Do French Bulldogs Have Breathing Problems?

Before embarking on your canine journey, you should be aware of every health pro, con, and risk. This is the main reason why it is always suggested that you get your Frenchie from a reputable breeder who will not hide genes or family history traits from you, and to have a vet that is close by.

Being the parent of a French Bulldog might come with some shocking experiences especially if you are a first time Frenchie owner. This is because, even when you get a healthy Frenchie from a reputable breeder with no underlying health issues, French Bulldogs may still be prone to several health issues, including breathing problems.

French Bulldog, brachycephalic puppy possible health concerns

Breathing problems can occur in any breed of dog but they are particularly common in flat-faced breeds (like the Frenchie). Because of their narrowed nostrils, they are more likely to suffer from respiratory distress. 

For a healthy Frenchie dog, breathing should never be laborious or struggled. It’s okay to get concerned when you hear your French bulldog breathing so fast or heavily as it may or may not be normal. Heavy and fast breathing could be a sign of a breathing problem called Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS). 

Knowledge is power and the more you understand the situation the better it is when correcting or avoiding a terrible tragedy. Here, we will explain all you should know about BOAS and how to deal with it so your Frenchie can live a long meaningful life.

What is BOAS?

BOAS stands for Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome and affects dogs with a smushed face. These dog breeds are popular and include the Frenchie, all types of Bulldogs, Pug, Boxer, Pekingese, Lhasa Apso and the Shih Tzu.

While these dogs have an unusually squeezed face, they are loved by many pet owners all over the world. Unfortunately, the physiology of their face predisposes brachycephalic dog breeds to certain health conditions.

That very same flat facial shape – also known as “brachycephaly” – means that your Frenchie puppy is going to be extra prone to respiratory problems and overheating.

dog breeds affected by boas the most Frenchiestore

The full list of brachycephalic dog breeds:

  • Affenpinscher dog breed.
  • American Bulldog dog breed.
  • Boston Terrier dog breed.
  • Boxer dog breed.
  • Bullmastiff dog breed.
  • Cane Corso dog breed.
  • Chihuahua dog breed.
  • Chow Chow dog breed.
  • Dogue de Bordeaux dog breed.
  • English Mastiff dog breed.
  • English Bulldog dog breed.
  • French Bulldog or the Frenchie dog breed.
  • Griffon Bruxellois dog breed.
  • Japanese Chin dog breed.
  • King Charles Spaniel dog breed.
  • Lhasa Apso dog breed.
  • Neapolitan Mastiff dog breed.
  • Pekingese dog breed.
  • Pug dog breed.
  • Rottweiler dog breed.
  • Shih Tzu dog breed.

Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome (BOAS)

BOAS is the most common health condition in brachy dogs. This condition can affect short nosed cats as well which can lead to moderate or severe respiratory problems. BOAS is not a single health problem, but can manifest in different forms including:

  • Labored breathing
  • Loud snoring
  • Inability to exercise for a sustained period due to reduced oxygen intake
  • Tendency to suffer from heat stroke because of their inability to pant efficiently

Brachycephalic dogs suffer from all these conditions because of the shape of their head. These dogs have an elongated soft palate which obstructs the windpipe which is very narrow in brachy dogs, cutting off air supply from the outside.

The nostrils are miniature and narrow, severely curtailing the dog’s respiration. The shape and morphology of brachycephalic dog’s throat increases the risk of choking.

Your Frenchie is particularly vulnerable to the hot weather. It is easy for Frenchies to accidentally overheat, which can quickly turn dangerous (leading to serious complications such as heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and death) if not immediately addressed. The signs of overheating can be subtle, too, making it especially important for you to stay vigilant in the hotter months.

Four different anatomical abnormalities that contribute to BOAS:

  • An elongated soft palate.
  • Moderate to severe stenotic nares.
  • A hypoplastic trachea.
  • An everted laryngeal saccules.

