What is brachycephalic airway syndrome?

Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) refers to a set of airway abnormalities affecting short-nosed dogs and some breeds of cats. These abnormalities include an elongated soft palate, stenotic nares (small nostrils), a hypoplastic trachea (narrow airway to the lungs), and everted laryngeal saccules (which occurs secondarily to the other conditions). Animals suffering from BOAS may have one or a combination of these problems.

What are the symptoms?

Brachycephalic syndrome affects breeds of dogs with short noses (brachycephalic dogs), including bulldogs, pugs, Shih-Tzus and chihuahuas. In cats, Persian and Himalayan breeds are most likely to be affected.

Common BOAS symptoms to look out for include:

  • Noisy or laboured breathing
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Wheezing
  • Snoring
  • Frequent panting
  • Struggling to exercise, especially in warm weather
  • Coughing, choking or vomiting
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Collapse

All brachycephalic dogs suffer from BOAS to some degree, and symptoms are often worse in warm weather, so keep an eye on them to monitor if their condition worsens.


The diagnosis

Diagnosing brachycephalic syndrome can usually be done by assessing your pet’s anatomy, as well as the sounds they make when breathing and a discussion of their symptoms. However, further tests, such as a throat examination, endoscopy or CT scan may be needed to assess different airway abnormalities affecting your pet.


How do we treat brachycephalic syndrome?

Fortunately, treatment for brachycephalic syndrome is not always necessary, so your specialist will assess whether your pet is experiencing severe symptoms and how they cope in warm weather. If they decide your pet would benefit from treatment, there are several surgical and non-surgical options, which your specialist will be able to advise you on.

Non-surgical management: Obesity can significantly worsen the signs of brachycephalic airway syndrome, so weight loss is often an important part of non-surgical treatment. Anti-inflammatory drugs and oxygen therapy may also be recommended to offer short-term relief from respiratory distress. If your dog only suffers from mild BOAS symptoms, their condition can often be managed by controlling exercise levels and keeping them cool during the summer.

Surgical management: If your pet’s airway abnormalities significantly interfere with their breathing, BOAS surgery is often the best course of action. Stenotic nares can be corrected by removing a wedge of tissue from the nostrils, and an elongated soft palate can be shortened to a more normal length. Everted laryngeal saccules can also be removed to eliminate the obstruction in the larynx.