Brachycephalic Dogs: Health Guide for Flat-Faced Breeds

Four Minutes
Feb 06, 2024

Who doesn’t love an excitable pug or a surly bulldog? These are just two examples of brachycephalic dogs: pups whose faces have a particular “squished” appearance. This is due to decades of selective breeding, resulting in shortened face bones.1 While their appearance is adorable, flat-faced dog breeds tend to suffer from health conditions as a result of their unique anatomy. Let’s take a closer look at the various types of brachycephalic dogs and what it means for their health.

Brachycephalic Dog Breeds

Looking for a list of brachycephalic dog breeds? The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes 16 brachycephalic dog breeds:2

Brachycephalic Syndrome in Dogs

Many flat-faced dog breeds experience a number of abnormalities in their upper airway system, leading to a condition known as brachycephalic airway syndrome.1 Clinical signs may include:1

Paired with these symptoms, a dog with this syndrome may have one or more of the following abnormalities:1

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Elongated soft palate

The palate is the soft part of the roof of a dog’s mouth. Dogs with an elongated soft palate have a palate that’s too large for their mouth, causing it to extend down their throat. In some cases, this can block the opening to their windpipe, causing difficulties breathing.1

Everted laryngeal saccules

Saccules are small pouches located within the folds of a dog’s larynx, or voice box.3 In brachycephalic dogs, the saccules are sometimes pulled into the airway by the extra effort these dogs exert to breathe. This results in a condition called “everted laryngeal saccules,” which can further obstruct their airway.1,3

Extended nasopharyngeal turbinates

A dog’s nose contains bone ridges that are covered with soft tissue. These ridges, known as nasopharyngeal turbinates, add moisture to inhaled air to prevent a dog’s nose from drying out. However, brachycephalic dogs can have turbinates that are too long for their smushed noses. The ridges extend into the area behind the nose and mouth, blocking the air and causing additional breathing issues.1

Hypoplastic trachea

Brachycephalic dogs may experience a narrowed trachea, known as a hypoplastic trachea. This reduces the amount of air they’re able to inhale and exhale at once, which puts greater stress on their breathing.1

Laryngeal collapse

Sometimes, the additional stress placed on a brachycephalic dog’s larynx can cause the cartilage to collapse. This reduces their ability to open their larynx, inhibiting their ability to bark and breathe.1

Stenotic nares

Many flat-faced dog breeds have abnormally small or narrow nostrils, a condition known as stenotic nares. This restricts airflow through their nose, further exacerbating their breathing difficulties.1

Additional Brachycephalic Dog Problems

A short-faced dog can experience other health issues that are associated with brachycephalic airway syndrome, including:

  • Chronic gastritis: Defined as a persistent vomiting lasting more than 14 days4
  • Bronchial collapse: A collapse of airways leading deeper into the lungs1
  • Gastroesophageal reflux: Also known as acid reflux, in which digestive acids from the stomach back up into the esophagus5

What Is the Life Expectancy of a Brachycephalic Dog?

According to the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, dogs with extreme brachycephalic airway syndrome experience shorter lifespans: an average of 8.6 years versus 12.7 years when compared with non-brachycephalic breeds.6 Obese flat-faced dog breeds are more likely to experience brachycephalic airway syndrome.6

Brachycephalic Dogs: Treatment Options

Even if your pup has brachycephalic airway syndrome, there are still ways to make their lives easier. Your vet may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, or oxygen therapy to help relieve respiratory distress or airway inflammation.1

As noted above, obesity is also a strong comorbidity. The heavier a dog with brachycephalic airway syndrome is, the more pronounced their symptoms can become.1 Managing your pup’s weight is not only a good practice, but it can also make it easier for flat-faced dog breeds to breathe, reducing their risk of overheating.1

The most effective treatment for brachycephalic dog’s symptoms is surgery.1 Many of the airway abnormalities associated with brachycephalic airway syndrome can be surgically corrected, and it’s important to obtain a diagnosis and treatment plan as soon as possible. Depending on your dog’s symptoms, surgery may include soft palate resection, widening the nostrils, or other options advised by your vet.1

Since brachycephalic airway syndrome worsens over time, the earlier in a dog’s life these surgeries take place, the more effective they’re likely to be.1

Consider Pet Insurance for Your Brachycephalic Dog

Brachycephalic dog breeds are capable of leading happy lives, but they’re more likely to experience health issues than your average pup. That’s why it’s so important to get a head start with dog insurance. Buying a policy early in their life can help you save money on vet bills down the line, especially if they begin to develop symptoms of brachycephalic airway syndrome.

For an example of just how much you could save with pet insurance, let’s take a look at Estelle the French bulldog. After being diagnosed with brachycephalic airway syndrome at just 1 year old, Estelle needed surgery. The full bill came in at over $4,700, but Estelle’s parents were reimbursed by MetLife Pet for over $3,800.7

MetLife Pet Insurance helped Estelle’s owners cover more than 80% of their bill. Find out if pet insurance is worth it for you, and learn how much it could help you and your pup by fetching a free quote today!

Pet Insurance Can Help Cover Pet Injury & Illness Costs


 Dr. Hunter Finn

Dr. Hunter Finn has been paid by MetLife to discuss the importance of choosing pet insurance. He is an integrative veterinary expert first, and social media star second. He  owns Pet Method in McKinney, Texas, where he cares for pets while prioritizing their emotional well-being. When he’s not at his clinic, he’s starring in viral videos on TikTok (2 million followers) and Instagram (500K followers) — where he’s been known to snuggle puppies and conquer the latest dance trends. 

**As with any insurance policy, coverage may vary. Review our coverage and exclusions.

1 “Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome in Dogs,” VCA Animal Hospitals

2 “Brachycephalic Dog Breeds: A Guide to Flat-Faced Dog Breeds,” American Kennel Club, 2024

3 “Laryngeal Saccules. What is all the fuss about?” Hunt Valley Animal Hospital

4 “Gastritis in Small Animals - Digestive System,” Merck Veterinary Manual, 2022

5 “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Dogs,” Wag Walking

6 “FACT SHEET – Health and Welfare Issues Associated with Brachycephalic Dogs,” HSVMA [PDF]

7 All claims paid amounts are based on MetLife internal claims data from October 2022. Story altered for illustrative purposes.

Coverage issued by Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, and Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85454. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations and application is subject to underwriting. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC (“MetLife Pet”) for details. MetLife Pet is the policy administrator. It may operate under an alternate or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota) and MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).

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