These anatomical abnormalities make it more difficult for Brachycephalic dogs like the French Bulldog to breathe which can quickly become life-threatening. It is well known that dogs with BOAS are more likely to die during a flight and have been banned by many airlines.

Is Boas hereditary in French Bulldogs?

Yes. BOAS can be passed on to French Bulldog puppies and is inherited. This is the reason it is extremely important to find a reputable Frenchie breeder.

Why Is My Frenchie Breathing So Fast? 

When it comes to French bulldogs and other dogs with short muzzles, breathing fast immediately triggers concern as it is a known health symptom. But sometimes breathing fast may simply be because your dog is getting hot or over-excited.   

Frenchies and canines in general will pant and breathe fast because that is a way to help their bodies cool down. It’s a form of canine sweating. Frenchies are also very capable of working themselves up to frenzy and thus have difficulty breathing. Something as simple as seeing your car drive in could get them over-excited and panting for breath. 

Other times, breathing fast could mean that your dog is anxious. French bulldogs love and crave your attention; hence they are prone to separation anxiety. So, if you leave your dog alone a lot and they see you leaving again, they could begin to get anxious and breathe fast. 

Many times, breathing fast in French bulldogs is because of their anatomy and facial structure. Their short cute faces mean that they have shorter respiratory passages and narrowed nostrils. This makes it harder for them to get enough air in with each breath. 

The French bulldog has short facial bones but with the same amount of facial tissue as a dog with normal facial bones. So, there is more tissue inside the Frenchie’s facial anatomy than the muzzle has space for. Sometimes, these tissues block the airways so completely that the dog needs to undergo surgery to be able to breathe. 

This breathing disorder is called Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Disorder. And as a result, the dog could suffer from breathing related issues like exercise intolerance, noisy breathing, snoring, and wheezing. Etc. 

How Do You Know If Your French Bulldog Has Breathing Problems? 

If you suspect that your dog may have breathing problems, watch out for these signs and symptoms. As soon as you notice any of them, do not hesitate to contact your vet immediately. 

Risk factors of BOAS in French Bulldogs

  • Listen to your Frenchie’s breathing: When your dog is at rest and in cool conditions, you may hear noisy breathing that doesn’t particularly bother them. But if you hear noisy breathing that sounds like rasping, snoring or wheezing, your Frenchie may have a breathing problem. The noisier their breathing is, the worse their condition may be. 
  • Pay attention to your Frenchie dog during exercise: If your dog seems reluctant to exercise or lags behind on walks, you may want to check on their breathing. If you notice that your French Bulldog is panting heavily with their tongues sticking out, stop exercising for a bit. If your Frenchie already has breathing problems, exercise will place more demands on their body and they simply can’t cope. Their bodies will need more oxygen during exercise and they cannot supply it because drawing in air is laborious. 
  • Routinely check your dog’s mouth: If your Frenchie is really struggling to breath, their chest and stomach may begin to heave this is because they can’t get enough oxygen in. Their gums and tongue may begin to have a blue, gray or purple color, this is due to low blood oxygen. Healthy mouth membranes should appear pink. You may also notice that your French bulldog is drooling. This is because they are concentrating really hard on breathing that they cannot afford to swallow. 
  • Constantly monitor your Frenchie’s behavior: In addition to difficult breathing, Frenchies are at a high risk of overheating in warm weather. If your Frenchie has a breathing problem like BOAS, the symptoms become more pronounced and other signs of heatstroke may occur. These symptoms may include heavy panting, glazed eyes, increased pulse, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst, excessive drooling, increased body temperature, staggering etc. Overheating or heatstroke can be life threatening, the Frenchie may have seizures, collapse, faint and in some cases, may die. If you notice your dog is overheating, take immediate action while contacting your vet for help. Move your Frenchie to a cool place, tepid sponge them to try and bring the temperature down faster or you can just soak them with water (moderately as they can start to feel cold), provide a small amount of water they can drink to re-hydrate.  

