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A Nose for Trouble
French Bull Dog are both tough looking and cute at the same time, but that cute appearance from the dog's compact nose, comes at a high cost. Several breeds are bred for a compact nose, including bulldog breeds, Pekinese, Pugs, Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso, Boston Terriers, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. This kind of a nose structure often creates a respiratory problem known as Brachycephalic Syndrome.
The term Brachycephalic comes from Greek roots "Brachy," meaning short and "cephalic," meaning head. In dog ownership terms, this syndrome means the dog may need rushed to a veterinarian's office because the syndrome results in varying degrees of obstruction to a dog's airways ranging from noisy breathing to collapse of the larynx.
The upper airway in dogs consists of the nose, sinuses, pharynx, and larynx. The most common anatomical features that lead to the respiratory difficulties with this syndrome include an elongated and fleshy soft palate and narrowed nostrils. Many of the affected dogs also have changes to the larynx structure and a relatively small trachea as well as membrane sacs of the larynx which are turned outward.
If you own a less severe Brachycephalic dog, you can find your dog may have episode where his breathing is challenged, triggering a snuffing and snorting which can sound like a reverse sneeze. Even with mild cases, the dog often requires reduced exercise and must be kept from situations where the dog may overheat. Stress can also bring on an attack. Unfortunately, once the dog begins to have troubles breathing, the dog can panic, making the episode worst.
The goal in the treatment of Brachycephalic airway syndrome is to make it easier for the animal to breathe. Surgery often becomes the solution for the more severe cases. Dr. Jan Jensen, DVM, states she's seen a lot of cases over the years. She refers the more severe cases out for surgeries which often require specialized equipment like lasers, which are used to shorten the soft pallet. For the less severe cases, Dr. Jensen treats with steroids and sometimes an antihistamine combination, but she states both of those treatment can only be used short term. Dr. Jensen says that anyone who owns this kind of a breed can expect issues which are directly proportional to the shortness of the dog's snout. She recommends the dog owner educate themselves about what can trigger an episode and what precautions they need to take, such as not letting the dog get overheated.
For people who want a more holistic approach to resolving milder breathing issues, Dr. Martin Goldstein who runs a holistic veterinarian practice recommends trying commercially available cough syrup for people called Olbas, or an a commercially available herbal expectorant that contains guaifenesin.
Kelly Misegadis bought a Boston Terrier that she affectionately named Hoosier. Since Kelly teaches agility classes at Bow Wows, she planned on running Hoosier in agility. Unfortunately, at about six months old, problems with Brachycephalic airway syndrome began to surface. In no time at all, Hoosier was having up to four attacks a day when the dog's excitement brought on a struggle to breathe. During the attack, the dog would get a panicked look and then seem to struggle all the more.
Kelly's veterinarian worked with Kelly to find a non-medical way to help Hoosier learn to breathe when these episodes came on. The vet taught Kelly how to plug Hoosier's nose, to force the dog to breathe though his mouth. Since calming down was also a key factor, Kelly was told to use a calming technique of stroking the dog's neck. Kelly found out what many Brachycephalic dog owners quickly learn, that getting the dog into a relaxed state of mind can help stop an episode, however, if the dog doesn't relax, the dog can panic and the problem can self-perpetuate.
Kelly wanted Hoosier to learn how to get his episodes under control by de-stressing as quickly as he became stressed. Since Kelly had just read Turid Rugaas's book, calming signals, Kelly came up with a way to teach Hoosier a hands-off technique to get him to calm down during an attack, one which eventually worked much better than stroking under the dog's neck.
Kelly began with the visual cue of yawning. Since Hoosier had attacks several times a day, it was a matter of waiting to give this a try. Kelly had already trained her dog to pay attention when she used his name. When Hoosier had an episode, Kelly added a verbal command, "Get it together." Then she began to take deep and slow yawns. After a few yawns, Hoosier's breathing distress subsided.
The success of this technique was quickly tested. A few hours after Hoosiers first lesson, Kelly had to leave the dog in her husband's charge to go and teach an agility class. She showed her husband how to conduct the calming signal. When she came home hours later her husband excitedly said, "It works, I can't believe it works."
Kelly needed to perfect her calming signals because she wanted to compete with Hoosier in agility, and the competition could easily get him excited and bring on an attack. She added more signals including relaxing her shoulders and slowing her breathing. She often tipped her head sideways, and made sure she didn't make eye contact with the dog when she executed the wide-mouth yawn. If she needed to get Hoosier attention, she'd speak in a lower, calm tone of voice. If Hoosier didn't "get it together" with a yawn, Kelly would turn her back to the dog, which is another calming signal.
Hoosier is now five, and last year, he only had two attacks of breathing distress in which Kelly had to assist the dog with calming signals. Not only has Kelly's biofeedback technique for control of this condition allowed Hoosier to escape his four episode a day life, the dog has actually learned how to defuse the situation himself. Even though most dogs who have this issue need to avoid exercise, Kelly's biofeedback techniques have allowed Hoosier to excel in agility. By the age of four, Hoosier earned his MACH, one of the highest awards in AKC agility. At the typing of this article, Hoosier is on his way to the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge showing the world what a true champion he is.
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