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Airway Disease

Find out about airway disease in your pet

The group of breeds with short faces are technically known as Brachycephalic Breeds in veterinary speak. As clients they are Pugs, French Bulldogs, British Bulldogs, Cavaliers and Shih Tzus.

These dogs can suffer from breathing disorders that greatly reduce their quality of life. Sadly, us humans have come to find it normal and even endearing that these dogs make noises when breathing. Unfortunately for these loveable pets this noise is an indication these dogs are working very hard to suck air past soft tissue obstructions in their airways. Their breathing is under constant strain. Imagine when you have felt breathing congestion because of a chest infection. Now imagine living with this feeling. It is for this reason the team at Ark Vet want to educate owners as to when their pet's breathing is a problem and what steps can be taken to correct these problems.

What is BOAS (Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome)?

BOAS is a combination of upper airway problems seen in dogs that are bred to have short noses and high domed foreheads (e.g. Pugs, French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs). This breeding causes an excess of soft tissues in the upper airways that obstructs airflow and forces the animal to rely on open mouth breathing.

What are the structures affected?

The opening of the nostrils may be narrow or completely closed. The soft palate (at the back of the mouth) may be overlong and get dragged into the larynx (voice box) when the dog breathes in. Sometimes the tonsils are very large and inflamed and protrude into the back of the mouth.

All these breeds have noisy breathing - what are the symptoms?

Dogs affected with BOAS may have one or all these structures affected, and this causes obstruction to airflow through the upper airway. This means that the dog may snore very loudly when asleep, or even snore when awake and at rest. When they exercise, they must pant continuously and have difficulty exercising when the weather is warm. They often pant for a long time after exercise has finished as they cannot easily cool down or cope with their oxygen requirements. Some dogs collapse when they exercise or get excited and may become so hypoxic (seen when the tongue turns a blue/purple colour) that they lose consciousness or even die. As dogs must pant to lose heat, these dogs are also more prone to heat stroke which can also cause loss of consciousness or death.

What can I as an owner do to help?

  • Maintain your dog at a healthy weight
  • Limiting stressful situations and exercise in hot or humid weather
  • Find alternatives to a neck collar, such as a harness

When do I need to seek the Vet's help?

If your dog gets an obvious increase in breathing noise doing simple activity like the following, then you need to talk to your vet about getting an assessment for corrective airway surgery: 

  • A short 5-minute walk
  • A quick run around the garden
  • Running up the stairs
  • Excitement with visitors
  • A short car trip
  • A short play with another dog

What surgery is recommended?

We usually recommend anaesthesia to evaluate the back of the throat first. We will also look at the larynx to see if there is any evidence of laryngeal collapse. We then do surgery to widen the nostrils and to shorten the soft palate to an anatomically correct position. Sometimes we remove the tonsils. The evaluation and the correction can all be carried out at the same time under the same anaesthetic.

What is the recovery time?

Dogs usually recover very quickly from this surgery and are discharged the same day with some pain relief, anti-inflammatory medication, and antibiotics. They should be rested for 7 days post-operatively but thereafter can be treated normally.

Are there any other problems that are associated with BOAS?

Many dogs affected with BOAS will have difficulties eating or swallowing as they struggle to breathe while eating or drinking. However about 30% of these dogs also tend to regurgitate saliva or food. Most of the dogs will improve after surgery, but often they will require antacid medication.

If you think your dog would benefit from airway surgery, speak to one of our vets today who can assess the history and clinical signs and provide you with advice.

Respiratory Function Grading Scheme (otherwise known as - BOAS: Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome)

Ark Vetcare can now offer BOAS grading along with surgical correction.

Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome, otherwise known as BOAS, is a condition affecting the respiratory function of several breeds, including Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and Pugs.  Such breeds have characteristically noisy, heavy breathing and can excessively pant - this should not be viewed as normal, but a conformity defect which needs assessment and where required surgical intervention to improve your dog’s quality of life.  

These dogs have been bred over generations to have extremely flat, wide-shaped heads. The soft tissue in their nose and throat can be excessive in some of these dogs making it difficult for them to breathe.  Often compared to breathing though a straw at rest, BOAS presents a welfare issue for your dog, and therefore we recommend your dog is assessed.  Nose and/or throat surgery (rhinoplasty, staphylectomy) may be recommended to improve your dog’s breathing.  

The breeding of any dog should not be carried out without advice, this is even more important where the breed or part of a breed mix is known to have inherited conditions such as hip dysplasia or in this case BOAS.  Screening is vital to help prevent the spread and worsening of the condition/s to the next generation of pups.

However, the problem is already endemic in the brachycephalic dogs we see. While prevention is better than cure, we recommend all flat nosed dogs should be assessed to see if we can improve their health and wellbeing.

Our vet Nick Stokes is an approved regional assessor for the Kennel Club (UK) and University of Cambridge Respiratory Function Grading Scheme.

To make an appointment with Nick for a respiratory assessment of your dog please phone 012802041.


Surgery for Boston Terrier, Harry

"Our 6-month-old Boston Terrier, Harry, recently underwent surgery to improve his breathing, which was noticeably loud and laboured. Vet Paul McCarthy widened his nostrils and carried out a resection of his soft palate. The surgery went very smoothly, and Harry’s recovery was swift and seamless. Within a couple of days, he was his playful puppy self again. The surgery was 100% successful. Harry’s breathing is normal now, every breath is no longer an effort for him. We were acutely aware of the distress his compromised breathing must have caused him and the fact that surgery was able to remedy this and consequently improve his quality of life is something for which we are all – Harry especially – profoundly grateful."

Geraldine, Harry’s owner.

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