Short nosed breeds of dog, like this gorgeous British Bulldog, are popular companions, but the shape of their head and neck makes them totally unsuitable as running buddies. Some other breeds that fall into this category include Boxers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Pugs and French Bulldogs. They’re known as brachycephalic breeds – “brachy” meaning “shortened” and “cephalic” meaning “head”. There are degrees of brachycephalic-ness, for want of a better word – some Staffies and Boxers have a longer nose than others and may be less adversely affected by the shape of their head but owners still need to take a great deal of care with them.
The problem with the short head is that it has adverse effects on a dog’s respiratory tract. Their nostrils are usually narrower and their soft palate is longer than normal which can block the entrance to their windpipe. There are small pouches in the larynx called laryngeal saccules which, in a brachycephalic dog, are everted which means they stick out into the larynx. This means that there are many obstructions that get in the way of air reaching the windpipe and to top it all off, in these breeds the windpipe is often narrower than normal.
The result is that breathing is hard work for these dogs. It’s hard to get enough air into their lungs and they often snore and snort. Even the slightest exercise can leave them struggling for breath. The biggest risk is heat stroke. A dog relies on panting to evaporate saliva and keep their body temperature down. If there isn’t much air flow to cause evaporation, there is the risk of hyperthermia and heat stroke. There have been many cases of Bulldogs dying of heat stroke after only a short walk in warm weather. A nearby vet clinic recently had to treat a Staffie after he seriously overheated while going for a walk last summer.
If you’re looking for a running buddy, don’t choose a brachycephalic breed. If you have one of these dogs, don’t take him running. To make breathing easier for him, keep him lean as obesity can make his symptoms worse. Don’t walk him on a collar because if he pulls, that will further narrow his airways and he needs all the space he can get in there. Some dogs are candidates for surgery to widen the nostrils and reduce the size of the soft palate, but this isn’t likely to turn them into a runner, it will just make life more comfortable for them.