The Special Needs of and Best Products for Flat-Faced Dogs

French bulldogs are one of the most popular dog breeds in the U.S. Among city dwellers, at least, the “Frenchie” is finding itself leading the pack at a dog park near you. In fact, the breed is so popular, the American Kennel Club (AKC) says the French bulldog is the #1 pooch in NYC and many other cities around the country — including Honolulu. 

Despite their popularity, many dog owners don’t realize the special health risks that come with flat-faced dog breeds like Frenchies. A recent study by the U.K’s Royal Veterinary College (RVC) says the flat-faced breeds tend to suffer from eye problems, heatstroke, and, yes, breathing difficulties

Also known as brachycephalic dogs, the term “brachycephalic” relates to their short noses and the shape of their head, which is flatter than other dog breeds. While adorable, this head shape can, unfortunately, lead to serious long-term health problems

Yet, dog owners love the flat face dogs despite their health issues and recommend them to others. Certainly, these pooches have winning personalities. Despite their snorting and snoring while sleeping, flat-faced pups tend to be friendly and outgoing when they’re awake.

Plus, since many of them are small, they don’t require hours of daily exercise which makes them perfect for city-dwelling dog lovers. 

However, veterinarians do want dog owners to be aware of the health risks that go along with these breeds. First-time owners, in particular, may not be prepared for the potential vet bills that can accompany these friendly flat-faced pooches. Or the fact that their skin folds need regular cleaning!

Beyond Frenchies, this facial shape relates to over a dozen other brachycephalic breeds. 

Examples of Flat-Faced Breeds

get well gifts for dogs calming dog bed

Besides the French bulldog, there are several other breeds that belong to the flat-faced dog category. They include: 

  • Pugs
  • Boston terriers
  • Cavalier King Charles spaniel
  • Pekingese
  • Shih Tzu
  • Boxer
  • English bulldog
  • Bull mastiff 
  • Griffon 
  • Dogue de Bordeaux
  • Japanese chin

As you can see, there’s an array of these adorable pups in all sizes and types of fur. Yet, one thing they all have in common is the brachycephalic breeds often have breathing problems due to their short noses and skulls. 

Sometimes, these breathing issues lead to surgery to improve your dog’s quality of life. Though this isn’t always the case, if you’re considering a flat-faced dog, then you’ll want to find out as much as you can about the puppy’s parents. That way, you can have a better idea of what to expect with your puppy.  

Health Risks of the Brachycephalic Breeds

best toys for bulldogs

The aforementioned U.K. study found that flat-faced breeds were at a higher risk of breathing problems, spinal disease, heat stroke, pneumonia, and other health issues. Such health problems stem from their physical structure, which due to their short noses, means they may not have enough airflow.

The study also found they may face a shorter life span than their longer muzzled counterparts too. 

One known respiratory disease that affects these dogs is Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS). Like it sounds, it reduces the airways in your dog’s physical structure. Due to BOAS, your flat-faced dog could have a thickened soft palate, pinched nostrils, and be at risk of a laryngeal collapse. 

Your veterinarian can help you assess the potential risks and make recommendations for your individual dog.

Why all the health issues? Breeding.

french bulldog getting squeaky toy
Featured above: Tootiez Hedgeog

If you’ve ever seen a dog show, you know that judges score dogs on their “conformation.” The more the dog conforms to the breed standard in appearance and build, the higher the score. 

The idea is that you breed the “best of the best” with one another. So if there is a male dog that has the “perfect” flat face and a female that has the “perfect” facial folds, a breeder may breed the two to get a “perfect” brachycephalic face for the breed. 

Dog breeders track the dog’s pedigree. When you buy a purebred puppy, you know it’s parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on. This can give you a lot of knowledge about their genetic makeup and potential health issues. 

Unfortunately, breeders’ goals to achieve the “perfect” appearance lead to a lot of inbreeding. Inbreeding leads to many recessive genes leading to health issues that do not achieve the “ideal” conformation. In this sense, breeding is an animal welfare issue.

