Flat Faced Dogs: 8 Breeds and How to Care for Them
In the eyes of many, dogs with flat faces are uniquely adorable. Some say their pushed-in faces and large, round eyes remind us of babies, while others can’t get enough of their distinctly human expressions.
According to Jerry Klein, DVM, chief veterinary officer for the American Kennel Club, the word that most often springs to mind when people talk about these celebs of the canine world is, undeniably and utterly, “cute.” And one such smoosh faced breed, the French bulldog, recently replaced Labrador Retrievers as the top US dog breed.
No doubt about it, flat faced doggos are incredibly lovable. However, these breeds have some equally unique care requirements caused by their distinctive looks. Read on to learn more about flat faced dog breeds, including how to ensure the best health for these special pups.
What Is a Flat Faced Dog?
Dog breeds with flat faces are referred to as brachycephalic, a term that means “shortened head.” Though they do go by a wide range of names that are as endearing as they are, including:
- short snout dog
- squishy face dog
- smoosh face dog
- smushed face dog
- snub nosed dog
- flat nose dog
The skull bones of brachycephalic dog breeds are shorter than normal, which results in the pushed-in faces and noses that so many adore.
There are many different brachycephalic dog breeds of varying sizes, colors, and coat types. Some brachycephalic breeds are quite popular, including the Boston Terrier, Boxer, Bulldog, and French Bulldog. Other brachycephalic breeds are rare, such as the Affenpinscher, Brussels Griffon, and English Toy Spaniel.
Although flat faced breeds exist in a number of different countries, many brachycephalic breeds originated in Asia, including the Chow Chow, Lhasa Apso, Pekingese, Pug, Shih Tzu, and Tibetan Spaniel.
8 Awww-inspiring Flat Faced Dog Breeds
Although there are over 20 dog breeds classified as brachycephalic, some are more common than others. Let’s meet some of the most popular and well-known flat faced dog breeds.
As its name suggests, the Boson Terrier was developed in Boston in the 1800s. All Boston Terriers can trace their roots back to the breed’s foundation dog, Judge, a cross between a Bulldog and the now-extinct white English Terrier. The Boston Terrier is sometimes called the American Gentleman because of how neat and dapper the dogs look, as well as their lively yet dignified personalities. Bostons weigh about 12 to 25 pounds and have a short, sleek, bi-colored coat (white with either black, brindle, or seal).
The Boxer hails from Germany, where it was likely bred down from a larger German hunting breed called the Bullenbeisser (now extinct). The modern Boxer emerged in the late 1800s and has had many jobs, including being used as a police and military dog. Boxers are friendly but protective if the need arises. Boxers weigh about 50 to 70 pounds. Their short, sleek coat comes in fawn and brindle.
The Bulldog is one of the best-known and most extreme flat faced dog breeds. Bulldogs, sometimes called English Bulldogs in reference to their homeland, are short and heavily built, weighing in at 40 to 50 pounds. The Bulldog’s severe underbite gives them their trademark dour expression. But, contrary to their looks, Bulldogs are known for being friendly and affectionate dogs. Their short, glossy coat comes in red, white, fawn, or fallow (pale brown) with or without patterns and markings.
The French Bulldog was developed in France with Bulldogs brought from England. The result is a smaller version of the Bulldog but with large, upright “bat” ears. Frenchies are affectionate clowns who love to be with their favorite humans. They typically weigh between 19 to 28 pounds. Their short, smooth coat comes in brindle, fawn, white, or combinations of brindle and white or fawn and white.
Lhasa Apsos originated in the Himalayan mountains of Tibet, where they were used as helpful watchdogs in Buddhist monasteries and palaces. The breed gets its name from the sacred city of Lhasa. The “apso” part of the name means “longhaired dog.” Lhasa Apsos are alert, loyal, and calm indoors. They weigh 12 to 18 pounds and have a heavy, straight, long coat that comes in almost any color, though the most typical coats are black, white, gold, gray, cream, and various combinations of these colors.
The long and low Pekingese is another ancient breed valued for centuries by Chinese royalty. They were once called “sleeve dogs,” as emperors liked to carry them around in the voluminous sleeves of their robes. Although Pekes are loving and loyal to their human family, they might be standoffish with strangers. The Pekingese, which weighs up to 14 pounds, has a very long, thick, straight coat that forms a ruff around the neck like a lion’s mane. Pekes come in several colors, including gold, red, sable, black and tan, white, cream, and gray.
The Pug has existed in China for thousands of years where they have long been cherished by royalty. Silly and outgoing, these charming companions are friends to all. Weighing 14 to 18 pounds, Pugs are small but cobby and with large bone structures. The short coat comes in just two colors: fawn (light yellow with black ears and a black mask on the face) or solid black.
Like the Pug, the Shih Tzu dog breed has been around for thousands of years, both in its native land of China, where it was treasured by Chinese royalty, as well as in other countries. Outgoing and adorable, Shih Tzus tend to make friends wherever they go. Their long silky coat comes in almost any color. Weighing in at just 9 to 16 pounds, the Shih Tzu is small…but mighty cute!
