Many people find Boston Terriers to be extremely attractive thanks to their bulging eyes and pushed in face; indeed, many proud Boston Terrier owners claim that the dog’s characteristic face was what initially sparked their love affair with the breed. While some people may find the Boston Terrier’s features appealing, there are some inherent health problems, mainly respiratory in nature, that go along with that shortened snout. The series of issues associated with that pushed in nose are grouped together under the heading Brachycephalic syndrome; these dogs are called brachycephalic dogs, where “brachy” means “short” and “cephalic” means “head.”
The conditions associated with Brachycephalic syndrome cause the dogs to snort, wheeze, gag, cough, snore and make other types of loud, labored breathing noises. Owners may get used to the noises, chalking it up to part of a package that they’re more than willing to accept, but they indicate some fundamental problems in the internal makeup of the dog’s airways. These problems, unfortunately, have resulted from breeding practices, as they were the price to pay for a dog with a severely shortened snout. Not every dog suffers from each of the conditions included in the syndrome and some dogs suffer only mildly from one or two conditions. If you have a brachycephalic dog like the Boston Terrier, though, you should keep an eye out for any of the symptoms associated with the entire syndrome and take your dog immediately to the vet if anything suspicious pops up.
One condition associated with the syndrome is stenotic nares, which means that the nostrils become narrowed. The openings in the noses of some brachycephalic dogs are small, sometimes too small to breathe efficiently; in some cases surgery is needed to enlarge the nostrils. The majority of brachycephalic dogs, and therefore Boston Terriers, suffer from an elongated soft palate; the soft palate is the posterior portion of the roof of the mouth that acts as a separator between the oral cavity and the nasal passage. When this soft palate is too long, it hangs down into the throat area, sometimes causing breathing problems and often causing snorting. A dog may also suffer from something called tracheal stenosis, in which the trachea, or windpipe, is very narrow; this can sometimes be a very serious condition, depending on how narrow the trachea is. Tracheal stenosis can be a serious problem if a dog must be anesthetized to undergo surgery.
Not only does the Boston Terrier have to contend with these breathing problems, he is also more prone to heat stroke than other dogs; this holds true for other brachycephalic breeds as well. When dogs are hot, they pant; the air they take into their mouths circulates over their tongue and evaporates saliva, cooling off the blood circulating in the tongue. This blood then moves to the rest of the body, cooling it off. Brachycephalic dogs cannot circulate the air as efficiently and so are not able to cool their bodies off as efficiently. All these issues can lead to increased health risks as the dogs age, as well.