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Smushed Faced Dogs

Sometimes described as having a face only a mother could love, English bulldogs, are lovable, tenacious, stubborn, affectionate, and loyal dogs. If you love bulldogs, most likely, you also love that sweet, smushed in face. But have you ever noticed how hard the poor thing works just to breathe? Or maybe you’ve been suddenly awakened by his heavy snoring, and surely you’ve felt horrible for him on hot days because he just can’t cool down. That sweet face, selectively bred for, results in numerous health problems.

Brachycephalic Dogs
The official term for the smushed in face, or short snout, is brachycephalic. It is a trait that has been bred into several types of dogs including boxers, pugs, Boston terriers, Pekingese, shih tzus, some mastiffs, and French and English bulldogs. Bulldogs are the classic example of brachycephalic dogs. They were bred originally for traits such as strength and tenacity for the purpose of fighting and bullbaiting. Over time, breeders also selected for the unique appearance of bulldogs, including his short and stocky stature, short legs with turned out elbows, and of course, the smushed in face. The gene that creates this appearance in bulldogs and some other breeds is similar to the gene that causes dwarfism in humans. While selecting for appearance, breeders have created abnormal dogs with health issues to go with their unusual looks.

Respiratory Problems
The most obvious health concern for brachycephalic dogs is the struggle to breathe. In fact, they have what is called brachycephalic respiratory syndrome. Several aspects characterize the syndrome. Individual dogs may have one or more of these: Narrow nostrils and windpipes restrict air flow. The soft palate is too large to fit in the shortened snout. This means it dangles down into the throat, which results in snorting and snoring, although not usually difficulty breathing. After prolonged breathing difficulties, the ventricles inside a brachycephalic dog’s larynx can turn inside out, requiring surgery to fix. Even just having one of these issues can be very serious.

Heat Intolerance
Bulldogs and other like-snouted dogs do not tolerate heat very well. The respiratory problems described above result in inefficient panting. Dogs pant in order to cool themselves in the heat. Where humans sweat, dogs pant. If they can’t pant the right way, they can’t cool themselves down properly. Brachycephalics should not be allowed to stay out very long in hot conditions. They should have plenty of water in the summer and can be cooled with a wet cloth on the belly.

Eye Sockets
Because the nasal bones are compacted to such an extent, brachycephalic dogs’ eyes tend to sit improperly and bulge out of their sockets. Again, while some may consider this a cute trait, it can cause serious problems. Blows to the head or even being strained pulling against a leash can cause an eye to pop out of the socket. For this reason, these dogs should always be in a harness rather than a leash.

Skin Infections
Because the upper jaw of a smushed-in dog is so unnaturally compressed, the dog’s skin scrunches up into numerous folds. These wrinkles can harbor grime and bacteria and need to be cleaned out on a regular basis. Dirt and oil that is allowed to build up in the wrinkles can cause irritating and uncomfortable infections. If not treated early, an infection like this may require antibiotics to heal.

Giving Birth
The large cranial cavity associated with the dwarfism gene gives brachycephalic dogs adorably large heads. Yet again, this desirable physical trait results in a problem. In some breeds, this is so extreme, that mothers cannot give birth naturally and require Cesarean sections. Both French and English bulldogs are among those breeds that must have C-sections to have puppies.

Responsible Breeding
While some people believe that creating brachycephalic dogs is completely wrong and should not be done, others think that there is a responsible way to do it. For example, a responsible bulldog breeder would not breed a dog that exhibits the more serious health problems, like a restricted airway or soft palate that is severe enough to warrant corrective surgery. Some breeders have gotten together in recent years to create new breeds that retain the desired look of a brachycephalic dog while eliminating some of the health problems. These breeds, such as the Olde English bulldogge, are not perfectly healthy, but are more so than their predecessors.

If you are considering getting a brachycephalic dog, you need to be informed of the health issues that he is likely to suffer from. You should be prepared to treat and deal with a dog that has many needs.