We love our flat-faced dogs. But many times, we purchase an animal on a whim, without any real research. Here is what you need to know before you make the leap to choose a brachycephalic breed.
What is a brachycephalic dog?
Brachycephalic breeds include French bulldog, pug, Pekingese, English bulldog, Lhasa apso and Shih Tzu. These are great pets; however, they are not the dog to buy if you are looking for a running partner or an outdoor companion. They cannot withstand temperature extremes, and heat and humidity are especially dangerous.
Do not think you will buy one and breed it to recoup your expense. Most of these breeds, but especially pugs, French bulldogs and English bulldogs, will most likely need C-sections to deliver their puppies safely. Due to genetic meddling, the skulls of the puppies are often too large to come down the birth canal.
Don’t buy a puppy off Craigslist or Facebook, as you will have no idea where the animal is coming from. While you may find a “cheap” puppy from an unethical breeder, you will end up paying thousands down the line. These dogs can have a boatload of medical issues.
Almost all brachycephalic breeds to some degree have an elongated soft palate that flops over the opening of the trachea causing breathing issues.
These breeds can also suffer from stenosis of the nostrils, as they are narrower than normal, so much so that the passage of air is obstructed. If the condition is severe, surgery can widen the nostrils in order to allow the dog to breathe more easily. The stenosis is not only limited to the nares but also can involve the sinuses.
Stenosis of the trachea also constitutes an obstacle to breathing, because the trachea has an abnormal narrowing.
All these respiratory anomalies make the passage of air from the outside to the lungs and vice versa more tiring and predispose the dog to many problems. Affected dogs will have increasingly noisy breathing, coughing, retching and episodic fainting and collapse, often brought on by exercise.
Due to their unique physical structure, brachycephalic dogs pant inefficiently, which hinders heat exchanges when the ambient temperature is high. This predisposes them to heat stroke during periods of heat and humidity. They must be kept cool; most require air conditioning.
Due to the compact structure of the skull, the brachycephalic breeds have shallow eye sockets and particularly protruding eyes, a condition that predisposes them to trauma. Often the eyelids also have an abnormal conformation, which can lead to excessive tearing. The tear ducts are set higher and with skull development can clear up or require lifelong maintenance.
Other anomalies consist of entropion — that is, a reversal of the eyelid margin toward the eyeball — that irritates the eye and must be corrected surgically. The opposite defect, ectropion, is represented by a lower eyelid that is too loose, which does not sufficiently protect the ocular conjunctiva, leaving it exposed to the air.
Almost all pugs have a condition called pigmentary keratitis. The condition requires daily drops to prevent blindness with a medication that has to be compounded.
Brachycephalic dogs have the same number of teeth as normal dogs but less space to house them due to the shape of the mouth. Often the teeth do not grow straight and regular and are more prone to tartar and gingivitis. Regular dental appointments are required. Most will have teeth extracted fairly early in life.
The skin folds of the face of the brachycephalic breeds harbor skin debris and maintain a high degree of humidity, making the dogs prone to infections. Face folds should be cleaned daily. Ignore the fold above the nose, affectionately known by some pug owners as the “stinkle,” at your own risk. It takes only a hot minute for it to become an issue.
Where to find a dog
There are conscientious breeders out there. Tracy Meighen-Logan, owner of Northern Light French Bulldogs in Lower Burrell, a preservation breeder, has been involved with these dogs for decades. As a member of the French Bulldog Club of America, she currently serves as a breeder referral contact for the state of Pennsylvania.
“When I first started, nobody knew what these dogs were,” she said in a recent interview. “Almost 20 years I have been breeding; my mentor has been breeding [since] the ’80s and ’90s.”
With the huge popularity of the breed, she is continually disgusted by a lot of what she’s seeing advertised — furry French bulls, blue French bulls.
“Shortie French bulls, there is no such thing,” she says.
Unethical breeders, or even someone who buys one and thinks they can cash out by having a litter, are a huge headache for people such as Meighen-Logan.
“I breed for health; I breed for temperament,” she says.
While breed confirmation is important, it’s not the most important thing. “French bulldogs should be able to breathe,” she says.
All her dogs are tested for genetic recessive disorders before they are bred. Once she has a litter on the ground, she is very picky about who gets the dogs.
“I have a form they fill out. … We have a phone conversation. I have a whole protocol about how to take care of them,” she says. And she keeps in touch with people who own her dogs. She wants to be alerted if any issues crop up
“If we do have a medical issue, I want them to contact me. I as a breeder need to know what’s going on. … I try to keep track of all my dogs.”
She has a strict spay/neuter policy for all the dogs she places in pet homes.
The bottom line, she says, is do your research, contact the breed club for help, and check out the breeder before you buy.
“Buy in haste, regret in leisure” could not be truer words in the world of French bulls.
Everywhere you look these days, you see a French bulldog. Recently the little bat-eared breed toppled the Labrador retriever as the most popular dog in the United States, according to the American Kennel Club. While these little guys are lovely and funny, they also have a host of medical issues that many people are unaware…