Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Achy Brachy Dogs

Extreme traits can contribute to poor health in a dog

Andrews McMeel Syndication

If you live with a bulldog, French bulldog, pug or other brachycephalic breed, you’re probably familiar with large veterinary bills related to breathing difficulties, eye injuries and nasty skin-fold infections. But you might be surprised to learn that those dogs are also more prone to common conditions that affect all dogs.

That was the finding of a research team at Nationwide after analyzing its database of 1.27 million dogs from 2007 to 2015. They looked at 184,748 dogs of 24 breeds identified as brachycephalic -- meaning they had large heads, short snouts and protruding eyes -- to determine whether those dogs were less healthy, as healthy or more healthy than dogs without those features.

When accidents, infectious diseases and conditions related to brachycephalic anatomy, such as elongated soft palate and a smaller-than-normal trachea, were removed from consideration, brachycephalic dogs were less healthy across the board. Ear infections, allergies, bladder infections and pneumonia were all found at higher rates in dogs with shortened faces.

“The relative disease rates for pneumonia are particularly noteworthy,” the report states. The prevalence of pneumonia was twice as high in brachycephalic dogs -- 1.6 percent compared to 0.77 percent in other dogs.

Brachycephalic dogs also had greater rates of digestive issues (including their infamous flatulence), tooth extractions, hyperthermia (overheating), valvular heart disease, bacterial skin infections, anal gland problems, patellar luxation, intervertebral disc disease, corneal ulcers and conjunctivitis.

Which breeds fall into the brachycephalic category? The breeds mentioned above are no surprise, but the list also includes the affenpinscher, Boston terrier, boxer, Brussels griffon, cavalier King Charles spaniel, dogue de Bordeaux, Japanese chin, Lhasa apso, mastiff, bull mastiff, Neapolitan mastiff, Pyrenean mastiff, Tibetan mastiff, Spanish mastiff, Pekingese and Shih Tzu.

Even before this information was announced at the 2017 North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Florida, veterinarians have been concerned about the health of brachycephalic dogs.

In a presentation at NAVC in 2016, veterinarian Philip A. Moses addressed the health-related welfare of flat-faced dogs. A study by Niels C. Pedersen published last July in the journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology reported that loss of genetic diversity in the bulldog was pronounced in the region of the genome that contains many of the genes that regulate normal immune responses. And at an Aug. 6 session at the 2016 American Veterinary Medical Association conference in San Antonio, Dr. Gail Golab, AVMA’s chief advocacy and public policy officer, noted that breeding dogs for extreme physical characteristics such as brachycephaly and wrinkled skin had led to a multitude of health issues.

What can be done?

Dr. Moses says that beyond treating individual dogs surgically to relieve their breathing difficulties, it’s important for kennel clubs, breeders, owners and veterinarians to recognize and learn about the health problems in these dogs and how they can be improved through better breeding. He regularly speaks to breed clubs about the issues associated with their breeds, especially those with a genetic basis.

In the 2016 NAVC proceedings, he says: “For example, hemivertebrae is highly heritable and could be virtually removed from most of these breeds if radiographic screening was compulsory. I advise that all dogs should have good-quality spinal radiographs taken at 6 months of age, and any dog with any vertebral body abnormalities should be neutered.”

He urges breeders to educate new puppy owners about the problems associated with their breeds. Buyers, too, need to do their homework and reject puppies who come with contracts that don’t cover conditions considered “normal” in brachycephalic breeds, such as stenotic nares (narrow nostrils), tracheal hypoplasia (narrowed trachea) and elongated soft palate. While these problems are common in brachycephalic dogs, they are not normal and should not be accepted as such.


Will cat attack?

Owner is concerned

Q: My cat is aggressive to people who come into our home, whether it’s workers or guests. She crouches, flicks her tail back and forth and hisses. I’m afraid she’ll attack someone. Why does she do this, and what can we do? -- via email

A: Cats who behave aggressively may be warning strangers off their territory or expressing fear of a new person. Whether cats are territorial or fearful, they start with body language and vocalizations to try to drive off the person or animal who’s invading their home or scaring them. It’s an impressive display, and you are right to be concerned that an actual attack could occur.

While it might be nice for some people to know an attack cat has your back, most of us want people in our home to feel welcome and not at risk. A cat’s teeth and claws are formidable weapons that can cause real harm.

If this problem has begun suddenly, take your cat in for a veterinary exam to rule out health problems that could be causing the behavior. Conditions that can cause cats to be irritable include hyperthyroidism, arthritis and cancer.

For a cat with a clean bill of health, manage the problem by putting her in a safe place before you let people into your home. A “safe room” might be a bathroom, a guest bedroom or an outdoor “catio.” Whatever area you choose should contain all your cat’s needs: food, water, toys and a litter box.

Keep your cat there until guests or workers leave. If your cat will be in an area where she can see and be seen, ask guests to ignore her -- no talking to her, trying to pet her or even looking at her. Consult a behavior expert about ways to desensitize and counter-condition your cat to visitors. -- Mikkel Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit


Take time to

learn pet first aid

-- April is Pet First Aid Awareness Month. It’s a good time to sign up for a class on pet first aid skills. Even if you have taken such a course before, a refresher is always a good idea. Basic skills that can save your pet’s life or relieve pain until you can get to the veterinarian include knowing how to stop bleeding, check vital signs such as heart and respiratory rate, clean and bandage a cut or scrape, recognize and care for an animal in shock, and how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a pet who is choking.

-- Feline social media stars? We have some cats for you. Summer the Somali at makes therapy visits, parties in Palm Springs at cat shows, strolls hotels on a leash and is a Cat Writers Association certificate of excellence winner. On Instagram, Yana, the cat with a split-color face (half black and half orange), has nearly 47,000 followers. Hamilton the Hipster Cat, with a milk meowstache you won’t believe, has more than 120,000 likes on Facebook. But they both have a way to go to catch up with @Sockington on Twitter, who has 1.41 million followers. Now that’s social petworking!

-- If your dog is a fetching fool, he has the brain of a rocket scientist, able to plot trajectory and predict the landing point of a flying object. While dogs have probably always chased and brought back moving objects, training dogs to retrieve downed game and return it undamaged to the hunter dates only to the mid-19th century, a mere blink of an eye in the history of dogs. Some dogs retrieve on land, some from water and others excel at both. Well-known retrieving breeds include Labrador, golden, Chesapeake Bay, flat-coated, curlycoated and Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.