Updated: Feb 1, 2022
So for those of you that are wondering what BOAS stands for, its "Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome"...... Now some of you are asking what does Brachycephlic mean?..... It is a term used for animals with a short nose or flat face. This wee dude below is a prime example of a brachycephalic breed, the French Bulldog.
Now as handsome as owners find theses dogs, unfortunately they are often inbred to exaggerate features the breeder desires. One of these features being the extremely exaggerated shortened nose. While this look may be attractive to some it does carry a lot of anatomical abnormalities and compromises. So if we take a look at the picture of the sculls bellow we can really see the difference in skull shape between a dog such as a Labrador (left) and a British bulldog (right).
Now everyone knows these brachycephalic breeds have become incredibly popular over the last few years, Pugs, Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, Lisa Apsos, Boston Terrier, Cavaliers and the list goes on but a lot of people are not aware of the associated risks with these breeds.
BOAS is the effects the shortened head and nose has on these breeds. It is where the passage of air throughout the upper airways is restricted due to the anatomical changes in skull shape. It can affect around 50% of these dogs.
The severity of BOAS can vary considerably, in milder cases a wee dog will be in for a check over with me and the owner will say 'he's doing great..... he keeps me up all night with his snoring but its so cute'......unfortunately there is nothing cute about not being able to breathe properly and this is exactly why they snore! In more extreme cases the dog can struggle to breathe and may even collapse due to lack of oxygen.
So why does my dog snore?
There are 4 main reasons that can cause BOAS in these animals.
Overly long soft palate
Collapse of the larynx
Windpipe is too small for the size of dog.
Narrowed nostrils dramatically reduce the air flow through the nose. The cartilage within the nose is often also collapsed. These narrowed nostrils mean it takes a lot more effort to breathe and I often say to owners a way to imagine it is if you had to breathe through a straw 24hrs a day.... it wouldn't be particularly pleasant.
Elongated soft palate .... the soft palate is the soft part at the back of the roof of the mouth. Now because the dogs scull is so much shorter this part of the anatomy is a lot longer than it should be. This extra length can obstruct the wind pipe which means the dog has to put a lot more effort into breathing which then can cause excess swelling in this area. This is the part of the condition that causes the snoring noise. The tongue is often too long and thick for their shortened faces too so can obstruct their crampt mouth further.
How can I tell if my furry friend has BOAS?
BOAS can affect all aspects of of a dogs life. An example many people don't realise is these poor souls can have an incredibly restless night sleep. As they relax and fall asleep all the soft tissue at the back of the throat collapses and they can start to choke which wakes them and this cycle continues.
As I mentioned previously the snoring and loud breathing is a tell tail sign, and they can can become quite unwell in hot weather as the panting causes inflammation in the throat, they can even become hyperthermic and collapse. Some dogs will gag or vomit, some will not tolerate exercise becoming quickly tired and worn out.
Your vet can carry out a physical exam on your dog and check for the reasons noted above a full examination of the airway will require the dog to go under general anaesthetic. If surgery is required often a CT scan will be carried out.
What can we do to help?
To help manage this condition it is important to make sure you pet is of the correct weight. Overweight dogs are more likely to suffer as the excess fat can narrow the airways even further.
These dogs need to keep fit but they can find it hard to cool themselves down in hot weather and can become dangerously overheated. On a warm day keep your precious pooch inside in a cool room with access to water, a fan or air con can also be helpful.
Surgical intervention is often required to improve the quality of life in patient with moderate to severe disease.
Surgery can involve widening the nostrils as seen in the picture this can improve the air flow significantly.
The extra length of the soft palate can be removed and this in turn reduces interference with the wind pipe and larynx helping open up the air ways at the back of the throat. Occasionally further surgery of the larynx is also required.
Can my dog now lead a happy life?
The prognosis after surgery is generally pretty good. Unfortunately the surgery can never create a completely normal airway and the improvement can depend on how severe the BOAS was initially. After their initial post operative phase the animals breathing ability improves, they can generally exercise better and their all over quality of life is improved. The are often still prone to heat stress after the surgery so please keep this in mind and I doubt they will ever be running around like a whippet but the improvements made can improve their happiness greatly and might even give you a quiet night sleep without the snoring!
So my advise would be if you have a brachycephalic breed of dog and you have noticed it makes quite a bit of noise when breathing or sleeping or maybe it gets worn out quickly or struggles in the heat, I would go for a check up with you vet. The can assess you dog and discuss any options if they think they are required. Another important factor that we should take from this is breeding dogs with BOAS is not a good idea. The likely hood of passing the problem down to the puppies is high and producing a litter that have a lifetime of restricted breathing and lack of sleep ahead of them is not much fun for anyone.