Posted By: Martin - Vet

Norman, the French Bulldog

Over the past ten years or so it has become very evident that it is no longer possible to treat every dog as ‘just a dog’.  It is obvious to see that no two breeds are the same and there is such diversity with the canine population as whole that we must tailor our canine care to the individual dog.  Just imagine if we fed the same quantity of food to a Great Dane and a Chihuahua or tried to apply the same principles in the extreme cold to a Greyhound and a St Bernhard.  Very soon we would have some unhappy dogs!

We are very aware of many pedigree breeds’ recognised traits and this has meant that certain breeds have become very popular.  However, one thing we should bear in mind is that these traits can have positive and negative impacts on the dogs and at time certain medical condition can be very much more prevalent in some breeds than others.

One such popular breed is the very cute French Bulldog.  At present year on year breed numbers are rising as people fall in love with the breed.  They obviously have a very unusual and loveable look, mainly because of their short noses.  This, however, can cause the issue of brachycephalic airway syndrome, a condition whereby the conformation of the nose and airways can hinder breathing, and owners and breeders should be aware of this.

One such set of owners who were aware of the potential issues the breed can have were the eventual owners of Norman, a male French Bulldog puppy that they acquired after a lot of thought and consideration.

Norman was taken on after his owners researched the breed and became very knowledgeable on what to look out for, both with the individual dog but also from a good breeder.  They found a reputable breeder and fell in love with Norman as soon as they met him.  He looked like he was a very good specimen as well as having a loving nature and so his owners were delighted.

Indeed, when we examined Norman we could only agree.  He was a lovely calm puppy and he appeared very healthy.  It was very early but Norman showed no obvious signs of brachycephalic airway syndrome and so everyone was happy, especially Norman.  However, the owners were very aware of the potential issues for the French Bulldog breed and so remained vigilant.

Over the coming months Norman developed considerably and started to show some changes in his anatomy.  In addition to the fact that he had become quite a snorer when asleep, and even sometimes made the same sorts of sounds when running about, his nostrils also started to change. The nostril openings had become narrower, and this in turn made his breathing more difficult and accentuated the occasional snorting sounds.

The owners, knowing these were potential signs of brachycephalic airway syndrome, brought Norman in to see us.  He was still the charming dog he had always been but it was easy to see that his nostrils were very narrow. We also knew that his snoring and exercise intolerance suggested his soft palate was overly long and blocking his breathing at times.  This wasn’t great news for Norman and his owners.  However, because his owners were aware of what to look out for it was great that they had firstly recognised that there was an issue and, secondly, sought advice early.

Many times with this issue we see patients many years down the line when they have developed severe respiratory problems due to the long terms effects of the condition.  However, for Norman, his owners had identified the issues early and so our decision was centred on how we might be able to act now to improve his breathing immediately, but also prevent future problems.  The option chosen was to use surgery to try and correct or improve some of his conformational issues.

As Norman was fine if well rested we elected to delay his surgery until he was over a year of age.  By doing this we allowed Norman to fully mature and therefore hopefully eliminate the possibilities of future developmental changes to his body after the surgery.  Once the time was right he was admitted for his surgery.

The surgery looked to improve his breathing in two main ways. Firstly, by opening up his nostrils to improve the amount of air he could breathe in.  The second was to assess his soft palate and, if too long and falling into his larynx, then to remove the over long segment.  For Norman both procedures were required and before long Norman was back in bed and the nursing team were closely monitoring his recovery.

Norman was discharged with anti-inflammatories and close monitoring from his owners.  His owners immediately noticed a difference that made close monitoring more difficult than before.  Prior to the operation they reported they could always hear Norman snorting and so always knew where he was in the house.  However, straight after the operation these noise levels were greatly reduced and so at times they had to hunt to check he was alright!

Several months down the line and Norman is progressing well and able to run around and exercise more than he did before.  The success of his surgery largely came about as Norman owners were aware of the problem and didn’t just assume this to be the ‘norm’.  By being knowledgeable on the issue they have been able to make an early intervention and hopefully improve the condition for Norman over the rest of his life. 

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