There is just something so lovable about those smooshed faces… the snorting, the drooling and especially the infectious cheerfulness that flat-faced breeds possess. From the Pugs, Bulldogs and Boston Terriers to the Frenchies and Pekingese, they all make us smile when they walk through the door! However, whether they come in for lodging, daycare or a spa appointment, facility operators should be aware of the specific health problems that plague the brachycephalic breeds.
One of the more common topics of discussion in pet care is heat exhaustion, or hyperthermia. Aspiration, on the other hand, may not be as familiar, but according to veterinarians, has recently been on the rise. Sadly, brachys have a higher risk for having one or both of these emergent conditions during their lives due to their malformed nasal mechanisms.
Pinched or narrow nostrils (stenotic nares) restrict a dog’s nasal breathing causing more mouth breathing. Another problem in their anatomy concerns the boney structures in their nasal cavities (hypertrophic turbinates) which regulate normal breathing. In brachys, these may be overgrown and thickened, causing added restrictions for normal air intake.
Aspiration (or inhalation) Pneumonia is a condition in which a dog’s lungs become inflamed due to the inhalation of foreign matter. Foreign matter could be kibble, treats, toys, vomit and even their own saliva. We have anecdotally seen a huge uptick in both brachycephalic heatstroke and aspiration over the past four years. This has prompted many conversations with our local veterinarians to help us shape and update our Standard Operating Procedures for these breeds.
First, we need to understand how pets cool themselves. Humans sweat to cool off; however, pets regulate their temperature through evaporation of saliva while the pet passes air over the tongue (panting). If the environment is either too hot and/or too humid, the pet’s ability to cool themselves is decreased. When this happens, pets will start producing more saliva to aid in the cooling process. Additional saliva with rapid panting in brachys can increase the potential for aspiration pneumonia. Management of the environment is imperative to decrease both hyperthermia and aspiration cases. By adding the following four policies to your Standard Operating Procedures, you may prevent these health concerns we see as professional pet care providers in brachycephalic breeds.
1. The Rule of 120
Not only do dogs emit more humidity into the air than humans, they also have reduced abilities to cool themselves in general. These two particulars require us to monitor heat and humidity more closely, both outside and inside, for all dogs. The frequency of these checks needs to increase during the day and monitoring the health of brachycephalic breeds should be initiated more frequently.
One easy way to do this is to place heat/humidity thermometers in multiple locations inside and out. Indoor thermometers need to be checked at least twice a day. Coupling this with staff “well-checks” of pets in the facility is complimentary. Outdoor thermometers need to be checked at the top and bottom of each hour. For brachys, action must be initiated when the temperature of the heat plus the percent of humidity added together reaches 120. This may not feel hot to us, but for these dogs, it will feel very hot, even on a cloudy day. Preventative actions for outdoor play may include water misters, large fans for adding airflow, or reducing or eliminating outdoor playtime during the peak times of high heat and humidity.
Taking action for indoor care starts with closing doggie doors during the hottest time of the day. If you are struggling to keep your building below the total of 120, you may need to consider changes and/or additions to your HVAC system. Solutions may be found in the addition of intake registers and returns, as well as adding dehumidifiers. Changing AC filters as often as bi-weekly will also help. The higher levels of humidity that pets omit compared to their human companions requires specialization in most HVAC layouts and systems.
2. Spa Processes
In addition to the monitoring above, brachys require that the drying process after a bath be monitored and possibly altered. Removing any heat-element dryers—whether cage dryers or hand-held high velocity driers—is imperative for the safety of brachys, while still recommended for all breeds. The mechanics of a forced-air machine creates a level of heat that is sufficient to aid in the evaporation of water on its own without added heat. What feels warm to the touch to us can feel like intense heat to these dogs.
Limit the drying times even though they are monitored. Add electrical timers to any outlets that provide power to your dryers to give recovery breaks. Time passes in different ways for each of your team members. An untimed five minutes for your spa staff might “feel” like five minutes to them, but in reality, may be closer to 15 or 20 minutes. Timers that automatically turn the dryer off will que the team members to take a quick assessment of the pet and allow him/her the opportunity to properly recover.
3. Control Timing of Food & Water Intake
Many dogs get excited before eating or playing; however, when brachys are in a high state of arousal, they are much more likely to have an episode of aspiration. The narrowing of the dog’s nostrils reduces his ability to consciously differentiate between a breath and a swallow while excited or aroused. Give them time to recover during eating or drinking and plan specific meal times to allow for digestion prior to any activities.
It is not just the act of ingesting food that we need to control, aroused pets have a greater potential of vomiting up their kibble. If a brachy vomits while excited, the opportunity for aspiration is greatly increased. Provide adequate time after a meal before allowing play or a spa service.
Remove access of food and water for fifteen minutes after intense play or activity. When pets are excited, they can feel ravenous and thirstier than their bodies truly are. This can prompt them to gulp food and water down at a dangerous rate. Removing that potential inhalant for a short period allows the pet to settle and bring their breathing rate down, minimizing the risk of aspiration.
4. Use Slow Feeders
Stress or excitement can change a dog’s eating habits—but not all stress is bad. Think of your last vacation; it’s common to feel some excitement or even anxiety prior to a fun event. Pets are the same way! Since food aspiration in brachys can happen in a facility setting, the use of slow feeders may help lower their excitement level while eating.
Even if they are picky or slow eaters, brachys should still be fed with a slow feeder. This is because a sudden event like an ill-timed bark from a fellow guest or a sudden slammed door can startle a dog, possibly triggering inhalation. Slowing down their eating engages the tongue and mind during meals and will help reduce the potential for inhalation/aspiration.
Prevention and continued education will set you and your facility up for success. Adding these four protocols to your facility’s Standard Operating Procedures will reduce the possibility of serious incidences with our precious brachycephalic dogs.
Once your policies have been updated, when you hear that adorable freight train of a Bulldog heading down the hallway in your facility, you will beam with pride knowing your team will confidently care for these precious pets.