Breathing difficulties in flat-faced dog breeds – an introduction to BOAS

Posted by MyDogDoc on

BOAS stands for Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome and refers to the difficulty breathing that short-nosed dogs experience as a result of shape of their heads and airways.

  • BOAS stands for Brachycepahic Obstructive Airway Syndrome.

  • It is a condition affecting breeds of dogs that have short noses and flat faces.

  • BOAS causing difficulties in breathing as a result of narrowed airways

  • Common symptoms of BOAS include noisy breathing, snoring, struggling to exercise and collpase.

  • Surgery can be performed to improve your dog’s ability to breathe.

What is BOAS?

Dogs with short noses and flat faces such as English and French Bulldogs, Pugs and Shih-Tzus, are termed ‘Brachycephalic’ and it is these dogs that suffer from BOAS.

Their shortened noses lead to several malformations of their airways, which in turn, result in difficulty breathing.

What are these malformations?

These brachycephalic breeds have narrow nostrils and shortened nasal cavities as a result of their flat faces and this means that they have less airflow when they breathe compared with other breeds.

Their soft palate at the back of their throat is too long for their shorter skulls meaning that there is excessive tissue at the back of their throats. This obstructs their airways further, resulting in snoring or snorting noises when they breathe. In worst-case scenarios, this excess tissue can cause complete obstruction of the airway, leading to suffocation.

How does BOAS affect my dog?

All brachycephalic dogs are affected by BOAS to some extent. At best, some dogs can live relatively normal lives where noisy breathing and snoring are the main signs, but at worst, dogs can collapse after minimal exertion or exercise. Dogs suffering from BOAS can also be prone to gagging whilst eating and drinking, as well as regurgitation and vomiting. Dogs with BOAS are much more prone to heat stroke in the summer.

Brachycephalic dogs are often prone to respiratory infections. They can also have problems sleeping properly. As they fall asleep, all the tissues in their soft palate relax which obstructs their airways even more than when they are awake. As a result, they start to choke which wakes them up. This vicious cycle of falling into sleep to then be woken up continues and leads to chronic sleep deprivation.

How is BOAS diagnosed?

Diagnosis of BOAS is usually based on the clinical signs that the dog is showing. Your vet will give your dog a full physical examination and assess your dog’s conformation, as well as the sound of his breathing.

A general anaesthetic is needed to fully assess your dog’s soft palate. Chest x-rays may also be taken if your vet suspects a respiratory infection secondary to BOAS. If your dog requires surgery, advanced imaging such as CT may be required to assess the structures within your dog’s skull.

Can BOAS be treated?

Treatment of BOAS is focused on opening up the airways and the most effective way to do this is surgery.

The nostrils of a brachycephalic dog can be surgically widened and part of the soft palate at the back of the throat can be surgically removed. This results in air flowing more easily into the lungs and therefore much easier breathing for the dog. This can lead to a far better quality of life.

Not all dogs will require surgery and for these dogs, it is a case of managing their condition by preventing over-exercising, ensuring they are kept as cool as possible, and, importantly, ensuring your dog is not overweight.

Some dogs have medical treatments to help their digestive or heat exposure, alongside medical treatments to help their digestive issues.

Cost of treatment

Surgery to allow these dogs to breathe better can be expensive, often more expensive than the cost of a puppy, so ensure that you have considered this factor when buying a flat-faced breed of dog!

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