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Jim Young, DVM

your bulldog's veterinarian
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Upper Airway Obstructions

There are four upper airway obstruction conditions that commonly affect bulldogs.

First, a bulldog can have nose holes that are too small. We call this stenotic nares. The openings in the nostrils are too small and the sides of the nostrils are pulled in with inhalation making the openings even smaller. With surgery, we make the openings larger.

The second upper airway obstruction condition is elongated soft palate. The palate (roof of the mouth) should end in a position where it does not interfere with air passing into the opening of the windpipe. When a bulldog has an elongated soft palate, the palate tissue partially blocks the opening of the windpipe. Many dogs live with this for a while with only excessively loud breathing noises. But when an affected dog becomes hot or excited, the palate swells and more of the windpipe opening is blocked. The dog has difficulty breathing, makes loud clattering breathing noise and can even collapse or faint. Untreated elongated soft palate causes poor quality of life, inability to enjoy normal play and even death.
The time to surgically correct this is when the elongated soft palate is diagnosed on physical exam (looking in the back of the mouth) and there are any (even mild) signs of difficult breathing.

With surgery, we shorten the palate to its normal length where it does not interfere with breathing. We use a CO2 laser for palate surgery. This results in less chance of complications and more comfortable recovery from the surgery for the bulldog.

When we do palate surgery, we look for everted laryngeal saccules, the third upper airway obstruction condition. Everted laryngeal saccules are tissue from the wall of the larynx that protrudes into the windpipe. If these are there, we surgically remove them, too.

The fourth upper airway obstruction condition is a windpipe that is too small (hypoplastic trachea). This is diagnosed with an x-ray of the chest. This is the only upper airway obstruction that cannot be corrected. Puppies with extremely small tracheas do not live to adulthood. Most adult dogs with hypoplastic tracheas can live with the condition as long as all other airway obstruction conditions are corrected. Most affected dogs respond well to medication to make it easier to breathe.