Dogs and facial deformity

Snub-nosed dogs are popular in Australia - the French bulldog current ranks in third place. Yes they are cute, but they are also tragic little creatures. Pugs were originally bred to sit on the laps of Chinese emperors and less sweetly, Englishmen bred Bulldogs to attack chained-up bulls for entertainment. In those days, these dogs still had something of a nose. But over the centuries, breeding standards demanded ever more squished in faces - until they have what we see today - the irresistible baby face.

Sadly, from the first little mewl these dogs make, they struggle for air. They have little slits for nostrils and gigantic tongues where space would be in a normal mouth. The roof of their mouth hangs down the back of the throat so far it dangles in front of the wind pipe. And the wind pipe itself is much narrower than normal. These structures block the air and it takes a lot more effort and pressure to get the air in and out of the lungs. Over time, this pressure blows up little sacs near the voice box like little balloons, adding to the obstacle course. Imagine blocking your nose, putting a straw in your mouth, then sticking that straw in a cup full of peas and trying to breathe through it.

To add to their troubles, poor airflow means these guys can’t cool themselves down effectively. Normally, panting cools dogs in the same way we cool down if we stand sweating in a breeze. Except in the case of dogs, air flows over their wet tongues (not their skin), cooling the blood in the tongue before it heads back to the rest of the body. While snub-nosed dogs have big tongues, their mouths are more like a humid valley than a breezy mountain top. The blood in the tongue heads back as hot as ever and the dog overheats. You just have to sit in your car on a hot day to know what that feels like. We do see some French Bulldogs and Pugs who cope reasonably well with the faces they are born with, however the majority of these breeds have some degree of breathing problems.

As vets, we can improve these dogs’ ability to breathe and cool down with surgery. But honestly, I’d rather they not be broken in the first place.