12/05/2012 01:38 pm ET Updated Feb 04, 2013

Caring for a Dog With a 'Pushed-In' Face

A brachycephalic breed is a dog or cat with a pushed-in face. They include popular breeds like the pug, Boston terrier, boxer, bulldog, Pekingese and Shi Tzu. Himalayans and Persians are examples of brachycephalic cat breeds.

"Brachy" is a Greek word meaning short, and "cephalic" means head. These animals are short-headed, short-muzzled breeds. They are intentionally bred to look this way, with a normal lower jaw but a compressed upper jaw. Due to this altered facial construction, all these pets have what is called brachycephalic respiratory syndrome to varying degrees.

Brachycephalic Respiratory Syndrome

The syndrome can start at a brachy pet's nostrils, which are often so narrow it can be hard for the animal to move air in through them.

Then there is an elongated soft palate, which involves a big flap of skin at the back of the throat that causes a lot of the characteristic snorting and other respiratory sounds often heard in brachy breeds.

Often the windpipe in these pets is very narrow in places, which leads to a condition called tracheal stenosis, or narrowing of the trachea. This problem can predispose the animal to tracheal collapse, as well as problems with anesthesia.

Because of the upper airway challenges of brachy dogs, they often don't pant efficiently. Of course, panting is how dogs cool down. This makes brachys prime candidates for heat stroke, and it's important to take precautions if your pet has to travel by plane or even by car.

You should familiarize yourself with the normal sounds your brachy pet makes, because normal for her isn't the same as it is for non-brachycephalic dogs and cats. If you notice an increase, amplification or some other change in your pet's respiratory sounds, it's important to take note of it.

Brachycephalic respiratory syndrome can be a progressive condition, so your pet can over time develop problems with the trachea or larynx. It's important to get such issues addressed as soon as they appear rather than waiting until a pet develops significant respiratory distress.

The Eyes

Brachycephalic pets also have their share of eye problems. The way their heads are constructed means their eyes often don't seat properly. The eye sockets are shallow, which makes the eyes more pronounced, giving these breeds a bulgy-eyed appearance.

If a brachy pet gets a blow to the back of the head or any kind of head trauma, it can dislodge an eye. These breeds are at high risk of having an eye pop out of the socket. Obviously if this happens, you need to call your vet or an emergency clinic right away because immediate surgery will be required. Harnesses, rather than collars for walking brachy breeds, are a very good idea to eliminate the risk of increasing cerebral pressure or pressure in the eyes.

Another common problem with the eyes, also due to shallow sockets, is the eyelids don't always close completely. This can result in corneal irritation and damage. The eyelids can dry out, as can the cornea, and surgery is sometimes needed to correct the problem in severe cases. If you notice your pet's eyes are drying out, you can provide additional lubrication with a saline eye gel to help prevent irritation, corneal ulcers, and the need for surgery.

It's also very common for brachy breeds to have constant watering of the eyes or wetness around the eyes. This can be the result of the eyelids not closing effectively. It can also be caused by either the upper or lower lid turning inward. Entropion, or curling in of the eyelids, can cause eyelashes to rub against the cornea, creating tremendous, chronic irritation. This situation typically causes pets to squint. Surgical correction is often necessary.

The Mouth

A problem many brachycephalic breeds face is teeth crowding. Brachy dogs have 42 teeth like every other breed of dog, but because of the pushed in nature of the upper jaw, those teeth get crammed into a small area. Brachys can end up with teeth at a lot of odd angles as well as overlapping teeth. As you can imagine, this can result in dental and gum problems, often when these pets are very young.

If you have a flat-faced pet, it's important to start home dental care as early as possible. Remember, brachycephalic dogs and cats are often very high-risk anesthesia patients, so it's a much better idea to keep your pet's mouth clean and disinfected at home so you can avoid dental procedures requiring anesthesia.

Also remember that raw diets are a great way to keep your pet's mouth healthy. Feeding living, enzyme-rich foods helps reduce the amount of plaque and tartar that accumulates on the teeth and gums.

Dr. Karen Becker is a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian. You can visit her site at:

Her goal is to help you create wellness in order to prevent illness in the lives of your pets. This proactive approach seeks to save you and your pet from unnecessary stress and suffering by identifying and removing health obstacles even before disease occurs. Unfortunately, most veterinarians in the United States are trained to be reactive. They wait for symptoms to occur, and often treat those symptoms without addressing the root cause.

By reading Dr. Becker's information, you'll learn how to make impactful, consistent lifestyle choices to improve your pet's quality of life.

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