When Breathing is a Privilege: A Look at the TROUBLED Lives of Brachycephalic Dogs

When you go to pick a dog, choose one with a nose and a tail.

Over the last couple of years, the world has progressively taken a liking to Brachycephalic (short-headed) dogsPugs, French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs, and so on.

While these cute and cuddly companions deserve all the love and care they can get, it has now become an issue where oblivious canine lovers are forced to break the bank or even part from their short-headed pets – not only can these breeds cost fortunes to own (on average, you can expect to pay between $1,500-$3,000), their various medical issues can also amount to tens of thousands of dollars in veterinary bills.

According to The American College of Veterinary Surgeons, Brachycephalic breeds are “prone to difficult, obstructive breathing because of the shape of their head, muzzle and throat”.

Healthy nostrils and nostrils in Brachy dogs
Photo: PDSA

To add, their write-up on the Brachycephalic syndrome highlights that short-headed breeds such as Pugs, English bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Boston Terrier, and so on have never stood a chance – they are bred to possess miniaturist, fashionable features, such as short muzzles and noses that “undersize or flatten their breathing passages”.

Yet the problems do not stop there. And to understand just how serious said problems are, I sat down owners of brachycephalic dog breeds that have decided to share their own experiences.

Brunhilda, whose name originated from a cross-dressing Bugs Bunny cartoon, is the pug of 39-year-old Mel. According to her owner, she frequently suffers from having melanin deposits on her cornea.


As reported by VCA Animal Hospitals, this type of issue is caused by the chronic irritation or inflammation of the eye. Also known as Pigmentary Keratitis, it is most common in Brachycephalic dogs, as most of these dogs’ small eyelids have trouble staying closed all the way.

With Pugs, Frenchies, and other types of short-headed dogs, bacteria can enter their eyes more easily due to their genetic makeup causing them to be born with large eyes and small eyelids that are unable to cover them completely, thus leading the dogs requiring treatment – sometimes surgical, or that with artificial tears.

She’s also had a lot of trouble with rashes and ear infections”, Mel adds.

According to The Kennel Club (TKC), such chronic skin irritation and infection can be common in extreme Brachycephalic breeds, “specifically those with excessive wrinkling and skin folds”.

Deep skin folds cause rubbing and retention of moisture, and may lead to overgrowth of bacteria and yeast. These organisms feed on the skin secretions trapped in the fold, creating a perfect breeding ground for infections.”

In the case of Brunhilda, Mel mentions how often her pug develops these problems:

We give her allergy shots, and then she’s good again for another few months. The shots aren’t cheap, but she needs them”.

And although her 4-year-old Pug is not without her medical problems, her big personality does not suffer from them: “She’s kind of a weirdo”, Mel explains.

She only likes being petted in certain ways and she loves laying on people. She will obsessively try to get into the trash if there’s any chance it isn’t locked up”. She then goes on to mention Brunhilda’s unconditional love for dressing up and obsession with the laser pointer: “She gets rug burn on her chin if we let it go on for long enough”.

Taking a look at French Bulldogs and their lives as Brachycephalic pets, I sat down with US attorney Heather Hanna.

A current owner of three French Bulldogs and past foster parent of other Frenchies and breeds of short-headed dogs, Hanna founded the Facebook group for Brachycephalic Breathing Awareness.

Hanna with her frenchies

When asked what inspired her motion to start the online initiative, she explained: “I own Brachycephalic dogs and I have witnessed first-hand how they suffer due solely to their conformation.”

Adding to this, she mentions how her own Frenchies have undergone serious treatments to treat their breathing problems: “I have taken two of them from the United States to Germany for advanced airway surgeries that were not available here”.

Numerous breathing-related issues are heavily affecting the Brachycephalic dog population, such as long-term breathing difficulties. According to TKC , this breathing disorder is called ‘Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome’, that can “impair a dog’s ability to exercise, play, eat, and sleep”.

The narrow nostrils and elongation of the soft palate seen in such fashionable dog breeds obstruct air passage through the nose and throat, and as mentioned by the TKC, this may be accompanied by the narrowing of their windpipes.

Such difficulties make a basic survival skill extremely difficult for short-headed dogs to control. In addition to difficulty breathing, restrictions to the flow of air through the nostrils and internal nose structures can make it challenging for Brachycephalic dogs to cool down, as the nose is the main area in a dog’s body where heat exchange occurs.

Photo: French Bulldog Rescue

These problems deepen, however, when they are not treated as such. Oblivious online communities dedicated to French Bulldogs and other short-headed dog breeds tend to trivialize the issue. Experiencing difficulty breathing is no longer a problem when it is deemed cute, or written off as a quirky personality trait.

Expressing her thoughts on the subject, Hanna says the following:

Most people only see the cute pictures in the media and are immediately drawn to the baby-like faces and potato-esque bodies. They hear the snoring sound bites or watch viral videos of Frenchies and other Brachycephalics falling asleep sitting up and think it is hilarious. And many of them fail to realize that what they are actually witnessing is an animal struggling for oxygen. Breathing should be the most natural, effortless action for life, yet most Brachycephalics are struggling for each and every breath.”

So, what exactly can be done in order to improve the quality of life of short-headed dogs?

Some might proclaim that the breeding of such dogs should be banned altogether, stating that the genetic makeup of short-headed nature is unnatural for dogs and does more harm than good for their health.

Others, such as Hanna, advocate for other solutions, such as adjusting the breed standard:

At the very least, the breed standard should be modified to require a minimum nose length and a free tail that can move. But much more needs to be done because the gene pool is so small from decades of close inbreeding to achieve the desired look.”

The French Bulldog breed standard at a glance
Photo: American Kennel Club

When asked to share her most valuable piece of advice for current and future owners of Brachycephalic dog breeds, Hanna simply stated:

When you go to pick a dog, choose one with a nose and a tail.”

Nagy Zsolt

Nagy Zsolt