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  • Molly Weinfurter

What Are Brachycephalic Dog Breeds?

Updated: Jun 5

Brachycephalic is a dog breed category that’s known for having unique health concerns. Several breeds, both big and small, fall under this term, and it’s important for dog parents to know what they’re getting into when they bring them home. So, what are brachycephalic dog breeds? And what should dog parents know about them?

Brachycephalic English Bulldog outside

What is Brachycephalic?

Brachycephalic simply means “shortened head,” so it refers to flat faced dogs. Brachycephalic dogs have broad, short skulls that make it look like their nose is squished into their head. Many people find this appearance cute, but it can actually be dangerous for the dogs.


My dog, Mabel, is a Shih Tzu (I think - I've never done a DNA test), but luckily, she hasn't had any breathing problems. However, I have seen some flat faced dogs with lots of health problems. Once I fostered a Pug mix, and she snorted and snored a lot because her poor nose was so squished.


How to Pronounce Brachycephalic

This word is sometimes pronounced differently in different regions, but the most common pronunciation is brak-ee-suh-fal-ik. Watch this video to hear the pronunciation.


Brachycephalic isn't “Cute”

Sadly, brachycephalic dog breeds are bred with shorter than normal snouts because people think it’s “cuter.” But that cuteness comes at a cost. These breeds typically have smushed faces, heavy wrinkles, and a disproportionately large head, all of which can lead to health problems. Dogs shouldn’t be bred for appearance if it negatively affects their health.


Pug mix foster with squished face
This was the Pug mix I fostered

Health Concerns of Brachycephalic Dogs

Most brachycephalic dogs suffer from Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome, also known as BOAS, Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome, or Brachycephalic Syndrome. Dogs with BOAS have a harder time breathing than the average dog.


Because of the unusual face shapes of flat faced dog breeds, they’re more likely to experience the following health concerns:

  • Difficulties breathing

  • Elongated soft palate

  • Stenotic nares (narrow nostrils)

  • Tracheal stenosis (dangerously narrow trachea)

  • Heat stroke

  • Eye problems

  • Skin infections

  • Dental disease

  • Allergies

  • Back and joint problems

  • Digestion issues

  • Difficulties giving birth (some brachycephalic breeds have to deliver via C-section)


Sadly, all the major health issues above can occur simply by dogs having flat faces. The shape of their faces makes their nostrils and airways narrow, their eyes bulging, their bodies short and stocky, and their teeth crowded. Since brachycephalic dogs are prone to breathing problems, they’re often not allowed on planes for safety reasons.


If your flat nosed dog regularly snorts, snores, coughs, gags, regurgitates, or vomits, they’re likely dealing with breathing issues. Some dogs with squished faces also have a harder time eating and exercising than other dogs.


French Bulldog holding stick

Can Brachycephalic Dogs Become Healthier?

Right now, many brachycephalic dogs are bred to suffer, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Breed standards for these dogs can change to encourage breeders to breed healthy skull shapes for these dogs.


Some places have already started cracking down on breeding flat faced dogs. For example, the Netherlands announced a few years ago that only French Bulldogs with a certain nose length could breed to help the puppies have longer snouts. If more places could implement laws like that, dogs currently labeled as brachycephalic breeds could become healthier overall.


Which Dog Breeds are Brachycephalic?

Lots of dog breeds are brachycephalic. While some are healthier than others, all of them could develop BOAS. Here’s a list of brachycephalic breeds:

  • Affenpinscher

  • American Bulldog

  • Boston Terrier

  • Boxer

  • Brussels Griffon

  • Bullmastiff

  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

  • English Bulldog

  • English Mastiff

  • French Bulldog

  • Japanese Chin

  • Lhasa Apso

  • Pekingese

  • Pug

  • Shar Pei

  • Shih Tzu

  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier


Again, some of these breeds have much flatter faces than others, such as Pugs and French Bulldogs. However, there are some health risks involved for all of them.


How Can You Protect Your Brachycephalic Dog?

Once a dog is bred with these features, it can’t be undone. However, there are ways to make your dog’s life more comfortable. Here are some ways to protect a short nosed dog:

  • Exercise in several short sessions instead of one long session

  • Avoid exercise in extreme heat

  • Regularly clean their skin folds

  • Use nose balm

  • Brush their teeth daily

  • Walk using a harness instead of a leash

  • Schedule vet check-ups more often than usual


Making sure your flat nosed dog never exercises too hard is the key to keeping them safe. If you ever notice any unusual behaviors, be sure to mention them to your vet. Brachycephalic dogs typically require more frequent vet visits and have higher vet bills, so it’s something to consider before bringing one home.


Brachycephalic Pekingese with crazy eyes

Ethical Ways to Get a Brachycephalic Dog Breed

Just because flat faced dog breeds are usually unhealthy doesn’t mean you can never own one. If you adore one of the breeds listed above, you just have to be extra cautious when choosing where to get them from.


First, try looking at shelters and rescues. You may need to wait a while or travel a long distance to get one of these breeds in a shelter, but they definitely end up at rescues just like every other breed. Sadly, some people surrender them when they realize their care and vet bills will be harder to deal with than they thought. There are lots of other great dogs at shelters and rescues too, so take some time to meet a variety of dogs to find the perfect one for you.


If you really want to go to a breeder, make sure you find one that’s dedicated to making the breed healthier. Make sure they’re trying to breed the dogs’ snouts longer than normal to reduce their risk of breathing problems. Also, make sure you keep an eye out for signs that a breeder is a puppy mill to ensure you don’t support cruelty.


Frequently Asked Questions


What Does Brachycephalic Mean?

“Brachycephalic” is a term used to describe someone with a broad, short skull. It’s usually used for flat faced dog breeds, such as Pugs and French Bulldogs.


Are Brachycephalic Dogs Natural?

Humans purposely breed brachycephalic breeds to have shorter than normal snouts. It’s meant to be cute, but sadly, it causes lots of health problems for the dogs.


Why are Brachycephalic Dogs Popular?

Brachycephalic dog breeds are popular because people find their smushed faces cute. Sadly, those charming features come at a cost. Breeders often sacrifice the dog’s health for appearance.


Are Brachycephalic Dogs Suffering?

Many brachycephalic dogs struggle to breathe, causing them to suffer when exercised or exposed to heat. They may also have health concerns in other areas, such as skin infections, dental disease, and eye problems.


Are Boxers Brachycephalic?

Yes, Boxers are a brachycephalic breed. Their faces may not be as flat as a Pug, but they may still have breathing problems.


Are Shih Tzus Brachycephalic?

Yes, Shih Tzus are a brachycephalic breed. Their faces are flat, which could lead to breathing problems. They often deal with eye issues and dental disease as well.


Which Airlines Allow Brachycephalic Dogs?

Southwest is one of the few airlines that always allows flat faced dogs on flights. Other airlines can turn short snouted dogs away for their safety.


Pug face close up

Be Aware of Brachycephalic Dog Breed Concerns

Brachycephalic dog breeds can be adorable just like any other dog, but they’re prone to breathing problems and other health concerns. 


If you already have a smush face dog, be extra cautious with their exercise schedule and health needs to ensure they can thrive. If you’re considering getting a flat faced dog, do your research to make sure you get one from a reputable source and know how to properly care for them.

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