Why you shouldn’t delay brachycephalic airway surgery.

A normal larynx

Larynx of a brachycephalic dog where surgery was delayed too long.

Two weeks ago, I performed surgery on a brachycephalic (short-faced) dog to improve it’s breathing. I shortened the soft palate, removed the laryngeal saccules, and opened the nostrils. The surgery went well, and I expected a great result. Two weeks later, the dog was still struggling to breathe normally so we anaesthetised the dog again to examine the throat.

Unfortunately, the dog was suffering from laryngeal collapse.

What is laryngeal collapse?

Laryngeal collapse is a problem which can develop over time in brachycephalic dogs. Because of the amount of suction it requires for these dogs to breathe in, the cartilage of the larynx becomes weakened and starts to get sucked into the airway.

Why operate early?

Apart from simply improving the dog’s breathing and therefore quality of life, early surgery for brachycephalic dogs helps prevent a lot of secondary changes. These changes include laryngeal collapse, thickening of the tissues at the back of the throat, hiatal hernias (where part of the stomach gets “sucked up” into the oesophagus because the dog needs to suck so hard to breathe in), and laryngeal saccule eversion.

We most often see these dogs coming in for surgery between 3 and 6 years of age. This is when the secondary changes are starting to occur, which means the dog’s breathing is getting gradually worse. While some of these changes can be reversed with surgery, some become permanent and therefore continue to affect the dog for the rest of its life. Early surgery means we can prevent these secondary problems from forming, giving a better long term outcome.

How do you know if your dog needs brachycephalic surgery?

If you find your dog snores a lot, makes a harsh rasping sound when they breathe in, needs to breathe through their mouth when resting, can’t exercise as much as a “normal” dog, or has very narrow nostrils, they may benefit from surgery.

You can also perform the BRACHYCEPHALIC CHALLENGE, where you see if your dog can walk 400m in 10 minutes. 400m is roughly once around a footy oval, so on a cool day take your dog for a walk and see if it can do one lap in 10 minutes. If it can’t, you need to have it assessed by a vet.

Isn’t it normal for a pug to breathe like that?

Too often we hear owners say “that breathing is normal for a Pug/French Bulldog”. That may, unfortunately, be true, but it doesn’t mean that the dog is not struggling to breathe. Owners also might say that they just don’t exercise their dog because it “runs out of breath”.

Try blocking your nose then putting two drinking straws in your mouth. You will probably find that you can just breathe well enough to manage when you’re not doing much. Now try going for a walk around the block. It won’t take long before you start struggling to get enough oxygen. Imagine living your life like that. I made a short video, WHICH YOU CAN SEE HERE, showing just what life with brachycephalic obstructive airway disease would be like.

I know that not all brachycephalic dogs are affected, and there are some very good examples of the breed out there. The message that I’m trying to get across is that if your dog is affected, please give us a call and we can help improve their quality of life. But please do it early to get the best results.

Dr Braden has an interest in treating Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Disease. Appointments can be booked at the Eaton Vet Clinic with Dr Braden on 97250399 or through our online booking service.



Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus – Bloat

Typical appearance of GDV (Bloat)

This radiograph shows what a little kid might call the “bottom sign”. That might sound funny, but this is actually one of the most serious conditions we see as vets. This radiograph tells us that this dog has a twisted stomach, and it needs emergency treatment. This condition is called Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV), or Bloat.

What Causes GDV?

We still don’t understand a lot about this condition. We know that dogs with a deep chest, such as Great Danes, Dobermans and Weimaraners, are more prone to GDV. There are also suggestions that eating large meals, exercising after eating, eating too fast, and eating from an elevated platform may all contribute to GDV developing.

What are the signs of GDV?

The most common signs we see in GDV cases include the abdomen getting bigger, and the dog trying to vomit but not bringing anything up.

What do I do if I think my dog has GDV?

GDV is a true emergency. Affected dogs can die in as little as one hour. If you notice your dog’s belly getting bigger, or if it is trying to vomit but not producing anything, please call your vet urgently. Don’t “wait and see” what happens, or wait until your vet is open. Any delays could be fatal.

What will my vet do to treat my dog?

To get a diagnosis of GDV, we will normally take a radiograph of your dog’s abdomen. There are some very typical changes which we can normally see on radiographs. Once we have confirmed a GDV, we will treat the dog for shock with intravenous fluids and oxygen, treat any other complications such as heart arrhythmias, and then try to release some of the pressure from the stomach. Once the dog has been stabilised, emergency surgery will be performed to untwist the stomach and anchor the stomach to the abdominal wall to reduce the risk of it twisting again.

This condition is very hard to treat, and even with the best vets around 5% of pets will not survive the surgery.

How do I prevent GDV?

The best way to prevent GDV is with a preventative surgery called a “gastropexy”. This is a surgical procedure where the stomach is permanently attached to the abdominal wall. Although not 100% effective, it is considered the best way to massively reduce the risk of GDV developing. This can be done at the same time as desexing, or as a stand-alone procedure.

Other advice includes feeding multiple small meals each day rather than one big meal, and avoiding exercise after eating. Specially designed bowls which slow the dog’s rate of eating can also help.

Contrary to popular belief, feeding from an elevated level actually increases the risk of GDV, so dogs should always be fed at ground level.

The Bunbury and Eaton Vet Clinics offer elective gastropexy surgery for all deep-chested dogs. Please give us a call if you would like to discuss this procedure for your dog.