We all know that summer can be a dangerous time for our dogs. Dogs are very susceptible to some dangerous conditions such as heatstroke, and can get sick very easily. There is a type of dog that is even more at risk than others, however. Brachycephalic dogs need more precautions than normal when it comes to the dangers of heat. Due to their facial structure, brachycephalic dogs do not breathe and pant efficiently. Since panting is the primary way that dogs cool themselves down – much like human sweat – the summer time can be uncomfortable for brachycephalic dogs at best, and deadly at worst. For that reason it’s absolutely vital that if you have one of these breeds, you should educate yourself on how to care for them in the summer season.

Brachycephalic dogs suffer from what’s known as brachycephalic airway syndrome, or BAS for short. It’s also recognised through other acronyms such as BUAOS and BOAS, all of which are variations for the same thing. BAS causes a dog’s breathing to be inefficient, meaning they are unable to cool themselves down properly. This places them at an extreme risk for developing heatstroke or heat exhaustion.

Which dogs are at risk?

Brachycephalic dogs are the short-nosed dogs of the world. They include: 

  • Pugs,
  • Bulldogs,
  • Maltese,
  • Chihuahuas,
  • Shih Tzus,
  • Pekinese, and
  • Boston Terriers.

You can find a full list of brachycephalic dog breeds here. Brachy means shortened, and Cephalic means head. These ‘shortened head’ dogs have a limited airway to breathe through due to several factors in their facial structure that add up to a lot of difficulties. For one, these dogs can have small openings to their nose, known as nares.

Not as much air passes through these openings compared to their long-nosed brethren. Inside the noses are the nasal conchae, the bones in the nose that aid in filtering and cooling or warming the air coming through the passage. Animals with a good sense of smell have more complex conchae, so you can imagine that they would be quite complex in a dog. The problem with brachycephalic dogs, however, is that their conchae fills up a lot of their nasal cavity, since the cavities are so small to begin with.

So you might think that these dogs would be able to simply use their mouths to breathe when they’re hot, right? Unfortunately, their mouths don’t help matters at all. There are soft palates in their mouths that prevent air from getting to the trachea. Their tracheas can also be up to a quarter of the size of those in longer-faced dogs.

Brachycephalic dogs may not have all of these factors working against them, but even just one can cause serious problems. As you can see, brachycephalic dogs have a lot to overcome. For them, trying to breathe is similar to a person trying to breathe while they have pneumonia and a fully congested chest and nose.

Unfortunately, it’s these abnormalities that give those breeds the cute looks their owners love and were attracted to in the first place. Brachycephaly has gotten worse in recent years as breeding has caused these dogs’ faces to be even flatter as time goes on. It is their very cuteness that gets in the way of their breathing. And in summer, these issues become infinitesimally worse, meaning that extra precautions must be made to prevent heat exhaustion and heatstroke from occurring.

How to protect them from heat

The primary way to prevent discomfort and danger in your dogs is to keep them out of the heat altogether. Keep them indoors if possible. Since they are smaller dogs, it’s easier to exercise them indoors. If you must take them outside, keep them in the shade as much as possible. And keep the following tips in mind:

  • Water – Another way for dogs to cool down is with water. Always have water on hand, even on a walk. Bring a fold up bowl and water bottle if need be. Your dogs need exercise, but they should always be well hydrated when doing so. It would also be great to have a nice pool or bath of water on hand for a quick cool down after exercise.
  • Exercise – As mentioned, all dogs need exercise. However you should be very careful exercising your brachycephalic dog, especially in summer. Walks and playtime should be short and at a slower pace. Try to exercise in the morning before the sun comes up, or in the evening after it has gone down.
  • Weight – It can exacerbate the problem if your dog is overweight. The harder it is to move around, the harder it will be for them to breathe. Make sure you keep your dog at a healthy weight. This is important for all dogs, but especially brachycephalic ones.
  • Collar – If you’re walking your dog, use a harness instead of a collar. A collar can pull up on the throat. Since the trachea is smaller on these dogs, any lessening of the airway can cause major problems. Under no circumstances should you use a choke chain for a brachycephalic dog.

What to look out for

There are many signs when a brachycephalic dog is in danger. A noticeable rise in the volume of their breathing could be one indicator. Keep an eye out for excessive panting, or panting that looks or sounds laboured. They can also have difficulty walking, or will start walking very slowly. Vomiting is also a sign that the heat has got to be too much for them to handle.

What to do

If you suspect your dog may be suffering from heatstroke or heat exhaustion, cool him down immediately! If you’re outside, bring them indoors where it’s cooler. Get some ice packs, wrap them in hot towels, and cover your dogs with them. Get a fan going to increase the airflow in the room as well. If you’re able, place them in some shallow, cool water in the bathtub, or spray with water from a water diffuser. You can give them water to drink, but keep an eye on them as they drink. Dogs instinctively try to get as much water as they can when they’re hot, but brachycephalic dogs are at a higher risk of choking due to their smaller tracheas.

We love brachycephalic dogs because of their cute, smooshy faces, and their friendly and fun personalities. Unfortunately, it’s those pushed-in faces that can also cause them the most problems. With a few precautions, though, you can keep your pet safe and breathing easy during those hot summer days.

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Liz Walden

Liz has a passion for all things cat and dog, and was one of the first in Australia to bring Pet Insurance to the market. She has headed up Petsecure marketing for the past 10 years, and is committed to promoting and supporting the amazing work done by rescue groups around Australia, and those who work to promote a better life for all animals

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