Official diagnosis of BOAS in French Bulldogs

Ultimately BOAS is diagnosed by a veterinarian. Your vet will consider your dog's breed, physical examination and clinical signs. Visual inspection will be enough for your vet to diagnose Stenotic nares In order to diagnose an elongated soft palate, or everted laryngeal saccules your Frenchie will need to be under anesthesia.

How You Can Help Your Frenchie Breathe Better without BOAS surgery

The first thing is to get a vet’s diagnosis. If you have noticed any of the above signs and symptoms, don’t wait or postpone, get your vet’s opinion. Several tests may be conducted to pinpoint any blockage or to determine if surgery is crucial. If your vet does not recommend the BOAS surgery or if your Frenchie is not eligible to get the surgery there are things you can do to help your Frenchie breathe better. Your Frenchie’s breathing problem may worsen if you do not take the necessary precautions. 

  • Keep your Frenchie out of the heat: French bulldogs cannot stand the heat as they have trouble regulating their body temperature. So, go for walks in the morning and evening to avoid the heat of the day and always keep your Frenchie comfortable and in cool environment.
  • Reduce excitement: If your French is over-excited, the best way to reduce it is to either model a calm behavior for him, that is, sit down, even your breathing and become calm. Your Frenchie will most likely follow suit. Or ignore him until he is calm, only go to him when has calmed down. If you do this repeatedly, he will eventually catch up. 
  • Do not over exercise: Too much exercise will cause breathing problems. Reduce your exercise to a short 10-15 minute walk each day. If you notice that your Frenchie can’t keep up, pick him up and take him home. Do not make your Frenchie exert himself. You can also use a dog carrier or a dog stroller.
  • Avoid leaving your French bulldog alone for long periods of time: Separation anxiety could trigger a breathing attack in Frenchies. If you must leave, make sure you have a monitor that you can check how your French Bulldog is doing when you are not there. Also don't leave for a long periods of time. In the alternative you can get a dog sitter or another Frenchie so they can keep each other company.
  • Keep Your Frenchie’s weight under control:Many dogs with BOAS are overweight, this may be because of their reduced ability to exercise. Obese French Bulldogs are at a high risk for having BOAS or complications from this condition. Try to keep your Frenchie’s weight under control, if exercise is not an option. Speak to your vet about other options. 
  • Use a Vet Approved Health Harness:Designed for dogs with BOAS and made specifically for French Bulldogs unique sizing and health needs. Frenchiestore Health Harness innovated design is the first and only reversible harness with dual D rings in the pet industry for no pull no choke walk which supports your Frenchies' physical and mental well being.
  • Always have your vet on speed dial: To help your Frenchie journey smoother, you need a vet you can trust. Find one that lives close by and is dedicated to your pet's well being.

BOAS surgery for French Bulldogs to correct their breathing

If your Frenchie suffers from BOAS the vet will most likely provide an official diagnosis around 9-18 months old. This is when your Frenchie is not considered a puppy anymore and a breathing obstruction will be more apparent.

Look at many hospitals and surgeons. Get several surgery consultations until you feel comfortable and confident with the doctor and the facility.

Don't be afraid to ask the success rate of the surgeon as well as how many dogs died in their care. This question alone will have a huge impact on the surgeon you'll pick.

One thing the surgeon or vet will not tell you is that BOAS surgery is not a fix for life. In time BOAS does come back somewhat. The nose and other parts do close up and resort to the genes of the dog.

An an owner of a French Bulldog with a previous diagnosis of BOAS you will never be care free however there are many ways you can help and manage this condition and give your dog the best quality of life possible.

BOAS surgery procedure in French Bulldogs

  • Widening your Frenchie's nostrils,
  • Removing the dog's excess tissue of an elongated soft palate
  • Removing everted laryngeal saccules if neccessary.

Potential Risks of BOAS Surgery in French Bulldog:

  • Hemorrhaging
  • Pain
  • Inflammation during or after surgery which can be prevented with the use of steroids. Please ask your surgeon if they plan on prescribing steroids post BOAS operation.

