Respiratory Diseases

Short-faced dogs such as pugs often have difficulty breathing, especially in hot, humid conditions or after exertion. Breathing difficulty can be worsened if the dog has deformities that affect breathing, such as pinched nostrils or an elongated soft palate. Pugs commonly have problems with stenotic nares and elongated soft palates. Fortunately, both conditions can be corrected surgically to help the pug breathe easier. These problems grow worse with age, so it's best to deal with them early on in your pug's life. The cost of surgery for brachycephalic syndrome (a term that encompasses both conditions) varies regionally, but in general you can expect to pay $800 to $1,000, which includes anesthesia and laser surgery. Pug owners say the results are well worth the expense.

Stenotic Nares

The nares are the two halves of the nasal passage, and the word “stenotic” refers to a narrowed or constricted passage. Thus, stenotic nares are tiny or narrowed nostrils, and they're most common in brachycephalic, or short-nosed, dogs such as pugs. When the nostrils are too small or the nasal cartilage is too soft, the dog has difficulty breathing. Dogs with this condition often breathe through their mouths and must work extra hard to get enough air. These dogs are noisy breathers, especially after even the mildest exertion or excitement. The nostrils may even collapse when the dog inhales, or you may see a foamy nasal discharge. Mild cases can be treated medically by preventing the dog from gaining too much weight, avoiding exertion during hot weather, and using a harness instead of a neck collar. Surgery can be performed on dogs with more serious respiratory difficulty.

Stenotic nares can become obvious at an early age, but sometimes they don't become a problem until the dog is several years old. In the case of a puppy, the nasal cartilage may firm up by six months of age, relieving the breathing difficulty. Your veterinarian may recommend waiting until that age before deciding on surgery, which can open up the dog's nostrils and ease his breathing. The surgery involves removing a wedge of nasal skin and cartilage, and when it's performed before the problem becomes serious, it has good results. Pugs that are surgically treated later in the course of the disease may not respond as well. If left untreated, the results can be an enlarged heart and eventual heart failure.

Elongated Soft Palate

Elongated soft palate is closely related to stenotic nares. A long soft palate can block part of the airway into the lungs, causing difficulty breathing. Pugs with an elongated soft palate snort, snore, gurgle, and gag. Like stenotic nares, this condition is most common in short-nosed dogs. To determine whether the palate is too long, the dog must be anesthetized and examined by your veterinarian. If that's the problem, it can be corrected surgically right then and there with great success, especially if the dog is less than a year old. A long soft palate and stenotic nares are often corrected at the same time. For both conditions, surgery is easiest and most successful if performed before serious clinical signs develop, such as fainting or cyanosis (blue gums and tongue caused by lack of oxygen in the bloodstream). If left uncorrected, an elongated soft palate puts a strain on the heart and lungs, and the dog's breathing ability worsens with age.

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