French Bulldog brachycephalic dog, playing with a ball in the garden.

We love their gorgeous smooshy faces, but if you own a brachycephalic dog breed, you’ll know you need to think about what you feed them to keep them safe and healthy, thanks to health concerns from having that cute short face.

In this article, we’ll look at the issues short-nosed dogs face, how that impacts your diet choice and what you should look for in the treats you give them to avoid choking hazards, allergy flare-ups or any other issues specific to flat-faced dog breeds.

 

What is a Brachycephalic Dog?

Brachycephalic dogs have short skulls, which result in flattened-looking noses and often lots of facial wrinkles. The term comes from the Ancient Greek words “brakhu” which means short, and “cephalos” which means head. Brachycephalic dogs have wide-set eyes, a squashed-looking nose, and a flat face.

Flat-faced breeds are loved throughout the world and have recently gained in popularity despite their potential issues. Currently, three brachycephalic breeds are in the top ten UK dog breeds, with the French Bulldog snatching the number two spot.

 

Common Brachycephalic Dog Breeds

  • French Bulldog
  • Shih Tzu
  • English Bulldog
  • Pug
  • Boston Terrier
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Boxer
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier

 

What Health Problems do Brachycephalic Dogs Have?

Unfortunately, as gorgeous as they are, short-nosed dog breeds are associated with quite an impressive menu of health problems, many of which stem from over-exaggerating their head and nose shape through over-breeding.

Although, thankfully, ethical breeding is more popular now and breed standards are changing to support their welfare, there are still ongoing health conditions associated with brachycephalic breeds.

 

Breathing

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) is a significant concern for these dog breeds. It’s a lifelong and progressive disorder that impacts their ability to breathe properly, which has knock-on effects on their ability to exercise, eat, play and even sleep properly. BOAS dogs often have more than one abnormality, which can include narrow nostrils, a small windpipe, an enlarged tongue, and an abnormal soft palate. Unlike normal dogs, exhalation is forced in brachycephalic breeds, rather than passive, because they have to force the air through much smaller airways. This puts pressure on their whole respiratory system, and they struggle to breathe properly when exercising or when it’s hot.

 

Obesity

As a result of their breathing difficulties, brachycephalic dogs find exercise much harder than other breeds. One study showed that a third of flat-faced dogs were unable to walk for more than 10 minutes on an average 19°C day. As a result, these breeds are much more likely to gain weight.

French Bulldog, flat-faced breed refusing to walk in the snow

Research by VetCompass showed that pugs are more than three times as likely to be overweight than an average crossbreed pooch. This increased weight not only impacts the usual things we see with weight gain, such as heart disease, but it’s also likely to worsen BOAS problems by narrowing the airway and potentially causing tracheal collapse. This, combined with dental issues, means they might also experience problems with swallowing, or choke on their food.

 

Heart Disease

Due to their restricted airways, short-nosed dogs’ blood oxygen levels are often very low as the lungs can't deliver enough oxygen. This puts extra strain on their hearts and can be linked to heart disease.

 

Dental Health

Brachycephalic dogs have the same number of teeth as other breeds, but they are crowded into more narrowed gums. This can result in misaligned jaws, which makes eating difficult, as well as an increased risk of dental disease.

 

Digestive Concerns

Although food sensitivities themselves aren’t specific to brachycephalic breeds, digestive symptoms are commonly seen in our flat-faced friends. Scientists believe that the extra pressure in their upper airway can result in digestive tract injuries such as hernias and reflux, as well as problems with their oesophagus. You might spot symptoms such as vomiting, difficulty swallowing, and choking.

 

Skin Health

Many brachycephalic breeds suffer from allergic skin disease, and skin problems can be exacerbated by the extra folds around their face and their narrowed ear canals. Keeping skin folds clean and healthy is important, and being aware of what you feed them can help reduce flare-ups in the case of allergic skin disease.

 

What Should I Consider With My Brachycephalic Dog’s Diet?

Brachycephalic dogs have specific nutritional needs. You need to balance their requirements with their tendency towards weight gain, as well as supporting their skin health, digestive sensitivities, and reflux, all whilst ensuring that they don’t choke. Tricky!

They can have smaller mouths and a longer soft palate, which makes chewing and swallowing more difficult. So, let’s look at some of the things we need to consider when choosing their diet.

  1. A Calorie Controlled Diet – These short-nosed breeds are prone to weight gain, so keeping a tight lead on their calorie intake is vital to their long-term health. And watch the treats too. Keep treats as healthy as possible to keep them looking trim.

  2. Consider Their Digestive Health – Their short digestive tracts and sensitivity mean they may experience tummy problems. A highly digestible, protein-rich diet will ensure they get everything they can from their diet without causing flare-ups. Keep an eye on the ingredients too, and avoid additives and protein types that you know they are sensitive to.

