All About Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Surgery And Care

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway SurgeryAirway surgery is an excellent way to help certain dog breeds who suffer from issues like a long soft palate, narrowed nostrils, and problems with their voice box. Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome surgery can significantly improve their quality of life.

Dogs are known as loyal and dedicated pets, always by their owner's side. Pet owners often form deep emotional bonds with their dogs. Since dogs have been companions to humans for centuries, it can be pretty distressing if a pet becomes unwell.

Some breeds of dogs have unique features, like short muzzles or unusual head shapes, that can cause breathing problems. This article will provide detailed information about a specific breathing disorder, which breeds are affected, how it is diagnosed and treated, and what the treatment outcomes can be.

What Is Brachycephalic?

The term 'brachycephalic' is derived from two words: 'brachy,' meaning 'short,' and 'cephalic,' meaning 'head.' So, when a dog has brachycephalic syndrome, it means its skull is shorter, and its face is pushed inward. This condition can cause physical problems due to soft tissue changes and require brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome surgery.

Several dog breeds are often affected by brachycephalic syndrome, including:

  • French Bulldogs
  • English Bulldogs
  • Boxer Dogs
  • Boston Terriers
  • Chinese Pugs
  • Pekingese
  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Shih Tzus
  • Bull Mastiffs

Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome

Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome is a disorder related to abnormalities in the upper airway. It's also known as brachycephalic respiratory syndrome or congenital obstructive upper airway problem. It can affect several parts of a dog's airway, including its nostrils, soft palate, nasal passages, voice box, and windpipe.

Stenotic Nares

Dogs with this issue have smaller nostrils, which can limit their ability to breathe properly. This happens because the air that can enter their nostrils is reduced.

Nasopharyngeal Turbinates

Nasopharyngeal turbinates are the bone parts covering tissues that warm and moisturize the air. However, in dogs suffering from certain health conditions, these turbinates can cause a blockage that obstructs airflow.

Elongated Soft Palate

Another problem dogs can encounter an elongated soft palate, a common feature of a health condition known as brachycephalic airway syndrome. When the soft palate is too long, it can block the trachea, preventing air from reaching the back of the throat.

Laryngeal Collapse

This occurs when the cartilage in the larynx, or voice box, is under extreme stress. As a result, the voice box doesn't open as wide as it should, further limiting the airflow.

Hypoplastic Trachea

This condition results in a trachea or windpipe that is smaller than usual.

Laryngeal Saccules

Laryngeal saccules are small pouches located near the larynx. When affected, these pouches can further reduce airflow, causing the dog to breathe with its mouth and making inhaling more laborious.

Common Symptoms

  • Dogs with a mild form of this syndrome may sniff.
  • They may also start to snore when they are relaxed or asleep. 
  • On the other hand, severely affected dogs may make louder breathing noises, tire easily, and even faint after physical exertion. 
  • Other symptoms may include coughing, vomiting, retching, and gagging. 

A severe long-term complication can be a strain on the heart. These symptoms often become more noticeable in hot and humid weather. Dogs aged 1 to 4 years are typically most prone to developing brachycephalic airway syndrome. 

Dogs with this syndrome usually start showing multiple abnormalities and symptoms early. The more abnormalities a dog has, the more signs it is likely to display.


The diagnosis of canine health issues depends on various factors, including the breed, observable symptoms, and results from a physical examination. Here are some key points:

  • Stenotic nares, a common breed-specific problem, can generally be diagnosed through simple visual inspection.
  • A deeper investigation is required for more complex issues like everted laryngeal saccules or an elongated soft palate, along with other associated oral anatomical changes. This usually involves anesthesia and heavy sedation to allow for a thorough examination.

A significant concern with dogs suffering from these conditions is the added risks associated with general anesthesia. The veterinarian may recommend pre-anesthetic blood work and X-rays to mitigate these risks. These tests allow the vet to monitor the dog's overall health condition closely.


When planning treatment, the dog's overall health status must be considered. Here are some general considerations:

  • One essential requirement for treatment is ensuring the dog is not overweight. If obesity is an issue, the veterinarian will recommend a specific exercise regimen and dietary changes to manage the dog's weight.
  • Extreme heat can exacerbate the dog's symptoms. Hence, keeping the dog in a relaxed, air-conditioned environment during the hotter months is crucial to minimize stress.
  • To offer short-term relief from respiratory distress, medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, and supplemental oxygen therapy may be administered.

These steps only manage the symptoms. They correct the severe anatomical abnormalities associated with these conditions. Surgical intervention is often the only definitive treatment. For stenotic nares, brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome surgery involves the removal of excessive tissue from the nostrils to improve airflow. Similarly, an elongated soft palate can be hortened, and everted laryngeal sacs can be removed.

Brachycephalic Surgery Outcomes

Post brachycephalic dogs surgery, specific considerations are vital for the recovery process:

  • Early detection and treatment of these conditions typically result in more favorable outcomes. If left untreated, the condition can worsen over time.
  • Surgical interventions like correcting stenotic nares and elongated soft palate, or preventing everted laryngeal saccules, can significantly improve the dog's overall health and quality of life.
  • In the immediate postoperative period, swelling at the surgical site may interfere with breathing. Close monitoring by the veterinarian is therefore crucial, the extent of which depends on how well the dog responded to the surgical procedure. In some cases, 24-hour surveillance may be necessary.

Prognosis Of Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome Surgery 

The expected outcome for dogs with Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome can vary greatly. Several vital factors heavily influence it:

  • The specific abnormalities: Each dog’s unique health issues can significantly influence the prognosis.
  • Age: The age of the dog plays a significant role. Dogs two years old or younger typically have a more positive post BOAS surgery outlook than older dogs.
  • Hypoplastic trachea: The prognosis can be uncertain if the dog suffers from a hypoplastic trachea - an underdeveloped condition.
  • Allergies and airway distress: Dogs dealing with allergies or conditions that cause airway distress often have less favorable outcomes.

However, with proper care and management, many dogs can still lead healthy and happy lives.

Other Considerations 

There are other considerations to keep in mind as well:

  • Harness Use: For dogs with this syndrome, using a harness that doesn't apply pressure to the neck is highly recommended.
  • Neck Collar: Using a collar that avoids placing stress on the dog's neck is advisable.
  • Breeding: Dogs with breathing difficulties or those needing brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome surgery should not be used for breeding. Veterinarians often recommend spaying or neutering these dogs at the time of their surgical correction.

Remember, the prognosis after brachycephalic surgery will vary based on the dog’s health conditions. Always consult a veterinarian for the best treatment and care for your pet.

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