What Are Brachycephalic Dogs?

Brachycephalic dogs refer to short-headed breeds. They have their issues due to the numerous health problems that they are prone to.

May 21, 2023By Heather Doll
what are brachycephalic dogs

It’s easy to see that some dogs have much shorter faces than others. Did you know that there’s a term for that? Brachycephalic dogs have taken the hearts, and the wallets, of many dog owners; this from their many needed trips to the vet. To learn more about brachycephalic dogs, keep reading!

What are Brachycephalic Dogs?

dark brachycephalic dog

Brachycephalic is a big word, but don’t fret because its meaning is simple. The word brachycephalic refers to having a broad and short skull. So, a brachycephalic dog is one with a very short skull and a flat face. This head shape will also affect their respiratory system. Most dogs have large noses with a properly sized airway establishing a healthy breathing pattern. Due to the small amount of space in a brachycephalic dog breed’s head, these dogs have smaller airways along with very narrow nostrils.

Why A Squished Face?

mastiff licking hand

Let’s get some background. Why would a dog breed be bred to have such squished faces? Common reasons for this breeding include aesthetic or cultural purposes, a genetic mutation, or because of popularity. For most breeds, the short nose is caused by a genetic mutation. It is hard to deny that these short-nosed dogs are super cute. Fun fact: Did you know that Pugs have been around for thousands of years? They were first bred in 400 B.C. in China.

What Dog Breeds Are Brachycephalic?

chow chow outside

Brachycephalic breeds have risen in popularity since their creation, and several have made it into the TOP 10 lists of most popular dogs. Not every brachycephalic dog looks the same. Some have wrinkly faces and others have mini-sized normal nose structures.

Here are some common brachycephalic dogs and their origin dates:

  • Pugs (400 B.C.)
  • Bulldogs (5th century)
  • Boxers (19th century)
  • Shih Tzus (1000 B.C.)
  • Chihuahuas (19th century)
  • Boston Terriers (19th century)
  • Pekingese (206 B.C.)
  • Bullmastiffs (19th century)
  • Cane Corso (1137 A.D.)
  • Chow Chows (206 B.C.)

Any dog that you can think of that has a very short nose is likely to be brachycephalic, whether those dogs are big or small. The only size that matters here is the size of the dog’s head. The two breeds that have repeatedly been one of the most popular dog breeds are bulldogs and French bulldogs. It’s the same traits that make them so popular. Wrinkly faces, tall ears, and squished faces have stolen the hearts of many all over the world.

Health Issues

boston terrier vet

The most prevalent health problem that brachycephalic dogs have is their inability to breathe. With their small airways and nostrils, these dogs have a harder time getting air into their lungs. This struggle can be so severe that they have a specific syndrome named after them.

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)

There are different possible causes for this syndrome, but all of them stem from being a brachycephalic dog. There’s the possibility for the soft palate in a dog to become elongated or the larynx to collapse. Both cause the airway of a brachycephalic dog to get blocked off, and the dog can’t breathe correctly.

Common signs of BOAS are excessive panting, exercise intolerance, and frequent gagging. BOAS is one of the most severe complications that these dogs can suffer from. Luckily, there are ways to manage the problem if your dog has BOAS.

Heat/Exercise Intolerance

You can’t exercise or be out in the sun very well if you can’t breathe. Brachycephalic dogs have both exercise and heat intolerance, as it’s just too much for these faces to handle, especially if an elongated palate blocks even more oxygen from getting to the lungs.

bulldogs walking

Too Little Space, Too Many Teeth: Teeth Crowding

With a smaller head and nose, there’s also less room for all the teeth that these dogs have. This can cause their teeth to crowd and can cause pain and gum/tooth infections. Even with regular brushing, dental surgery can be necessary if a brachycephalic dog’s mouth develops too many dental problems, a common health issue in all dogs.

Too Many Wrinkles = Skin Irritation

Several brachycephalic breeds have wrinkly skin, such as pugs and boxers. The wrinkles can trap sweat, dirt, and other debris that can cause irritation or even infections. Keeping a wrinkly brachycephalic breed clean to avoid skin issues is so important for keeping them out of the vet’s office.

Abnormal Spine Development

What? Brachycephalic dogs only have affected heads, right? Wrong. While another trait that these dogs have is their curly tails, which can contribute to more health issues. How can a curly tail cause a problem? Tails are an extension of the spine in a dog, and spines are not meant to be curly. A curly spine can lead to weakness in different areas, which leads to abnormal development over time. Conditions like scoliosis aren’t limited to humans. It can happen to the most endearing dogs.

Are Brachycephalic Dogs Healthy?

Many brachycephalic dogs live to have long, happy, and fulfilling lives. They can experience so much love and care from their owner and give that love back. However, with the number of health issues that dogs can have, they are generally considered a risk. If you are thinking about getting a brachycephalic dog, be aware that you might have to spend a lot of money over time at the vet.

Heather Doll
By Heather Doll

Heather is an animal lover who has grown up around animals all her life. Her favorite dog breed is a pug, but she currently has a mutt, Dakota. Her heart extends to all animals, no matter if they are fluffy or scaley. She may love a rambunctious dog or cat, but she will also be quick to tell you about the differences between a turtle and a tortoise.