Take the short snout. It wasn’t always as short. A hundred years ago, these dogs had longer snouts and, with it, fewer breathing problems. They didn’t snort, snuffle, reverse sneeze, and have sleep apnea. These days, many flat-faced breeds suffer from those breathing problems their whole lives. 

The health issues brachycephalic breeds face today are a direct result of decades of inbreeding. This has led the British Veterinary Association to launch a campaign to educate dog owners about the breathing problems inherent in these breeds. 

Symptoms of Health Problems in Your Flat-Faced Dog 

happy french bully with family

Flat-faced dogs tend to snort, sneeze, and snore loudly. It can be cute. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of snorting as long as your pup looks calm and relaxed. What is concerning is if your dog seems distressed. 

Symptoms of health problems in your flat-faced dog include:

  • Excessive panting after just a little exercise
  • Trouble swallowing 
  • Sleeping problems 
  • Trouble breathing 

It’s important to keep your brachycephalic breed comfortable, especially in hot weather. This means moderate temperatures, moderate exercise, and a healthy weight.

The Frenchies (and other flat-faced breeds) weren’t bred to go on long hikes or take on distance running. They’re more of lounging dogs. However, you also don’t want them to put on extra weight because too much weight can contribute to health risks too like arthritis and joint issues. 

Appropriate Supplies for Flat-Faced Dogs

Since they have unique genetic makeup, flat-faced dogs can’t always use standard pet products for the average canine. If you have a Frenchie, pug, English bulldog, or any other brachycephalic breed, below are some tips for what to look for in dog bowls, toys, and more.

Short snout-friendly food bowl for flat-faced dogs

flat faced dogs need slow feeder bowls with low sides

Because brachycephalic dogs do have a short snout, some pet food bowls are better than others. For example, you wouldn’t want to give your pup a bowl with high sides that made it difficult to get to the good stuff inside. 

Bowls with low sides or bowls designed to slow your pet’s eating down are best for these pooches. If you have a gobbler, a slow feeder bowl will slow your pup’s roll. It’ll help prevent inhalation of the food and air that can lead to dangerous dog bloat

What dog toys are best for their needs?

flat faced dog frenchie with toy and family

Pups have their preferences when it comes to dog toys. For instance, many small breeds appreciate chewing on this dog bone. Good for fighting boredom and for massaging gums, every dog needs approved chew toys.  

If you plan on taking your flat-faced dog to the pool, lake, river, or ocean, you’ll need a good dog life jacket because these dogs can’t swim

Does your pup like to play rough? Try an Invincibles toy. These dog toys were made to stand up to tough chewing, and because there is no inner stuffing, your dog won’t spend fifteen minutes ripping it out. There are squeakers to keep your pup entertained, and they come in multiple colors, sizes, and shapes. 

Looking for a classic squeak ball for your flat-faced dog? Try the Orbee-Tuff. It bounces, it squeaks, it freshens your pup’s breath. 

If your brachycephalic breed is the curious type, you might try a treat-dispensing puzzle to keep him or her entertained.

The best dog puzzles for flat-faced breeds

dog puzzle for pugs

Nina Ottosson explains which dog puzzles are best for does with short snouts in her blog post. Here are the puzzles she recommends for Frenchies, bulldogs, pugs, and the like:

Healthy treats for Frenchies

Obesity is a big health issue for these dogs. You can see why moderate exercise and cuteness overload (that may result in extra treats!) can be an unhealthy combination. Keep an eye on your pup’s weight and incorporate some healthy snacks like baby carrots or sweet potato dog treats into your treat protocol. 

dog eating sweet potato dog treats

Now that you know more about the health issues of flat-faced dog breeds, what do you think? Will you pay more attention to their breathing and help create a high quality of life for your pooch? 

For more information on the special needs of flat-faced dogs, check out:

The Best Toys for Bulldogs and Their Unique Traits

Frenchies Can’t Get Their Michael Phelps on Without This