  3. Dental Health and Table Manners! – Their dental health combined with breathing problems doesn’t make for good table manners. Flat-faced dogs tend to gulp their food, which can lead to choking. They often don’t chew their food properly and may struggle with swallowing, so make sure food is easy for them to get into their mouth and manipulate safely, as well as swallow. Look for a diet that supports dental health, or use natural chewy treats to help keep teeth healthy.

  4. Skin Health – With the skin concerns that come with extra facial folds and sensitivities, ensuring your dog gets plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in their diet will keep their skin nourished and support overall skin health. This will also support their joint health, which may suffer if they are older or overweight.

  5. Cardiovascular Care – Choosing a diet low in sodium will support their cardiovascular health as brachycephalic breeds are prone to heart conditions.

What Treats are Suitable for Brachycephalic Dogs?

You’ve nailed your dog’s diet choice, but you want to spoil your fur baby (plus, you need treats to persuade them to get involved in their training). So, how do you choose treats that are appropriate for your smooshy-nosed friend?

 

Is the Treat Size Appropriate?

It’s a bit of a Goldilocks situation. Not too big, not too small, find treats that are juuust the right size for your dog.

If the dog treats are too small, brachycephalic dogs risk choking on them, but equally, if they’re too big, they could also get caught. These breeds tend to gulp their food, because chewing is tricky. So if treats are too big, they may get lodged, causing them respiratory distress and possibly injury. So go for a mid-size treat or one that they can chew into appropriate size pieces.

 

How Heavy are the Treats?

Back to the ol’ dental issues! Brachy breeds are prone to dental disease, which may mean they have weaker teeth, so avoid very heavy or solid treats like antlers.

 

Are Your Dog’s Treats Chewy?

Your brachycephalic dog isn't a chewer (unless the post has been delivered and he wants to nibble the postie). Often, they learn to gulp their food because it’s easier for them to breathe. But chewing can be a great form of enrichment for them. It satisfies their natural doggy instinct to chew, which is a stress-relieving behaviour and helps them feel good. Plus, if you pick the right chewy treat (think natural chews), you’ll also be helping keep their teeth sparkly!

 

What’s the Digestibility Like?

Their little tums are sensitive and find it difficult to digest food, but if it sits there too long, it’ll start causing them reflux problems. You can still give treats, but find treats that are as easily digestible as possible. High-protein treats are a great way to go – or treats that you know are easy on the digestive tract.

 

What are the Ingredients?

Knowing the ingredients in your short-nosed dog’s treats is vital because it’s likely they’ll have some food sensitivities that you want to avoid. Plus, for sensitive tummies, it's best to swerve the synthetic additives and preservatives. Treat manufacturers are under no legal obligation to divulge their entire ingredient list, so you might need to do some digging to work out what they contain. At Treat Treehouse, you can find the dietary information for all our treats here.

 

Why Choose Natural Treats for Flat-Faced Dogs?

It’s easy enough to grab a bag of treats from the supermarket, but when you have a brachycephalic dog (and potentially a whole lot of health concerns to consider), natural treats have a ton of benefits that align with your smooshy pup’s needs.

Natural dog treats are great for brachycephalic dogs because…

  • They’re gentle on sensitive tummies – Natural treats generally contain simple, easily digestible ingredients and are often a single protein source. So they don’t sit undigested in their tums, and your pup gets all the goodness without the tummy upset.
  • They help with weight management – Natural treats focus on wholesome ingredients without unnecessary fillers, helping to maintain a healthy weight for your brachycephalic dog.

  • You can control their allergen exposure – Many natural treats, including most here at Treat Treehouse, are a single protein source, so you can consciously avoid treats that your dog may react to.

  • They promote chewing behaviours – Many brachycephalic dogs are gulpers, which poses a choking risk. Natural dog treats encourage chewing behaviours, which benefits their mental health by releasing endorphins and helps to avoid choking. Choose a natural treats that are an appropriate size and shape for your dog, such as duck necks or lamb ears.
  • They support dental health – Adding natural treats to your dog’s routine will help support their dental health, as chewing on those natural snacks acts like a toothbrush, helping support normal dental health for shiny gnashers!

  • They’re great for training – Natural dog treats are super tasty, so they're great for keeping your dog focused on you when you’re training together. Learn more about using treats for training success here.

  • There is a natural treat that’s right for your brachycephalic dog – You know your dog best. You know if they’re a gulper and need something that’s safe to gulp or if they’re more likely to enjoy chewing. Natural dog treats aren't highly processed, and they come in all shapes, sizes, and yummy tastes, so you can pick ones that suit your dog and any issues that they may have.

 

Find Your Brachycephalic Dog’s Favourite Natural Dog Treat!

Here at Treat Treehouse, we specialise in natural deliciousness! Our treats have the waggy tail seal of approval. They’re 100% natural, support your pet’s digestive, joint, skin and dental health, and they’re all different sizes so you can find a fit for your dog. For flat-faced breeds like Pugs or French Bulldogs, we think they’ll love duck necks and wings, and pig snouts!

Pug with an open treat box

 

 

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