We’re drawn to brachycephalic pets and consider them extra cute because of their large, round eyes and flat faces that resemble human babies and activate our nurturing instincts—and we fall hopelessly in love. Brachycephalic breeds can be wonderful companions, but they generally have health problems that require a higher monetary investment than other pet breeds. Guam Pet Hospital cares for all dog and cat breeds, but we want to help you understand these brachycephalic breeds’ special needs before you bring one into your life.

Which pets are brachycephalic?

Pets are classified as mesocephalic, dolichocephalic, and brachycephalic, based on their skull shape. Mesocephalic pets (e.g., Labradors, beagles, and most cats) have a moderate head shape without exaggerated features. Dolichocephalic pets (e.g., greyhounds and collies) have a thin, elongated muzzle. Brachycephalic pets, including pugs, boxers, bulldogs, Boston terriers, and shih tzus, and Persian or other exotic shorthair cats, have a rounded head with a short nose. Brachycephalic dogs’ muzzle length can vary, but brachycephalic cats tend to have completely flat noses.

What health problems do brachycephalic pets face?

Brachycephalic pets have adorable features, but those features are associated with anatomic changes. Brachycephalic pets may suffer the following problems:

  • Airway disease — Brachycephalic airway syndrome includes small nares (i.e., nostrils), a narrow trachea, elongated soft palate, and everted laryngeal saccules. Together, these cause difficulty breathing and excessive airway noise, and nighttime snoring. Pets with airway disease cannot get enough oxygen to exercise, overheat easily, and are at risk for sudden airway obstruction and death. Pets with airway disease can be treated only with surgery, or must be monitored closely.
  • Eye disease — Rolled in eyelids (i.e., entropion), extra eyelashes (i.e., distichiasis), hairs rubbing on the eyes (i.e., trichiasis), and corneal disease (i.e., pigmentary keratitis) are extremely common in brachycephalic dogs. Cats may develop ulcers and subsequent necrotic corneal areas (i.e., corneal sequestrum). Some eye diseases can be managed medically, while others require surgery for optimal care.
  • Skin and ear disease — Brachycephalic pets with deep facial wrinkles frequently suffer from infections and skin inflammation from moisture accumulation in the folds. Some pets have the same infection-prone problem with their corkscrew-style tails, or narrow ear canals.
  • Obesity — Without adequate exercise, most brachycephalic pets become overweight easily, which can worsen their airway disease and put them at risk for arthritis.

Do brachycephalic pets require extra care?

To avoid exacerbating their existing problems, brachycephalic pets require extra care and attention. Depending on their health problems’ severity and extent, consider the following for these pets:

  • Keep them cool and calm — Stress, excitement, exercise, and heat can exacerbate breathing problems. Keep pets calm at controlled temperatures to reduce their airway obstruction risk.
  • Clean skin folds daily — Clean skin folds daily with a veterinarian-recommended product—often a medicated wipe that can remove debris and neutralize bacteria or fungi growing on the skin.
  • Clean ears weekly — Narrow ear canals trap debris and moisture, which invite infection, similar to skin folds. Clean ears regularly with a veterinarian-approved ear wash to reduce infection occurrence.
  • Address allergies — Many brachycephalic breeds are also prone to allergies that cause skin inflammation, but medicated shampoos, topical sprays, oral medications, allergy shots, and special diets can help.
  • Examine eyes regularly — Regular eye exams can detect changes earlier, when treatment can help maintain clear vision.
  • Maintain a healthy weight — Avoid overfeeding your brachycephalic pet, and consider a calorie-reduced diet if they are inactive.

Should I adopt a brachycephalic pet?

Think carefully before you adopt a brachycephalic pet. Brachycephalic pets can have expensive health problems, but they can also be sweet, loving, cuddly, and fun. Brachycephalic pets are certainly a commitment, but they also make loving, loyal companions and excellent family pets. 

Many brachycephalic pet owners feel that their pet’s increased health needs are worth the extra effort in exchange for their goofy, unique, laid-back personality.

If you have a brachycephalic pet, or you’re adopting one soon, schedule a visit with our Guam Pet Hospital team, so we can recommend a long-term care plan that will keep your pet optimally healthy.