Pugs and English and French Bulldogs are examples of brachycephalic breeds. These are breeds which have a wide and short skull, seen as a short nose and muzzle. Some cat breeds such as the Persian are also described as brachycephalic.
Over recent years we have seen an increase in the number of brachycephalic dogs visiting us for specialist veterinary treatment. Being brachycephalic comes with a number of additional problems that require careful monitoring and often additional treatment around the time of anaesthesia. Because of these problems anaesthesia of these breeds is associated with additional risk compared to breeds with a more natural skull conformation.
The additional problems that are likely to form part of the increased anaesthetic risk include:
• Difficulty in breathing due to differences in the shape and size of the head and airways
• A much smaller airway (windpipe) than a patient of similar body weight of a longer nosed breed
• Increased incidence of regurgitation/refluxing (bringing up) of stomach contents which may in the worst-case scenario enter the lungs, but also irritates the lining of the oesophagus (food pipe) and inside the nose
• Abnormal stomach emptying (which may be involved in regurgitation) may lead to a full stomach which can press on the diaphragm and the lungs and make breathing more difficult
• These breeds are often stressed very easily and stress can exacerbate their breathing problems. In some dogs stress will precipitate respiratory collapse
At Anderson Moores Veterinary Specialists we have a team of specialist veterinary anaesthetists and veterinary nurses who are very experienced in managing brachycephalic breeds before, during and after anaesthesia. We have specific protocols in place for these breeds which are designed to minimise their anaesthesia risk (there is however always some risk associated with anaesthesia). Our aim is to pre-empt potential problems to minimise the impact they have on a patient’s anaesthetic. We use a number of additional measures before, during and following anaesthesia in addition to those used routinely in all anaesthetics:
• Use of medications to minimise stress to your pet during hospitalisation
• Close and continuous monitoring of all brachycephalic patients during the entire hospitalisation period by our team of veterinary nurses, especially prior to and following anaesthesia, with careful monitoring in the initial recovery period
• Use of medications to assist with stomach emptying, protecting the stomach lining (gastroprotection) and to reduce any nausea (feeling sick)
The additional safety measures that we put in place for brachycephalic breeds do involve additional costs but we do think they are important to make anaesthesia of these breeds as safe as possible. If you are an owner and you have any questions about your pet’s anaesthetic please speak to the clinician looking after your pet or ask to speak to one of our anaesthesia team.