skin is then removed using either a scalpel or a CO2 laser.

If your dog's laryngeal saccules are everted they may be resected during the same procedure or left alone as the removal of the excess skin of the soft palate may then allow them behave more normally. 

Here's a before and after of having the soft palate removed on a bulldog, according to COR Veterinary Surgery Services, the improvement in the ability of the dog to breathe is impressive by having this procedure. 

It is also possible for a brachycephalic pup to undergo nose surgery to correct their stenotic nares. This will remove a small piece of tissue from each nostril to allow for more air. Whether this is necessary, will depend on the severity and what other conditions are present. 

Here's a before and after stenotic nares correction in a bulldog done by COR Veterinary Surgery. 

For dogs that aren’t good candidates for surgery, conservative treatments may be tried. These tend to work better for the short-term rather than help a dog breath better for their lifetime. 

Conservative treatments for BOAS include limiting the amount of exercise, keeping them out of hot temperatures, and giving anti-inflammatories and oxygen therapy. Maintaining a healthy weight is another must as being overweight will make any breathing problems worse.

Recovery and Aftercare

If your dog undergoes any form of surgery they will need to remain in the veterinary clinic for at least twenty four hours under observation.

Coughing after surgery is usually considered normal, but your vet will want to ensure that the throat does not swell or start to bleed.

After surgery many pet parents find that their pup's breathing improves significantly, and their activity levels increase as a result.

Any surgery for brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome is most successful for younger dogs. It may still be an option for an older pup if your vet feels that the prognosis is good and that their quality of life can be improved. 

Otherwise, making use of more conservative measures may be the best treatment plan. 

WRITTEN BY

Melanie Evans

Melanie Evans is a writer and animal advocate based in Scranton, PA, who, enjoys sharing her lifelong knowledge about dogs. When not working, Melanie enjoys playing a wide variety of sports, traveling and hanging out with her energetic boxer dog Bruce.

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