There are three types of dogs, based on the length of their nose. The terminology comes from the Greek word for head – “cephalos”.
- Long nosed dogs – such as Rough Collies, or Afghan Hounds – are known as “dolichocephalic” dogs. This is the natural appearance of many breeds, with long noses often used for sniffing or hunting.
- Dogs with middle sized noses are known as “mesaticephalic” – and this includes most cross bred dogs, such as terriers, collies, and Labrador-types.
- Short-nosed dogs are the third group: they are called “brachycephalic” breeds, and they include Bulldogs, Pugs, Pekingese, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
Their whole head has been foreshortened, so that the skull has become more spherical and football-like, and the nose has been squashed against the face so that in some cases, it is almost completely absent. These changes have happened gradually, over many generations of breeding, by a deliberate selection of shorter-nosed individuals for breeding.
Brachycephalic dogs have an appealing appearance to humans.
When many people look at a dog like French Bulldogs or Holly (the Pug in the photograph) they smile to themselves, and think “Ahhhhh”. Psychologists have a theory that this appeal is related to the fact that short-nosed dogs have a similar appearance to human babies. Now when you look at Holly and think “human baby?”, I am sure you will also think “No way!”, but if you analyse her face, you will begin to understand.
Holly has certain features that are definitely more “human” than the average dog. She has a large, circular face, with a high forehead and big eyes that are spaced wider apart than normal. Her nose is very flat, and it is in the centre of her face. And she has a large, prominent chin. Compare her with a collie on one side, and a human baby on the other. Of course, she does not look like the baby, but the shape, size, and position of her features are more human-like than the collie’s features.
Short-nosed dogs may look cute but their odd appearance has some unfortunate health consequences.
- The high-domed skull means that puppies are prone to congenital diseases such as hydrocephalus.
- The squashed face causes deep skin folds to appear on either side of the nose, and these are prone to dermatitis.
- The bulging eyes tend to lead to problems such as ulceration and irritation.
- Dental disease is common because there is simply not enough space to fit the full forty-two adult dog teeth inside that short mouth.
- And finally, the foreshortened head has a significant effect on the breathing, with compressed, narrow airway passages in the nose and a squashed-up throat. You can often hear these breeds breathing, sounding like a human with a bad cold. Some dogs even require surgery to widen the airway spaces because they have suffered from discomfort relating to the unfortunate natural physical shape of their respiratory system.
Minimising The Risk Of Health Issues
So is there anything that potential owners of brachycephalic dogs can do to mimimise the risk?
- Firstly, make sure that you meet both parents of any puppy that you buy. If both parents are healthy individuals, it is much more likely that the pup will grow into a healthy adult dog.
- Secondly, as soon as you collect your puppy, go straight to your local vet, to make sure that there are no severe congenital problems such as hydrocephalus. And while you are at the veterinary clinic, sign your pup up with pet insurance, so that if there are health problems later in life, the insurance company will foot the resulting veterinary bills on your behalf.
- Dogs are classified according to the length of their snout.
- Short-nosed dogs are known as “brachycephalic” breeds.
- These are prone to certain health problems that people should be aware of.