Short-nosed dogs and cats often have difficulty breathing. What you should know about the problem
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Most people recognize pet overpopulation, cruelty and animal fighting as animal welfare issues, but there's one that many don't think about or may even consider cute. We're talking about extreme physical traits, such as the excessively flat faces seen in many Persian cats, bulldogs, Pekingese, pugs, Boston terriers and other brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds.
Snorting and snoring, or the undershot jaw of the bulldog or boxer, are often thought to be endearing characteristics. But when those traits cause animals to gasp for air after minimal exertion, develop heatstroke or even die from exposure to heat and humidity, it's no life for a dog -- or cat. It's not great for their humans, either, who pay high veterinary bills to treat their animals or lose them to an early death.
Pets with extremely flat faces are prone to a condition called brachycephalic syndrome. They may have pinched or narrowed nostrils, known as stenotic nares; an elongated soft palate, which partially blocks the airway; everted saccules, small sacs just inside the larynx that can turn inside out and block the airway; and a hypoplastic, or narrowed, trachea. When the nostrils are too small, nasal cartilage is too soft or the airway is blocked, it's difficult for the animal to draw breath. Dogs with the combination of a short muzzle and undershot jaw can also have difficulty breathing.
A side effect of brachycephalic syndrome is that pets with it have a harder time regulating their body temperature in hot or cold weather. They can't stay outdoors in warm weather, let alone go for a walk. Allergies can worsen the problem.
To protect pets with brachycephalic syndrome, it's important not to let them get fat or overexert themselves in the heat. They must stay in an air-conditioned environment, and need plenty of shade and fresh water when outdoors. Walking dogs with a harness instead of a collar that puts pressure on the neck can also help them breathe easier.
Noisy breathing, gurgling, gasping and a foamy nasal discharge are all signs that a dog is having trouble getting enough air. Other signs of difficulty breathing are fainting and blue gums and tongue, indicating a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream. Left untreated, chronic lack of oxygen puts a serious strain on the heart, and breathing difficulty worsens with age.
For dogs with serious respiratory difficulty, surgery can correct stenotic nares, elongated soft palate and everted saccules. A dog who can't walk across the room without turning blue and gasping for air is a clear candidate for reconstructive surgery.
It's best if this is done early in life if it's obvious that a pet has a problem. When the procedure is performed before the problem becomes serious, it usually has good results. Surgery may be less effective if performed when animals are older. If necessary, stenotic nares and an elongated soft palate can be corrected at the same time. A good time to do it is when the animal is spayed or neutered. You'll be able to hear the difference in breathing immediately after surgery.
No one wants to experience the heartbreak of a pet who can't breathe. Animal lovers can help by not purchasing dogs or cats with extreme facial conformation, no matter how cute they are. Breeders can work toward producing animals with not-so-flat faces and larger nostrils that enable them to breathe effortlessly and do all the things a pet should be able to do: chase a toy, walk around the block, play at the beach or compete in dog sports.
Pocket pets need
dental care, too
Q: My rabbit isn't eating as much as normal, and he seems to be drooling a lot. I notice him picking up food and then dropping it. What can I do to improve his appetite and ability to eat? -- via email
A: Get your bunny to the veterinarian, stat! Dental disease is one of the most common problems we veterinarians see in rabbits (and large rodents such as chinchillas and guinea pigs).
The teeth of these animals grow continuously throughout their life, and the "cheek teeth" can become overgrown if they aren't trimmed regularly. Overgrown teeth don't line up properly or can grow up and out of the mouth. You can imagine how that would make it difficult for the animal to chew. Other possible dental problems are a broken tooth and infected tooth roots or gums.
These types of problems can occur if the rabbit isn't eating a proper diet or if he spends a lot of time chewing on cage wires or other inappropriate materials. A tooth can break during a fight with another rabbit or as the result of a fall. Teeth can become infected if the rabbit has trouble chewing his food and it ends up stuck in his gums.
Depending on the problem, your rabbit may need antibiotics, trimming of the teeth under anesthesia or surgical extraction of the tooth. The best way to prevent dental problems in rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas is to make sure they have plenty of timothy hay to gnaw on. It should make up approximately 75 percent of their diet.
Signs of dental problems in pocket pets to be aware of include excessive drooling (known as "slobbers") or a wet chin, lower incisors growing out of the mouth, upper incisors growing into the mouth, a preference for soft food and difficulty closing the mouth. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Jobs for cats?
They're fur real
-- Pacino works at the Flower Mart in downtown Los Angeles. His job? Rat patrol. His salary? Food and shelter. The cat is one of more than 500 who, over the years, have been rescued from animal shelters and employed by almost 50 businesses and organizations, including the Los Angeles Police Department's Wilshire and Foothill divisions and the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine Temple in Pacific Palisades, California. The Working Cat Program was founded by Voice for the Animals Foundation, which sterilizes and vaccinates unsocialized cats who can't adapt to indoor life and would otherwise have been euthanized.
-- Your local pond, lake, river or ocean is not an aquarium. If you're considering "rehoming" your goldfish, lionfish or other aquarium denizens, think again: Your fish are invasive species that grow and multiply, competing with native species for resources and contributing to algal blooms that disrupt ecosystems as well as the spread of disease and parasites. In the Caribbean, lionfish are destroying reefs. Fish biologists for the United States Forest Service have found goldfish weighing several pounds living in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and warn that non-native species breed easily and can travel to marinas, canals and wetlands connected to the lake.
-- Luxury condo buyers may soon find new amenities beyond gyms and dry cleaners on the premises. Developers in Washington, D.C.; Austin, Texas; Miami and New York City are offering services to attract pet owners. Think a 10th-floor outdoor dog park with seating areas for humans, pet fitness classes, spa sessions, shaded pathways for walks, a bone-shaped swimming pool for pets only, "yappy hour" mixers and overnight pet sitting. Talk about a dog's life! -- Kim Campbell Thornton
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
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 Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker Johnson. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker Johnson is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.
CAPTIONS AND CREDITS
Caption 01: Animals with excessively flat faces may need special care or even surgery. Position: Main Story
Caption 02: Mom is on patrol for rats and other vermin at the Los Angeles Police Department's Wilshire Division. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 1