We all know many short-nosed dogs struggle to breathe, due to “BOAS” – Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome. And sadly, lovely as they are, Frenchies are particularly prone to the problem. But beyond medical management, there’s a lot of talk about airway surgery. Some people are all for it, some think it’s too risky, and others genuinely aren’t sure! Se we asked one of our vet surgery bloggers, Laura, to investigate…

Factors that contribute to BOAS in a French Bulldog include:

  • Stenotic nares (narrow nostrils). Narrow nostrils = reduced airflow.
  • Overlong or thickened soft palate. While breeding has shortened the bones of the muzzle, the soft tissues – especially the muscular soft palate – is too long. It hangs back into the throat and can block the entrance to the windpipe, causing difficulty breathing, odd noises, and reverse sneezing.
  • Abnormal nasal turbinates (nasal bones). These delicate nasal bones are covered in sensitive membrane, and help to warm and humidify the air breathed in. However, like the soft palate, they tend to be too long and may extend all the way back into the throat – again, obstructing the free flow of fresh oxygenated air.
  • Tracheal hypoplasia (narrowed trachea). Many brachycephalic dogs have a narrowed windpipe, or trachea

What are the symptoms of BOAS that my dog could experience?

  • Noisy breathing
  • Difficulty breathing in
  • Increased effort with breathing
  • Reduced exercise tolerance
  • Vomiting or regurgitation
  • Salivating
  • Collapse
  • Difficulty coping with warm weather

What can be done to help a dog with brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome?

If you have concerns about your French Bulldog seek advice from your veterinary surgeon, they will be able to assess your dog and formulate a management plan if needed. Urgent care should be sought if your dog has significant difficulty breathing.

If a brachycephalic dog is experiencing symptoms of BOAS such as reduced exercise tolerance or increased respiratory effort, then surgery might be one of the treatment options discussed. Surgical intervention for dogs who have BOAS can improve their quality of life and if carried out early enough can reduce the likelihood of secondary changes such as laryngeal collapse from occurring. 

Surgical procedures which may be recommended when treating a French Bulldog with BOAS could typically primarily include:

  • Surgery to resect (widen) stenotic nares. This increases the diameter of the nostril, allowing more air to enter the airway.
  • Staphylectomy. This is a surgical procedure to shorten the overlong soft palate which can obstruct the throat and airway. 

How successful is surgery to correct BOAS?

The good news is that a recent study has shown around 70% of dogs that undergo surgery to widen stenotic nares (narrow nostrils), and staphylectomy (also known as a palatoplasty, to reduce the overlong soft palate) show an improvement in their respiratory function. Dogs with severe signs of respiratory impairment prior to surgery were most likely to show an improvement following surgery. 

It is likely that surgery will help to improve your dog’s respiratory function

If carried out early enough could help to avoid secondary issues such as:

  • Laryngeal collapse
  • Gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting, regurgitation, reflux or excessive salivation. 
  • Everted or enlarged tonsils.

The research study showed that a significant percentage of dogs improved following surgery; however, this does not mean these dogs were clinically normal. So dogs may still exhibit signs or symptoms of BOAS such as noisy breathing or reduced tolerance to exercise. The improvement of 70% was seen with only surgery to the nostrils and soft palate. Some dogs with more severe symptoms may benefit from further surgical intervention or procedures, and in doing so may see further improvement to their respiratory function.

In summary, if your French Bulldog is exhibiting signs or symptoms of BOAS, your veterinary surgeon may discuss surgical procedures

In the vast majority of cases, research shows that brachycephalic dogs undergoing surgery to treat brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome will see an improvement in their respiratory function. Your veterinary surgeon will be able to discuss the needs of your dog and which procedures if any are needed. All surgical procedures will have potential risks and benefits which will vary with each patient, depending on their overall health, concurrent disease and the reason for the surgery. 

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