Brachycephalic airway obstruction syndrome

Bulldog Airway Obstruction Syndrome

Your bulldog relaxes on his bed in a room down the hall while you make dinner. You can hear him breathing. From down the hall. Ever wonder why he breathes so loudly?

Your furry friend could be suffering from brachycephalic airway obstruction syndrome (BAOS), a condition that certain breeds of dogs and cats are more susceptible to because of the shape of their heads, muzzles, and throats.

Brachycephalic means short-headed. On the canine side, bulldogs, pugs, boxers, and spaniels are most at risk of developing BAOS. Persian cats are also susceptible. The flattened muzzles of these breeds cause the throat passage to be undersized, which can lead to breathing difficulties and other health problems.

Signs of BAOS

  • Loud breathing, especially during inhale
  • Choking or gagging while swallowing food, especially if eating quickly
  • Pale, blue-tinted gums and tongue (cyanosis), which is caused by low oxygen levels
  • Exercise intolerance or avoidance of exertion

Excessive heat and humidity, obesity, and aging can exacerbate BAOS. If your dog could stand to lose a few pounds, ask your veterinarian on how to reduce her weight safely. The combination of BAOS and exercise overexertion can lead to fainting. Monitor your pet closely while she is exerting herself and avoid taking her outside during the hottest times of day.

If your dog suffers from BAOS, use a harness rather than a regular collar during walks. Standard collars can apply pressure to the neck, while a harness that doesn’t tug at the neck will be much more comfortable for your dog. Medication and oxygen therapy are good for short-term relief of BAOS, but neither is a long-term solution.

If your pet experiences long-term breathing difficulties, the decreased oxygenation can cause increased stress to the heart and other organs.

Diagnosing BAOS
Diagnosis of BAOS is based on breed, clinical signs, and results of a physical examination.  Stenotic nares, which are abnormally narrow nostrils, can be diagnosed upon sight. Checking other anatomical changes within the mouth and throat, however, may require anesthesia. Dogs suffering from BAOS are typically at higher risk for general anesthesia-related complications, so your veterinarian will likely perform blood work and chest X-rays to evaluate your dog’s overall health before placing him under anesthesia.

If your pet does need to be put under anesthesia, your veterinarian should perform any surgical corrections at that time. The outcome of surgery is generally positive for younger animals, who enjoy much less labored breathing post-surgery. Since older animals are more likely to already have other BAOS-associated health problems, their risk of surgical complications is increased.

Think your pet may be suffering from BAOS? Talk to your veterinarian about your options.