Why Understanding Your Dog's Brachycephalic Skull Anatomy May Be The Key To Keeping Your Pet Healthy

Posted on: 29 September 2015


Dog breeds are fantastically varied in their physical and personality characteristics. One of the most beloved features of certain dog breeds is brachycephalia, identified by a short snout and domed head. Brachycephalic breeds are prone to certain health problems, but with very little effort, you can keep your pet healthy and happy.

What is Brachycephalia?

"Brachycephalia" is a specific canine head shape, as determined by the cephalic index. The "cephalic index" is a number generated by multiplying the dog's cranial width by 100, and dividing that number by the cranial length. Dogs with cephalic indexes under 75 have dolichocephalic heads, identified by long and narrow skulls. Dolichocephalic-headed breeds include greyhounds, whippets, and borzois. Dogs with cephalic indexes between 75 and 80 have mesocephalic heads, which are oval-shaped. Breeds with mesocephalic heads include Labradors and German Shepherds. Dogs with cephalic indexes above 80 have brachycephalic heads, boasting short snouts and broad skulls. You can find brachycephalic skulls in some of America's most well-loved breeds, like Pugs, Bulldogs, Chihuahuas, Boxers, and Pekingeses. 

  Mildly Annoying Brachycephalic Traits

If you own a brachycephalic-headed breed, your pet has some unique--yet gross--characteristics. These characteristics are potentially irritating, but they seldom become problematic so long as you take some mitigating steps!

  • Flatulence. Brachycephalic-headed breeds have an uncanny ability to pass wind. This "talent" is directly related to head anatomy; your dog's shorter snout inadvertently causes your pet to swallow more air and, as a result, pass more gas. You can minimize this noxious flatulence by changing your dog's food bowl shape, diet, and exercise routine, but you will not likely eliminate this habit altogether. If your brachycephalic pet seems excessively flatulent, however, schedule a veterinary appointment; something more sinister may be causing your dog's digestive problems. 
  • Dermatitis. A brachycephalic skull anatomy leaves little room for skin to lie, hence your pet's lovable wrinkles. These wrinkles create folds that give food particles, dirt, and dead skin a place to hide. Over time, the folds can become itchy and infected. To prevent skin dermatitis and other infections, clean in between your dog's skin folds on a daily basis, and bathe your dog regularly.
  • Breathing problems. Perhaps the most dangerous side effect of a brachycephalic-shaped skull is respiratory difficulty. The obstructed airways, elongated soft palate, short trachea, and narrowed nostrils that accompany your pet's brachycephalic head are often insufficient to keep your dog breathing normally. This puts your pet at risk for heat exhaustion, heart problems, rapid breathing, and a slew of other medical emergencies. Keep a close watch on your pet, and be extra attentive if your pet is playing hard or exposed to hot temperatures. Take your pet to the veterinarian if your dog is wheezing more frequently, gagging, hacking, or lethargic.