Brachycephalic airway syndrome is also known by the abbreviations SORB (Syndrome Obstructif Respiratoire des Brachycéphales) or BAOS (Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome). Brachycephalic means « short head ».
One talks about a syndrome because it is an association of anomalies that together form an entity that characterizes this pathology.
Some breeds such as the French Bulldog, the English Bulldog, the Pug, the Pekingese and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel have the anatomical particularity of having a less elongated skull than other dog breeds and a very short muzzle. These anatomical peculiarities were obtained after many years of genetic selection. Unfortunately, this selection has gone out of control and has resulted in many debilitating symptoms that can vary greatly in severity from individual to individual.
Brachycephalic syndrome is composed mainly of respiratory and digestive abnormalities. More particularly at the respiratory level, narrowed nostrils, a too long and too thick palate, a too thick tongue, a collapsed larynx on itself and/or a small diameter trachea are observed. At the digestive level, inflammation of the esophagus and/or stomach are seen. Over time, respiratory and digestive abnormalities can worsen and become increasingly difficult to treat. It is therefore important to intervene as early as possible, even preventively.
Snoring is frequently reported in brachycephalic breeds. These are generally considered normal for these breeds, but it has to be kept in mind that they are the consequence of an abnormal anatomical conformation. Other symptoms are also observed such as breathing difficulties, intolerance to exercise (the dog must stop to recover during walks and games) and intolerance to heat or even loss of consciousness (syncope).
Digestive symptoms such as vomiting and/or regurgitation are common.
Narrowed nostrils are easy to determine during a general examination. To verify the presence of other abnormalities, the ideal is to perform an endoscopy under general anesthesia. This makes it possible to establish an assessment of all the respiratory and digestive anomalies in order to propose an appropriate treatment. Chest x-rays are sometimes also offered to assess the diameter of the trachea as well as the appearance of the lungs.
Indeed, dogs with brachycephalic syndrome are predisposed to aspiration pneumonia.
Once the assessment of the anomalies present has been carried out, a surgical correction of these respiratory malformations is proposed. Most often this intervention consists of enlarging the opening of the nostrils and shortening the soft palate. When the dog has both respiratory and digestive symptoms, surgical correction of the respiratory abnormalities can in some cases also improve the digestive abnormalities because there is a causal link between the two. In some cases, however, the digestive abnormalities are too severe and it is also necessary to intervene surgically in the digestive system and to set up medical treatment.
The prognosis depends on the severity of the abnormalities present at the beginning. A case-by-case discussion with the dog’s veterinarian is advisable.
Dr Emilie Vangrinsven
Diplomate from European college of veterinary internal medicine | PhD U-Liège
Assistant at the Liege University in the university clinic for PETs | Author and co-author of numerous scientific publications