By Allen MacAlister

Brachycephalic dogs (pronounced: bracky-seh-falic) are short snout or flat faced dogs. Many of these are small breeds of dog, commonly called lap dogs, although some are larger. The term "brachycephalic" comes from the Greek, "brachy" means short and "cephalic" means head. Of the dogs of this type the most common include:

  • Pugs,
  • Boxers,
  • Boston Terriers,
  • Yorkshire Terriers,
  • English and French Bulldogs, and
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, among others.

They are very popular breeds that are typically pampered by their owners. Many are recognized pedigree varieties. Like all dogs, these flat face dogs love to play and romp around outside the house in the summertime. However, the summer is a time when owners should be on guard for potential trouble with these breeds. High heat and high humidity affect all dogs, but these weather conditions are especially difficult on all brachycephalic breeds.

The problem is one of natural anatomy design. Brachycephalic dogs have an upper respiratory tract that is awkward and downright obstructive. In fact, "obstructive" is the word most often used in describing their peculiarly problematic airway anatomy. This physical characteristic is referred to as the "brachycephalic syndrome" which provides a facial design that may be cute, but is otherwise an efficient design for breathing. As a result, a number of problems may occur as the result of extremes in temperature.

Panting is the way dogs cool themselves. It is the manner that dogs regulate their body temperature. However, because of their airway anatomical design, the brachycephalic breeds of dogs pant much less inefficiently than other breeds. Air does not pass in and out as easily or as quickly. This is why these breeds sometimes sound as if they are out-of-breath for no reason. On top of this, high humidity impedes their breathing process and at times may cause their breathing to become very noticeably labored. Complicating this is a tendency for their airways to become easily inflamed and swollen in stressful conditions.

Curiously, the flat face design encourages saliva to evaporate from the tongue more quickly than it otherwise would. This impedes the cooling effect the tongue has on the blood circulating through the tongue. This in turn makes the body cooling process far less efficient than in other breeds.

Inefficient panting, airway sensitivity, and an ineffective cooling design means that in hot weather conditions the brachycephalic dog is especially vulnerable to rapid overheating. High humidity complicates this situation. Of all breeds of dog, brachycephalic dogs are the most likely candidates for heatstroke, which is an especially dangerous problem.

Summer Safety Tips

You should take special precautions for brachycephalic dogs in hot, humid weather. These include:

* Go for "walkies" in the cool morning and evening, avoid the mid-day sun.

* If you must keep your pooch outside in hot weather, make sure you provide plenty of cool fresh water, and provide a shady place to rest-making sure that the area is shady throughout the entire day. This is very important.

* Of course, it is always best to keep brachycephalic breeds indoors in air-conditioning during hot weather.

* Also, never leave any pet (or children) in a car on a warm or hot day. Temperatures inside a car can easily rise to 120 degrees Fahrenheit under the summer sun. Even if the outside temperature is only 70 degrees, the inside of a car can cause heat stress and even heatstroke.

While a brachycephalic dog is a pleasure to own and is particularly convenient for apartment living, these breeds have their own unique requirements. However, by taking a few precautions you can easily avoid potential danger. But a little inconvenience is no problem when talking about the abundant personality and keen intelligence that make the flat faced dog so especially desirable and well-liked.

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