Brachycephalic (short faced) dogs (such as french bulldogs, british bulldogs and pugs) have typically more respiratory and breathing difficulties than most other breeds of dogs. Breeding of these dogs is to encourage a shorter head (from snout to neck) and as a result, all the normal structures in the head (nasal passages, soft palate and trachea) tend to be condensed into a much shorter space. Moreover, we also see the vertebral bodies in the spine malformed which can lead to more degenerative changes (such as nerve dysfunction or loss of function, or “slipped disc” signs, in their lifetime.
Recently a new british bulldog pup joined our clinic as a patient for a routine checkup and vaccinations. He was about 8 weeks old at the time but also had a prolapsed third eyelid gland “cherry eye.” (see picture below).
Surprisingly, on physical examination - it was noted that he had beautiful big nostrils (always a good sign) and that he had laxity in his hips on palpation. This means that his hips were able to be moved in a way that is not usually possible or easily done (as the ball and socket joint in the hips did not have the best conformation).
A prolapsed gland of the third eyelid (or "cherry eye") is thought to be associated with a laxity of a small ligament which holds the gland in a normal position behind the third eyelid. The gland is a tear producing gland, and produces about 30% of the tears, while the rest is produced by another gland within the eye socket.
The best method of treating this condition is to apply lubricant in the meantime, but to schedule surgery for a “tacking procedure” which tucks the gland back into its normal (and hidden) position.
This pup was booked in for surgery, and at the same time, we elected to perform hip xrays to confirm the laxity (and less than ideal conformation of the ball and socket joints). The cherry eye surgery was successful, but we also were able to confirm our suspicions regarding his hip conformation. After discussing the options with his owners, we agreed that we would give him a better chance of outgrowing his hip dysplasia by performing a juvenile pubic symphysiodesis (JPS). This is a procedure to allow the ball and socket joint to grow in a slightly different way to allow more contact between the ball of the femur (thigh bone) and the socket of the pelvis. In doing so, and allowing more firm contact, it encourages more strength in the joint stability. We also noted (whilst we were anaesthetising him, that he had a very narrow trachea (breathing tube) and that this may become more significant as he was growing.
Post operatively, he progressed reasonably well - healing well from both the cherry eye procedure (you would never know that he has had any surgery on his third eyelid) and also his JPS. However, approximately a fortnight later he started to have more difficulty breathing and it was also much louder (with more effort) - waking his mum and dad through the night. Xrays did not indicate a chest infection and he was started on a flixotide puffer - which is a cortisone inhaler to allow the airways to open up as much as possible and allow better exchange of oxygen. Unfortunately, this was not enough to settle his breathing and a referral to see a specialist at North Shore Veterinary Specialist Centre was arranged. After further imaging (fluoroscopy), it was found that he had an incredibly narrow trachea as well as a longer oesophagus than normal. He also has the typical elongated soft palate which obstructs the upper airway passage. The trachea being narrow means that it is easily obstructed and irritated when he is breathing, causing him to cough and be out of breath; the longer oesophagus means that there can be food sitting in the oesophagus hours after eating as it doesn’t have enough muscle contraction to push it all into the stomach. This can lead to oesophageal ulceration and irritation from the gastric acid secretions.
As our little friend is still so young, he has been managed medically through both the teams at north shore vet hospital and VetHQ - allowing us to get him as big and healthy as possible before he has surgery to correct some of these issues. However, it does mean that he doesn’t get to be as boisterous as other pups his age - because he can be out of breath so easily, he can’t have more than 5 minutes of play at a time, and only in cooler environments to minimise heat stress. Thankfully, his mum and dad are so dedicated and they have embraced the schedule of treatments - from nebulisers, puffers, and oral medications to his routine check ups with vets.
Just remember a few crucial things when you’re looking for a new addition to your family;
1. If possible, look at animal shelters and welfare centres where there are often plenty of loveable animals up for adoption.
2. If you’re looking to purchase a pure bred animal, look into their breed association or clubs as they will often have a list of registered breeders who are still actively showing and involved with the club.
3. Meet the parents of the litter you might be purchasing from so you have a fair idea of their conformation and what looks healthy
4. See what their policy is on returns within 48-72 hours of purchase. Always try to have a vet check with a vet of your choice as soon as the new addition is brought home. This way, if there are any issues - you can discuss with the breeder and see what their stance is. Whilst you may have already invested time and money into being on a waiting list, the heartbreak associated with ongoing illness and disease should be treaded upon carefully.
5. Look into pet insurance for your pet - and take it out as soon as you purchase your pet. Don’t wait until after your first consultation. We would recommend the medium to high coverage for owners as the basic coverage often doesn’t allow you to claim many of your expenses back.