Please note: with CO2 surgical lasers in French Bulldogs the above complications are greatly diminished. Please ask your surgeon if this is something he/she can offer you and your French Bulldog to minimize risks.

Risks of Anesthesia in French Bulldogs

Due to their compromised airways, brachys face a higher risk of complication due to anesthesia compared to dogs with normal facial physiology. The reason is the dog cannot get enough oxygen during the anesthetic and while trying to wake up from the procedure.

Many vets feel jittery to perform surgeries on brachys due to the increased risk of something going wrong during and after the operation. If you own a brachy which needs surgery, make sure the veterinary doctor informs you of the risk involved in the procedure and take necessary precautions.

How much does a BOAS surgery cost?

The cost of BOAS surgery will depend on the severity and the obstruction of the dog's airways, however here are some rough numbers:

  • Surgery consultation: $200 to $750
  • Soft palate resection: $500 to $2,000
  • Stenotic nares resection: $200 to $1,200
  • Overnight care: $200 - $750
  • Aftercare: $100 to $500

Not all French Bulldogs need an overnight supervision or stay. Furthermore there may be other charges associated not mentioned above such as cardiovascular assessment and tests prior to the BOAS surgery which may result in additional costs.

How much does a BOAS surgery cost?

Will Pet Insurance Cover My French Bulldogs' Boas surgery?

Your pet insurance should cover your French Bulldogs' BOAS surgery as long as it's not a pre-existing condition. If you had the pet insurance well before your vets BOAS diagnosis or it is not within the exclusion section treatment should be covered by the pet insurance. If you have any doubt or question you should call your pet insurance and ask in advance.

Breeding French Bulldog puppies without high risks of brachycephalic syndrome:

The risk of BOAS increases as the French Bulldog's muzzle becomes shorter or flat. To avoid breeding French bulldogs that highly suffer from BOAS, Frenchie breeders should aim for moderate features like a longer muzzle instead of extremely short or flat.

French Bulldogs with the BOAS diagnosis that are eligible for the surgery, should not be bred and removed from the breeding program. The breeder should examine neck girth, body condition, type, nares, genes and more when determining who is eligible to be bred.

Breeding French Bulldog puppies without high risks of brachycephalic syndrome

Other health issues related to dogs with BOAS

Other health issues related to dogs with BOAS such as French Bulldogs

Why is my French bulldog gagging? Regurgitation in French Bulldogs

Gagging, vomiting or regurgitating in Frenchies or other brachycephalic breeds all describe their inability to digest food and water properly due to the shape of their head. This is one of the most common symptom of BOAS.

Heatstroke in French Bulldogs due to BOAS

Unlike humans, French bulldogs cannot sweat because they lack sweat glands. The only way dogs release excess body heat is panting. However, brachycephalic dogs have a smaller mouth and inefficient airway, making it difficult for them to dissipate heat.

This weakness makes them susceptible to heat stroke. It is important to know heat stroke can lead to death in brachys, which is why such dogs must never be allowed to become overweight. An overweight brachy dog has more fat that traps in heat, increasing the chances of heat stroke.

Eye Challenges in French Bulldogs and other brachy dogs

Due to the smushed face of brachy dogs, their eyes have limited socket space. Brachycephalic dogs’ eyes don’t fit their eye socket. Further, the overly exposed eyes of brachycephalic dogs make their eyes dry and irritated frequently.

Any trauma to the head or neck region can cause the dog’s eyes to pop out of the socket, leading to an emergency situation. This is one of the reasons a collar is never recommended for daily walks and could potentially be dangerous especially if your Frenchie dog is a puller.

If you own a French Bulldog chances are you dealt with eye ulcer at some point in their life. This is a very common injury since they don't have a nose to protect their eyes.

How do your vet checks if your dog have a Corneal Ulcer?

The following video demonstrates the process of how your vet can check for ulcers in French Bulldogs or other dog breeds.

How do I help my Frenchie live a long and healthy life with a BOAS diagnosis?

