Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs and cats are popular, but those cute squashed noses can cause some serious health problems. If you have a brachycephalic pet, watch for breathing trouble (snoring and grunting are not normal). These pets are also prone to heat stress, especially if they’re overweight.
Brachycephalic means “short-headed.” Brachycephalic animals have short noses, round heads, and large, low-set eyes. Examples are English and French bulldogs, pugs, Boston terriers, shih tzus, and Persian cats. If you think these pets are adorable, you're not alone. Studies have shown that many people are attracted to facial features in animals that are similar to those of human infants.
Unlike dog breeds that were developed for tasks like hunting, brachycephalic dogs have been bred over time for looks. Unfortunately, breeding for form over function has compromised the health of many of these dogs.
Earlier this year the British Veterinary Association released a policy position on the welfare of brachycephalic dogs. Their aims are to improve the health of future generations of these dogs and to increase awareness of the problems caused by breeding for extreme brachycephaly. The association highlighted 5 of the most common medical concerns: respiratory, eye, reproductive, skin, and dental problems.
Many brachycephalic animals cannot breathe normally. Although the bones of the face are shortened, the soft tissues are not, leaving excess tissue that can block the airway. Signs of impaired breathing include snoring, snorting, and exercise intolerance. Brachycephalic animals are at risk for heat stroke, respiratory distress, and collapse. Long-term labored breathing can also cause digestive tract problems like gagging and vomiting. Obesity makes all of these problems worse.
Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome includes 3 main anatomic abnormalities: narrow nostrils, elongated soft palate (excess tissue at the roof of the mouth), and everted laryngeal saccules (tissue that blocks airflow through the trachea, or windpipe). Some animals require surgery to correct these problems. Brachycephalic animals may also have an abnormally narrow trachea, which gives the effect of constantly breathing through a small straw.
Brachycephalic animals have shallow eye sockets and large eyelid openings, so their eyes are not as well protected as those of other animals. Many also have impaired tear production (dry eye), reducing their defense against eye irritants. Skin folds at the top of the nose may cause hair to rub against the eyes. These problems can cause eye ulcers and eventual blindness.
Some brachycephalic breeds have trouble giving birth naturally because the puppies’ heads are too large to fit through the mother’s pelvis. One study found that over 80% of English bulldog, French bulldog, and Boston terrier litters born in the United Kingdom were delivered by cesarean section.
Skin and dental disease
Folds of loose skin give bacteria and yeast a handy place to grow, so brachycephalic animals are prone to skin fold infections. Because of their shortened upper jaw, they often have crowded or maloccluded teeth.
If you have a brachycephalic pet:
If you are thinking of getting a brachycephalic pet:
1. Archer J, Monton S. Preferences for infant facial features in pet dogs and cats. Ethology. 2011;117(3):217-226.
2. Health and welfare of brachycephalic dogs. British Veterinary Association website. https://www.bva.co.uk/news-campaigns-and-policy/policy/companion-animals/brachycephalic-dogs/. Accessed March 27, 2018.
3. Packer RM, Hendricks A, Tivers MS, Burn CC. Impact of facial conformation on canine health: brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome. PLoS One. 2015;10(10):e0137496.
4. Brachycephalic syndrome. American College of Veterinary Surgeons website. https://www.acvs.org/small-animal/brachycephalic-syndrome. Accessed March 27, 2018.
5. McNabb NT. Top 5 threats to vision in the brachycephalic dog. Paper presented at: North American Veterinary Conference 2017; February 6, 2017; Orlando, FL.
6. Evans KM, Adams VJ. Proportion of litters of purebred dogs born by caesarean section. J Small Animal Pract. 2010;51(2):113-118.
7. Caring for brachycephalic dogs. MSPCA Angell website. https://www.mspca.org/angell_services/caring-for-brachycephalic-dogs/. Accessed March 27, 2018.
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Do you know which common plants are toxic to dogs and cats? Spring is just around the corner and Poison Prevention Week is the third week of March, so this is a good time to discuss plant hazards in the house and yard.
This article covers only a few of the plants that are dangerous to dogs and cats. For more complete lists, see these websites:
If you think your pet may have licked or swallowed a plant or other toxic substance, contact your veterinarian or call one of the 24-hour animal poison control hotlines (a fee may apply):
All parts of these plants are toxic to pets. Ingestion can cause vomiting, diarrhea, muscle weakness, convulsions, coma, and death.
Autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale) and spring crocus (Crocus species) are 2 different types of plant. Autumn crocus is in the Liliaceae family. All parts of the autumn crocus are highly toxic to pets, even in small amounts. Ingestion can cause vomiting, bloody diarrhea, organ damage, shock, and death. Symptoms may not appear until a few days after ingestion.
Spring crocus is in the Iridaceae family. These plants are not particularly toxic, although dogs and cats that eat them can develop drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Cyclamen is a common flowering houseplant. The tubers (roots) are the most toxic part. Dogs and cats that eat any part of the plant can develop vomiting and diarrhea. Ingestion of large amounts can cause heart rhythm abnormalities, seizures, and death.
Daffodil, jonquil, paperwhite, amaryllis
Dogs and cats that eat bulbs of Narcissus species can develop vomiting, diarrhea, and belly pain. Ingestion of large quantities can lead to problems with breathing and heart rhythm.
Dieffenbachia (dumbcane) contains substances that cause severe mouth and throat pain. Ingestion can also cause nausea and trouble swallowing.
Ingestion of hyacinth (Hyacinthus species) or tulip bulbs can cause mouth irritation, vomiting, and diarrhea. Dogs that dig up the bulbs or find a bag of stored bulbs may eat large quantities and have more severe symptoms. Grape hyacinths are a different genus (Muscari) and are not toxic.
Ingestion of iris rhizomes (bulbs) can cause vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, and lethargy.
These flowering houseplants contain substances that cause stomach upset and, in higher doses, heart rhythm abnormalities and tremors.
Don’t bring lilies into your house if you have cats! Some are extremely dangerous for cats, even in small amounts. “True” lilies (Lilium and Hemerocallis species) contain a toxin that can cause fatal kidney failure in cats. Some examples are Easter lilies, Asiatic lilies, daylilies, stargazer lilies, and tiger lilies. All parts of these plants are poisonous to cats, and even pollen licked from a paw or water licked from a vase can be toxic. These lilies do not cause kidney failure in dogs.
If your cat ingests any part of a lily, seek veterinary care immediately (bring the plant with you for identification). For more information, see No Lilies for Kitties on the Pet Poison Helpline website.
Calla lilies, peace lilies, and Peruvian lilies (Alstroemeria) are not true lilies and do not contain the agent that causes kidney failure. However, ingestion can cause mouth irritation and stomach upset in both dogs and cats.
Lily of the valley
Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) contains toxins called cardiac glycosides, which cause serious heart rhythm abnormalities. Ingestion of lily of the valley may be fatal. Other symptoms are vomiting, painful abdomen, and diarrhea. Cardiac glycosides are also present in foxglove (Digitalis species), kalanchoe, milkweed, and oleander.
The Pet Poison Helpline reports a 448% increase in marijuana cases in pets in the past 6 years. Pets can be poisoned by eating food that contains marijuana, being exposed to smoke, or ingesting the plant itself. Marijuana poisoning can cause drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, stumbling, lethargy, incontinence, changes in heart rate, seizures, coma, and death in pets.
All parts of the oleander plant contain cardiac glycosides. Oleander ingestion can cause heart rhythm problems, rapid heart rate, vomiting, diarrhea, and death.
Sago palm is extremely toxic to dogs and cats. It is also called fern palm or cycad (Cycas and Zamia species). This plant grows outdoors in warm regions and is also used as an ornamental houseplant. The seeds are the most poisonous part of the plant, but all parts contain the toxic agent. Ingestion causes liver failure, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, seizures, and death. According to the Pet Poison Helpline, only about half of animals that ingest sago palm survive. ASPCA Poison Control reports that ingestion of 1 or 2 seeds can be fatal.
Brownie CF. Houseplants and ornamentals. Merck Veterinary Manual website. Accessed March 9, 2018.
Brownie CF. Range plants of temperate North America. Merck Veterinary Manual website. Accessed March 9, 2018.
Poisonous plants. ASPCA Animal Poison Control website. Accessed March 9, 2018.
Top 10 plants poisonous to pets. Pet Poison Helpline website. Accessed March 9, 2018.
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM