Breathing problems in French Bulldogs

French bulldogs are simply one of the cutest breeds of dogs.  Those big ears and squashed noses make them irresistible!  Unfortunately though, that cute little squashed nose can cause some serious health issues.

Frenchies are known as being brachycephalic – or short-headed, causing compression of the nasal passages and distortion of the pharyngeal tissue.  This can result in an increase in airway resistance – not to mention they are not very good bed companions as they can sometimes snore as loud as a grown man!

One potential health problem bulldog owners should be aware of is Brachycephalic Upper Airway Syndrome.  The main anatomic components of this syndrome are:  stenotic nares, elongated soft palate, everted laryngeal saccules and laryngeal collapse. Wondering what all that means? Keep reading!

Elongated soft palate is a condition where the soft palate is too long so that the tip of it protrudes into the airway and interferes with movement of air into the lungs.  Stenotic nares are malformed nostrils that are narrow or are collapsed inward during inhalation, making it difficult for the dog to breathe through its nose.  Everted laryngeal saccules is a condition in which tissue within the airway, just in front of the vocal cords, is pulled into the trachea and partially obstructs airflow.

Symptoms you might see besides snoring are noisy breathing (especially when inhaling), retching or gagging, exercise intolerance, blue tongue and gums from lack of oxygen, and occasionally collapsing – especially following over-activity, excitement, or excessive heat.

Radiographs and CT scans of the larynx and thoracic cavity may help to determine how severe the issue is.  A light anesthesia may also be required to visualize the soft palate, the laryngeal saccules, and the function of the larynx.  

Soft palate abnormalities should be treated if they cause distress to your pet, become more serious over time, or cause life-threatening obstruction.  There are surgical techniques available for these affected dogs and prognosis is typically good.  A poor prognosis is more common in the case of significant laryngeal collapse.   

The nasal cavity of a dog plays a central role in regulating its body temperature.  If a brachycephalic dog has obstructed nasal cavities, this causes them to be unable to carry released heat away from the body, especially during exercise.  This makes it much harder for them to cool down and much more prone to heat stroke.  Keep a close eye on them and restrict any excessive exercise.  Normal temperature range in a dog is between 37.7 and 38.8 degrees.  If you’re noticing any excessive panting or drooling, take a rectal temperature.  If the temperature is between 38.8 and 40.5 degrees, call your veterinarian immediately.

Upon bringing home a new French bulldog, make sure to get an appointment for a wellness exam with your local veterinarian.  At this time, they will be happy to go over any other potential health risks with you and educate you further.