1) Keep Your Brachycephalic Frenchie Dog cool during the Summer

By design, brachycephalic dogs can’t tolerate high temperatures like other breeds with well-shaped skulls. Brachys include breeds such as Bulldogs, Pekingese, Boston Terriers, Pugs and Boxers.

The shape of the skull and nose of these dogs make it difficult for them to breathe effectively and dissipate heat. The result is that brachys tend to overheat quickly, putting them at a higher risk of heatstroke, which can become an emergency.

Know the clues that your Frenchie may be overheating:

  • Panting or wheezing
  • Heavy breathing
  • Enlarged eyes, ears back, distessed look
  • Excessively floppy tongue
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Foaming at the mouth or drooling
  • Convulsions and seizures

2) Never Leave Your Brachy Dog Outside

Keeping the dog inside will protect them from the high humidity and heat of the outdoors which increases the risk of dehydration and heatstroke. It might be cool and breezy outside, but make sure your brachy dog stays indoors as much as possible during the summer.

Keep your French Bulldog indoors during the hottest part of the day

When the mercury is rising, you don’t want to expose your French bulldog to the scorching heat outside. Try to walk your Frenchie early in the morning, or later in the afternoon, to prevent them from overheating during the peak daytime hours.

If they must go out, don’t let them remain outdoors longer than twenty to thirty minutes at a time. Also do not let your Frenchie stay in your fenced yard alone outside in the heat. We have heard a tragedy happening this way too many times.

Always supervise your dog and if you see any of the warning signs above please be aware that things can decline quickly and you must act fast.

Never leave your Frenchie in a hot car

Hot cars are death traps for French bulldogs. Even if it’s just 70 degrees out, even if you're thinking 5 minutes will not harm your dog, it will kill your dog! It is a fact that your car can rapidly climb to a whopping 104 degrees in just a few minutes. Don’t think that cracking the window will help, either.

Your Frenchie is not able to sweat; instead, they pant to cool down. There’s not enough circulation in a hot car, and the trapped heat and air can quickly lead to their suffocation and tragic demise.

3) Invest in Dog Cooling Accessories that are made for French Bulldogs

A cooling mat is an effective way to help your brachy dog cope with the high summer temperatures. You can buy a cooling mat at the store or online at relatively affordable prices.

Alternatively, you can make a simple cooling mat by freezing water and wrapping the frozen water inside a heavy towel. Place the towel in the canine's bed but make sure it does not touch your dog's skin directly.

If you want an inexpensive and effective cooling accessory you can place directly on your dog you can purchase Frenchiestore cooling bandana. These perfect  innovative cooling bandanas are compact, small and effective.  All you have to do is wet it, wring it and place it on your dog. The cooling light mesh fabric will stay cold for a long time.

Frenchiestore cooling bandanas are simple to use and can help keep your Frenchie cool for hours. We have several adorable options from which you can choose. When going out in the heat we recommend placing your cooling bandanas under your Frenchie's Health Harness. Make sure the bandana is placed and covering their whole chest.

frenchiestore cooling bandanas for hot days frenchie frenchies frenchy dog bulldog

Keep them comfortable with minimal wear.

Our Adjustable Health Harness is a great option for the naked feel. It is like putting a collar on your Frenchie without the risks of a collar. Frenchiestore Strap Harness has a dual d rings for a no choke walk.

a unicorn frenchie looking magical frenchiestore best harness for french bulldogs

4) Always Provide Unlimited Cold Water for your Frenchie

When you get back home from a tiring trek in the sun, the first thing that comes to mind is a refreshing glass of cold water. The same applies to your smushed face pup. During the high heat season, make sure there is always an abundance of cool drinking water in your dog's bowl.

5) Reduce Physical Activity with your Frenchie

While your brachy still needs to exercise during the hot months, you want to reduce the frequency of physical activity to avoid overheating. A good rule of thumb is to monitor your Frenchies' sounds.

If the breathing becomes labored or too noisy, let your Frenchie rest immediately. Remember that the head shape of a brachy dog can make it difficult to breath. Exercise your brachy during the summer, but in moderation.