Health Conditions Impacting Flat Face Dogs
One very important thing to know about these beloved dog breeds is that those adorable, pushed-in faces can lead to possible health concerns. While not present in all snub nosed dogs, some have a harder time breathing and are prone to develop respiratory diseases. The disorders caused by the upper airway abnormalities common to these breeds are known as brachycephalic airway syndrome (BAS) or brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS).
“Flat faced dogs tend to have more medical problems,” says Jennifer Lopez, DVM, at URvet Care in New York City. “Although everyone loves their snorty noises, this could mean that they have a smaller than normal trachea.” According to Lopez, this can be the reason why some flat faced dogs’ breathing can sound strange, “like a horse roaring.”
Other abnormalities common to brachycephalic dogs include:
- elongated soft palate – soft part of the roof of the mouth partially obstructs airway
- narrow trachea – windpipe too small for dog’s size
- stenotic nares – narrow and small nostrils
- everted laryngeal saccules – tissue in front of the vocal cords that obstructs breathing
Some signs of BAS include snorting, snoring, and loud breathing, especially during exercise. In severe cases, dogs could get so tired while exercising that they collapse. Coughing, gagging, and vomiting are also common in these breeds. The conditions associated with BAS can sometimes affect the gastrointestinal tract as well as the airway, causing vomiting or decreased appetite.
According to Lopez, brachycephalic breeds are also prone to suffer from allergies, including food allergies, flea allergies, and environmental allergies to allergens such as grasses, trees, and weeds. Flat faced dogs may also have congenital eye problems such as cherry eye, ulcers, and everted eyelashes or inverted eyelids that can damage the cornea.
“They are also more likely to have intervertebral disc disease, where they can become paralyzed,” Lopez says. She cautions that pet parents may want to minimize jumping in flat faced breeds, “as they are more likely to have issues with their spinal cord, slipped discs, etc.”
Due to their unique physical traits, brachycephalic breeds tend to overheat easily, which means pet parents should be extra conscious of the temperature and humidity, as it can affect their breathing. “Walks and exercise should be done in the early morning or late afternoon and dusk, never anytime near the hottest part of the day,” Klein says.
With the right care, most flat-faced dogs can live happy and healthy lives. However, because of the potential health brachycephalic dogs may face, some controversy surrounds the continued breeding of flat faced dogs.
Responsible breeders make it a point to breed the healthiest dogs possible to reduce the likelihood of BOAS while still retaining the unique features of their given breed. And, according to Klein, specific health checks are recommended by each breed’s national breed club (also called the parent club). So prospective dog parents can ask breeders to ensure these checks were performed before the selection of breeding pairs.
“For example, the Bulldog Club of America recommends testing to make sure the prospective sire and dam of each litter have been checked against patellar luxation (knee) and tracheal hypoplasia (narrow tracheal lumen), as well as recommending a cardiac exam,” Klein says. “There are more tests that can be performed on an optional basis.”
When considering a brachycephalic breed, it’s important to research the breed’s potential health issues and know what health conditions your cute canine could develop. You can also find the parent club for your preferred breed using the AKC search tool and familiarize yourself with breeders who adhere to the club’s recommendations.
Caring for Flat Faced Dog Breeds
No pet parent wants to see their dog suffer. So if you have a flat face dog or dream about getting one, preventative care plays an important role in ensuring the best possible health for your pet.
Talk with your veterinarian about how you can address your pup’s specific health needs. And consider these expert tips to help ensure a long, healthy, happy life for your flat faced friend.
- Maintain a healthy weight. While this is a good rule for all dogs, it’s especially important for flat face breeds. Not only do obese dogs face an increased risk of serious health issues, but excess weight can also make it even harder for your dog to breathe. So be sure to choose a diet that’s geared toward your pup’s specific nutritional needs, activity level, and recommended calorie intake.
- Consider supplements. Ask your veterinarian about supplementing your dog’s diet to address any health concerns. A brand called Snubbies recently launched a line of five veterinarian-recommended, research-driven supplement formulas created to meet the unique needs of brachycephalic breeds — Skin + Immune Seasonal Support, Cognitive and Immune Support, Calming and Immune Support, Hip + Joint and Immune Support, and Eye Health and Immune Support.
- Guard against overheating. Even if it doesn’t seem particularly hot out, always ensure flat faced dogs have easy access to a cool, shady place and access to plenty of fresh cool water. “Flat-nosed breeds are best if kept inside during the day, but if they do go outside, be careful and monitor the dogs’ behavior,” Klein says. Cooling fans and cooling mats can also help dogs stay safe. And if you are planning to drive anywhere, consider running the air conditioning to cool down your car before bringing your dog out on the road.
- Don’t forget oral care. It’s important to stay on top of your dog’s dental health with daily at-home brushing and regular professional cleanings since brachycephalic breeds tend to have crowded mouths.
- Monitor skin and ears. Lopez recommends daily cleaning of skin folds, especially any folds around the face, nose, and neck, as the moist skin inside the folds can be a breeding place for fungal or bacterial infections. “Also provide ear cleanings weekly to remove waxy debris that commonly builds up,” she says.
According to the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, addressing potential health concerns in brachycephalic dogs through preventative care is far more effective than waiting for an illness to arise. So be sure to keep the special health needs of your smoosh faced breed in your sights to help ensure a long, healthy life with your extra special pet.