Fall 2016

Flat on Their Faces

Tips for helping your short-snouted dog avoid heat stress

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Illustration: Ward Schumaker

Elizabeth Rozanski, an emergency and critical care veterinarian at the Foster Hospital for Small Animals, responds to a reader’s question about how to help short-snouted dogs weather the heat.

Q: My family just brought home an English bulldog puppy, and a friend commented that she hopes he does OK this summer. Is there a reason I should worry?

A: English bulldogs are brachycephalic dogs, meaning that they have been bred over the past 200 years or so to have a very short nose. Other brachycephalic breeds include pugs, French bulldogs, boxers, Boston terriers, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, shih tzus, Lhasa Apsos and their crossbreeds. They are very popular pets, loved for their personable natures and adorably snub faces. However, their short snouts make brachycephalic breeds prone to a multitude of health problems, particularly breathing problems that can become more complicated in the heat.

Dogs pant to cool themselves, but brachycephalic dogs are unable to effectively lower their temperature this way and so can become overheated very easily. Owners of these breeds need to take additional precautions in hot weather, because these pets are at high risk for heat stroke or heat stress.

All short-faced dogs should be kept inside on very hot days, and air-conditioning is mandatory if you have a bulldog. Obesity magnifies the risk; it can be hard to keep a bulldog thin, but doing so will improve airway function and help keep your pet more comfortable.

Don’t expect your bulldog to enjoy picnics where there aren’t shady, cool places to rest. And remember: bulldogs are not gifted swimmers—yours may not be able to swim at all. Brachycephalic breeds should wear a life preserver around water, and they run the risk of drowning if they are left alone near pools or lakes.

Given that you have a puppy, I would advise you to ask your veterinarian about the possibility of surgery to correct anatomic causes of airway disease, such as an elongated soft palate or stenotic nares (pinched or narrow nostrils) before your bulldog experiences a health problem. The degree of airway impairment varies in individual dogs, and each pet should be evaluated. Adult and elderly bulldogs are also predisposed to cardiac disease, while older pugs have a higher rate of tracheal collapse and chronic bronchitis. Yearly exams should include a thorough evaluation of the cardiopulmonary system in these older pets.

Please email your questions for Ask the Vet to Genevieve Rajewski, the editor of this magazine, at genevieve.rajewski@tufts.edu. Because of the volume of inquiries, we cannot respond to all submissions. For any pet health issue, owners should contact their veterinarian.

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