6) Get a Pool for your Frenchie

Does your Frenchie love spending time outdoors? You can reduce the risk of overheating by providing a kid pool to cool down the summer heat. However, the pool must be under a shade and you need to change it whenever it becomes warm or hot. Otherwise, you will end up overheating your French Bulldog instead of cooling them. Offer your dog a shallow pool under supervision off course since Frenchies are known to drown.

Offer your French Bulldog water activities

A great way to get your dog cooled off fast is by letting your dog play with sprinklers or have a water gun fight.

You can quickly wash your dog in cool water if you see any signs of overheating. Never aim the water on the Frenchie's face while panting as this can cause a pneumonia episode.

a french bulldog playing with water

7) Invest in a vet approved no choke no pull dog Health Harness

Made by owners who know the struggles of BOAS. This condition affected our family. The Health Harness inspired and created for Bluenjy has been a life saver for us and many dogs around the world.

Invest in a specially designed Health Harness for dogs diagnosed with BOAS. A regular harness will most likely worsen the dog’s respiratory problems, reducing comfort and causing distress when pulling on the fabric in the chest area.

8) Feed your Frenchie cold snacks/food during the hot summer months

  • Ice - add ice to their water bowl often, or give them ice chips to chew on.
  • Dog safe frozen fruit - almost any fruit will do. Bluenjy's favorite frozen fruit treats are watermelon bites, blueberries, and bananas. Pro Tip: You can freeze bite size pieces on an ice cube tray and top with water to make fun frozen treats that are limited on sugar. Perfect for the high sugar fruit such as bananas, apples and mango.
  • Dog safe frozen vegetables -  like broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower provide a great nutritional value plus keep your dog cool.
  • Toppers - if you are used to topping your dog's food with yogurt, tuna broth etc. consider toppings that can be frozen.

frozen treats for frenchie dogs during hot summer months

DIY frozen treats for your Bulldog to help regulate their body temperature

We all know French Bulldogs have a hard time regulating their body temperature, this is due to their compacted airway and the way they are built. In a hot day this could be potentially very dangerous for a Frenchie.

There are ways we can help our French Bulldogs in the heat. One of our favorite way is simply make them a dogsicle (dog popsicle) or frozen treats. There are many recipes online, however a general rule of thumb is whatever they like and is edible for dogs you can blend mash freeze and give your dog.

You should experiment to see what your Bulldog likes best. Obviously peanut butter is one of their favorite, blend that with some yogurt, freeze and you have a fantastic treat for your dog. Other idea is to blend some yogurt with real fruit.

9) Offer your Frenchie minimal bedding during the hot months.

During the hot months you should take away the heavy blankets, pillows and dog beds. You can offer a cooling pad, or a raised ventilated dog bed for your French Bulldog.

What should I do if my Frenchie is overheating?

If you suspect that your Frenchie is overheating, you need to react quickly, as time is of the essence. Find shade and water. Use your Frenchiestore cooling banana to cool your Frenchie off. Offer your dog water to drink. 

If water is not available locate the nearest air condition. You can find an air conditioner in every car, building place of business. When locating the nearest air condition make sure to pick up your Frenchie and carry him/her. You don't want them overheating more.

If your Frenchie is foaming from the mouth we recommend squeezing a bit of lemon into their mouth. Don’t hesitate to call your local vet to make sure that they promptly get the critical care they need.

By monitoring your French Bulldog closely, keeping them out of the sun during the hottest parts of the day, and outfitting them in cute (but protective!) summer gear, you can keep your Frenchie safe and out of harm’s way.

Reach Out to Us For More Information

If you would like to know more about caring for your Frenchie, do not hesitate to reach out to us. Brachycephalic dogs need constant supervision. As a responsible pet owner, know your dog and pay attention to their sounds. Make sure to provide as much comfort and love. Support their physical and mental well being and give them the best quality of life possible. BOAS is not a death sentence, with your help your pooch can live a long and healthy life.

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