Is Your French Bulldog Making Weird Breathing Noises?

Photo by troy mckaskle on Flickr

 For most people that cute and crumpled face is what convinced them to get a Frenchie in the first place.

Unfortunately, some novice pet owners are not aware that short-nosed dogs struggle with many respiratory problems.

If your French Bulldog is making weird breathing noises all of a sudden, you must know that this is normal for the breed.

Let’s have a look at the most common breathing problems Frenchies experience and how serious they are or when they warrant a trip to the vet.

 The problem with brachycephalic dogs

Frenchies, like English Bulldogs, Boxers, Shi Tzus, pugs or Bull Mastiffs all belong to the class of brachycephalic dogs, as short-nosed dogs are called.

They’ve been bred over many generations to look adorable, but this comes at a great cost.

At the root of your pet’s breathing problems is the fact that while the bones in such dogs’ head got smaller, the tissues stayed the same. On the outside, they have the skin folds that give them that funny look, but on the inside things are anything but funny. The excess tissue crammed inside your dog’s mouth and throat ends up obstructing his airways, which leads to breathing problems and the odd noises Frenchies sometimes make.

At the same time, French Bulldogs have very short nostrils which do not allow him to get enough air, which explains why your pet seems to be gasping for air, especially after vigorous exercise or a hot day.

In some cases, the dog’s fighting for air looks like a full-blown breathing attack and this can be frightening to witness.

What is the Brachycephalic Airways Obstruction Syndrome (BAOS)

The most common respiratory problems French Bulldogs have to deal with fall under the Brachycephalic Airways Obstruction Syndrome (BAOS), caused by the particular way their upper airways are built.

The condition is typically diagnosed at around three years of age, when the Frenchie is fully mature and the vet can determine if the nostrils are too short and narrow, or the soft palate too elongated, so they seriously affect the dog’s capacity to breathe. In severe cases, the vet might suggest corrective surgery to improve the dog’s quality of life.

In most cases, though, French Bulldogs just soldier on, struggling with breathing problems all their lives.

This is what causes those weird noises, so now let’s have an in-depth look at what they mean.

Five weird breathing noises that French Bulldogs might make 

Many French Bulldog owners are scared when they hear their pet making strange snorting noises for the first time. It’s not the usual snorting noise most dogs make when they go sniffing in some dusty area. That’s quite normal as the snorting helps the dog get rid of the dust or allergens that might get into his nostrils.

Reverse Sneezing

The sound that makes French Bulldog owners worry can best be described as a prolonged ‘Horrrk’ and the truly scary part is that it looks like the dog cannot breathe for a couple of seconds. Most dogs making these occasional horrrking sounds do not appear to be in distress and seem quite unconcerned about it. The owner, on the other hand, becomes very concerned thinking the dog might be sick.

Experts say this type of noise is a so-called reverse sneeze. The name is quite telling as, indeed, it sounds like the dog is inhaling his sneezes. Very weird, but not actually dangerous.

Reverse or backwards sneezing happens when the soft palate in the dog’s mouth becomes irritated. It can happen to all dogs, but for Frenchies it’s more of a problem as they tend to have an elongated soft palate which in severe cases can reach to the larynx and the epiglottis.

If your concerned by your dog’s reverse sneezing the easiest way to stop it is to briefly cover his nostrils with your hand which will force the dog to open his mouth and get some air. This trick is guaranteed to cure the horrrking incident, but if your dog has frequent such episodes you should see a vet and have him examine your dog’s soft palate.

Wheezing

Wheezing is common to most dogs and it occurs when there’s an obstruction to normal airflow. It might seem like there’s a foreign object lodged in his airways, but that’s rarely the case.

The typical whistling sound the dog makes when trying to breathe is usually caused by mucus, infection or allergies. The occasional wheezing is not a problem and typically resolves on its own.

However, if you have a French Bulldog, constant wheezing can be a sign of a collapsing trachea, a common cause of concern for brachycephalic dogs. Also, if you have a senior pet don’t assume that his sudden wheezing is caused by BAOS. The problem can also be caused by a heart condition.

At the same time, keep in mind that wheezing is a common symptom of heartworm, hookworm or roundworm infestation.  

 Panting

Occasional panting is normal for all types of dogs and they tend to do it after physical exercise or in hot weather, but is more frequent in Frenchies due to their particular head shape.

Panting is primarily a cooling mechanism. When the dog opens his mouth the air evaporates the saliva, quite abundant in brachycephalic dogs, and this process has a cooling effect.

If your Frenchie cannot stop panting, this is a sign he isn’t able to regulate his body temperature. Make sure to take him to a cool place and offer him plenty of fresh water.

 Barking

Yes, barking is quite normal for a dog. However, French Bulldogs tend to bark more when they’re overheated. Barking acts as a cooling mechanism, as well, because this helps him get more air in.

Probably, your dog will calm down when he cools off, but if you witness your beloved pet doing this on a regular basis and appears to be in respiratory distress you should have him examined by a vet.

The Brachycephalic Airways Obstruction Syndrome can worsen over time. The excess tissue in his mouth and throat can become loose covering up the larynx, causing the collapse of the trachea or damage his vocal chords.

 Gagging

Gagging is a common symptom of BAOS, although many dogs tend to gag when they gulp down their food. That’s because in their fury to polish their bowl they also take in air. If your pet only does that once in a while it is not a cause for concern, but recurring episodes can indicate a more serious problem in French Bulldogs, such as  a tracheal collapse. Keep in mind this is a condition that worsens over time if left untreated.

Gagging is often accompanied by coughing and it is important to make a note which occurs first. According to experts, if the dog first coughs, then gags it might be a respiratory disease. However, if he first gags, then coughs chances are he has a problem with the larynx, something not unexpected in French Bulldogs and other short-nosed dogs.

Four ways to help a French Bulldog with BAOS

Don’t over exercise your pet

Their inability to breathe correctly means that Frenchies have trouble getting enough oxygen, which is why they tire easily when they run too much. While they do need regular exercise, take note of how much is too much for your pet as each pet is unique.

When you take your dog out for a walk, use a harness instead of a collar to avoid putting additional pressure on his airways.

Keep him cool

French Bulldogs don’t fare so well in hot humid weather. Even if your dog doesn’t have severe BAOS you should keep him inside on hot days. Limit his daily walks to early in the morning or late in the evening. If you need to take him out during the day, keep to the shade as much as possible. Provide fresh cold water and throw in some ice chips, too, to help the dog cool down and prevent breathing problems.

Watch his diet

A French Bulldog with breathing problems should not be allowed to become overweight as this can only make things worse for him. Since he cannot exercise as much as other dogs, the best way to keep your dog’s weight under control is to limit the number of treats offered. Food should not be available all day every day as this might lead to overeating. An adult Frenchie does very well on a two meals per day regimen.

Corrective surgery

That’s a drastic measure, both for your pet and for your wallet, but sometimes this is the only solution to ease your French Bulldog’s suffering. Surgery for BAOS often involves opening up the nostrils so he can get more air or shortening an abnormally long soft palace. When a collapse of the larynx has occurred, part of it will also have to be removed.

Key Takeaway

French Bulldogs have to deal with many breathing problems due to the unusual shape of their heads, which causes them to sometimes make weird noises. If they happen infrequently that’s not a cause for concern.

However, recurring episodes of snorting, gagging, wheezing or excessive panting usually indicate a severe case of Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome, which should be discussed with your vet.

For many dogs the condition is entirely manageable, but in severe cases surgery might be required to help the dog breathe better.