Brachiocephalic Airway Disease - What is it?

It's got a long name and it sounds important, but what exactly is brachiocephalic airway disease and how will it affect your dog or cat? Felcana explains all.

 Brachiocephalic dogs still love to go for a good walk - but they have limitations and will pant more!

Brachiocephalic dogs still love to go for a good walk - but they have limitations and will pant more!

The term 'brachiocephalic' simply means 'shortened head', giving the characteristic short nose of affected animals. Brachiocephalic dog breeds include the Boxer, Bulldog, Lhasa Apso, Shih Tzu and Pug, amongst others, while brachiocephalic cats include the Persian and Burmese breeds.

The shape of the skull bones of these dogs and cats has slightly altered the normal anatomy of the head, resulting in the ‘shortened head’.This can lead to the development of brachiocephalic airway disease caused by a particular set of abnormalities. Affected animals may have one, or all, of these health problems.


What are these health problems?

  • Narrow Nostrils:
    • The first abnormality, and most easy to detect, is narrowing of the nostrils. Narrow nostrils, otherwise known as stenotic nares, lead to a reduction in airflow as the animal breathes and they often appear as small slits rather than wide round openings at the nose.
  • Elongated Soft Palate :
    • The second health issue is an elongated soft palate, resulting in an obstruction to the entrance of the trachea, or windpipe, at the back of the throat.
  • Hypoplastic Trachea:
    • This means that the diameter of the windpipe is reduced, further restricting airflow.
  • Small Sacs in the Voice Box
    • Finally, there may also be everted laryngeal saccules: these are small sacs just inside the larynx, or voice box, that bulge into the airway adding to the resistance in the upper airways of affected animals.

How does this affect your pet?

Although common, not all brachycephalic breeds are guaranteed to get these health problems. But it's always good to be prepared as an owner in case your pet does start showing any of the symptoms.

Dogs and cats with brachiocephalic airway disease will find it difficult to breathe normally and dogs will often pant heavily even after very light activity. When relaxed or asleep, they will usually snore!

Exercise might be difficult for them too. They may tire easily or collapse after strenuous activity. Other symptoms of brachycephalic airway disease include coughing, gagging, retching and sometimes vomiting. The severity of symptoms is often related to the severity of the abnormalities, but may also be considerably worse in hot and humid weather or in animals who are overweight.


So, what can you do to help?

If you think your dog or cat might suffer from brachycephalic airway disease, seek advice from your vet on the most suitable management or treatment options, and what the prognosis is likely to be for your pet. The best thing for you and your pet is to know their limitations - your bulldog probably won't be able to run a marathon with you! It's also important to recognise when the symptoms are worsening, which they often do with age, as early treatment usually results in a better prognosis.


Managing your routine

Mild or intermittent symptoms may be eased by a few simple changes in routine. With dogs, avoid heavy and strenuous exercise, especially in warm or humid weather. Try to keep your dog cool and if possible, stay away from stressful or extremely exciting events! Using a harness, rather than a collar and lead, will reduce any further pressure on your dog's windpipe, and try to keep your dog's weight under control.

Cats generally lead a more sedate lifestyle – we all know how much they like to sleep! - so spotting their symptoms can be more difficult and as a result, we may underestimate how severely they are affected. Just like dogs, it is important to avoid stressful situations, excessive heat or humidity and keep their weight under control to help manage the condition.


Medical Treatment

Some animals, particularly dogs, may have more significant symptoms and require medical treatment - this will often involve the use of anti-inflammatory medication prescribed by your vet, along with oxygen therapy if needed.

In severely affected dogs, your vet may recommend surgical correction, but as with any surgical procedure, there are pros and cons to consider so it is important that you and your vet discuss these thoroughly. At the end of the day, you both want what's best for your pet, both long-term and short-term.

 These health issues in dogs are well know, but they also affect some cat breeds too.

These health issues in dogs are well know, but they also affect some cat breeds too.

Brachiocephalic airway disease is unfortunately a lifelong condition, but if managed and treated correctly your dog or cat can lead a happy and healthy life.