BOAS in Dogs: Causes & Treatment Options

Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/9/20242-4 minutes
A small flat-faced dog sits happily in its owner's lap

Flat-faced dogs, with their short noses and snuffles, can be irresistibly cute. Unfortunately, the unique anatomy of their head sometimes makes breathing difficult. This problem is formally known as Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS).

While BOAS can present challenges for your pet, in many cases there are treatment options that can limit your dog’s discomfort.

Read on to learn more about BOAS in dogs, including how to help your pet cope if they have it.

What is BOAS in Dogs?

BOAS affects flat-faced dogs and refers to a lifelong breathing difficulty caused by their short noses, narrow nostrils and windpipes.

This means they breathe through small, compressed passages, causing dogs with BOAS to have to pant to get all the air they need. 

It’s important to note that not all short-nosed dog breeds are affected by BOAS, although breathing is normally a common struggle for these canines. 

Which Breeds Are Affected by BOAS?

Brachycephalic syndrome appears more commonly in flat-faced dogs, such as: 

What Are the Symptoms of BOAS in Dogs?

BOAS manifests through a range of breathing problems including: 

  • Panting 
  • Wheezing 
  • Noisy breathing including snorting and snoring 
  • Rapid breathing 
  • Blue gums 
  • Needing regular breaks during walks 
  • Inability to exercise normally 
  • Overheating in the summer because they can’t properly cool off 
  • Physical collapse

Contact your veterinarian if any of these symptoms suddenly appear. Breathing problems in flat-faced dog breeds need to be resolved urgently as low oxygen levels can put your pet’s life in danger.

Diagnosing BOAS

You may suspect your pet has BOAS by simply observing their breathing. It’s a good idea to get a formal diagnosis from your veterinarian, though. They’ll evaluate a combination of factors, such as breed and symptoms. 

In some cases, advanced testing may be appropriate to more precisely diagnose your dog’s condition. For example, your veterinarian might want to closely assess their soft palate and laryngeal saccules, as well as the diameter of their trachea.

Can BOAS in Dogs be Treated?

Depending on the severity of the breathing problems, your veterinarian might recommend a weight loss regimen or surgery.

Weight Loss for Dogs With BOAS

If your dog is overweight, losing a few pounds can make an enormous difference. They’ll have less load to carry, which can improve their breathing. Diet changes, as well as a carefully designed exercise routine, will help your pet keep their weight under control.

Just be sure to go easy, especially at first. If your dog already struggles to breathe, strenuous exercise without any breaks can be dangerous.

If you’re wondering which exercise activities are appropriate or how much exercise is right for your pet, talk to your veterinarian.

Surgery for Dogs With BOAS

Surgical procedures might also be recommended to help your dog breathe better. 

If your dog’s nostrils are tight, a surgery to widen them can be performed. Another type of procedure for dogs with BOAS shortens their elongated palate to allow more air to reach the windpipe.

If your veterinarian thinks surgery is appropriate, they can advise you on the risks as well as what to expect from the procedure and its potential outcomes. For dogs that need surgery, it’s often better to do it sooner than later.

Managing BOAS in Dogs

Does your canine companion have BOAS? Here’s how you can provide relief for them.

Help Your Flat-Faced Dog Stay Cool in Hot Weather 

Sweating helps us humans cool off, but this is not an option for our canine companions. Instead, dogs use panting as a way to avoid overheating.

Due to the unique shape of their heads, short-nosed breeds often struggle when breathing, so it’s a good idea to limit outdoor activities in hot weather.

For example, during the summer, aim to take your pet outside early in the morning or later at night when temperatures aren’t as high. Bring a bottle of water with you, just in case your dog needs to cool off.

Monitor Their Weight

Obesity can cause breathing difficulties for any dog breed, but it’s especially dangerous for canines that already struggle with it. Be mindful of your dog’s body condition score, ensuring it stays within a healthy range. 

Switching to a healthy weight dog food may be a good idea as well, but always talk to your veterinarian before making changes to your dog’s diet.

Exercise Your Dog Carefully

Exercising your dog is a great way to help them lose weight. Remember, though, pet owners who have a flat-faced dog in their family need to be extra careful when it comes to the intensity and duration of their exercise sessions. Even if you’re just going out for a simple walk, make sure the distance is not too long for your pet to handle, and take plenty of breaks.

Use a Harness

Collars can restrict the airflow, especially when attached to a lead. So, it’s always better to use a harness with your flat-faced dog if you plan to keep your pet on a leash while out and about. 

Brachycephalic syndrome can be tough news for pet owners, but luckily there are ways to improve your dog’s quality of life.

For more expert tips on the health of your dog’s nose and lungs, explore our other dog respiration articles. 

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