All owners of brachycephalic breeds recognize the characteristic sound that goes along with their dog's normal breathing, but many do not know the reason why their dog makes these strange noises.
Brachycephalic (or "smoosh-faced") breeds like English and French bulldogs, pugs, and Pekingeses not only have a different outward appearance to their faces when compared to most other dog breeds, but they also have certain conformational traits that result in the funny sounds that they make. The three signature conformational traits are stenotic nares, elongated soft palate, and hypoplastic trachea. "Stenotic nares" refers to the smaller-than-normal nostril holes that these dogs breathe through, which decreases the amount of air they can breathe in every time they take a breath. "Elongated soft palate" refers to the proportionately longer flap of tissue that these breeds have in the back of their throat that can sometimes hang down and cover their airway, thereby obstructing breathing. Elongated soft palates are the most common cause of the snoring that brachycephalic dogs do when they sleep. "Hypoplastic trachea" refers to the smaller-than-normal diameter of the windpipe, which also contributes to a decreased volume of air taken in with each breath.
Veterinarians have the ability to surgically correct two of the three conformational airway abnormalities of the brachycephalics. The stenotic nares can be opened up using a surgical procedure that removes a small piece of tissue at each nostril and creates a wider hole. The elongated soft palate can be shortened to a more proportionate length using a surgical technique that removes the excess tissue. Unfortunately the hypoplastic trachea is not a condition that we have the ability to change, as the overall diameter of the windpipe is unalterable.
These conformational abnormalities often result in challenges for the brachycephalic breeds. They typically exhibit exercise intolerance, becoming tired and "out of breath" after just minimal amounts of activity. They are also highly sensitive to warmer ambient temperatures and tend to become overheated much more quickly than other dogs.
Owners of brachycephalics must constantly be aware of their dog's limitations when it comes to activity and heat tolerance. They must ensure that the dog takes regular breaks from playtime and walks/runs in order to avoid overheating. During warmer months, the use of air conditioning can sometimes become a necessity for these dogs depending on geographical location. Kiddie pools, cooling beds, and even ice packs are a few other items that can come in handy for preventing overheating when temperatures rise. And of course, cool water should be made available at all times to prevent dehydration.