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Breathing Problems

Pug Breathing Problems

Why Pugs Have Breathing Problems

Long ago, societies would breed dogs in order to achieve a very precise appearance of the dog. 

The Pug was carefully developed to have a very flat face and wrinkles on the forehead.

Since most canines have visible, medium to long snouts, as the bloodlines were bred and the Pug dog essentially became a dog without a snout, this made the dog very unique and precious.

Those in China believed that the flat face and wrinkles were to be considered good luck. Ironically, it is these features that contribute to breathing issues for the Pug.
Pug dog face
The facial structure of this dog forces the breathing passages to be very compact. This, along with other structural elements of the body can lead to issues that include: 
  • Difficulty breathing when exercising 
  • Excess noises (snorting, snoring) 
  • Inability to properly regulate body temperature, which leads to heavy panting 
  • Stenotic Nares (pinches nostrils) which can interfere with normal breathing 
  • An elongated palate, which can cause frequent episodes of reverse sneezing which can consist of excessive gasps and wheezes that can be quite alarming (although usually do not cause harm) 

Normal Noises and Wheezes 

A Pug dog will have breathing issues that are considered 'normal'. Although they may be quite alarming to new, unsuspecting owners, the following are common traits that are to be expected:

Snoring - Many Pugs snore when napping and sleeping through the night. This is not usually indicative of a serious health issue. If it does become excessive, stenotic nares and/or elogated palate may be the cause.

Snorting noises - It it typical for a Pug to make noises like grunting and snorting. This breed will wheeze and gasp a bit. As we look ahead into the details of Pug breathing problems, this will only need to be addressed if it appear to interfere with normal respiratory functions. 

Offering an Environment that is Conducive to Easy Breathing

Temperature and humidity levels play a major role in a Pug's ability to breath. When this breed overheats, it puts strain on the respiratory system and high humidity only adds to this. Here's what you can do to help:

Keep room temperature in the house between 68 to 75 Fahrenheit (20 to 24 Celsius) - Use an air conditioner during hot weather and be take care to not turn the heat up too much in the winter.  

If owners do not have access to an AC there are some things that can keep a room cooler to help a Pug breath better: 
  • Open windows on opposite sides of the house to create air flow  
  • Place fans to help the air circulate throughout the rooms  
  • Keep blinds and curtains closed to block out sunlight that would otherwise heat up the house  
  • Use dehumidifiers to take excess moisture out of the air

When Outdoors

Pug dogs are prone to excess weight gain which can further complicate breathing problems, yet this breed cannot handle excess exercise. Moderate exercise is an important part of providing good care. Here are some tips to follow:
  • Schedule at 20 to 30 minute daily walk, unless your Pug is suffering from a health issue that prevents this  
  • During hot weather, take your Pug out early in the morning or in the early evening hours when the sun is not at its brightest.  
  • Allow for at least 1 break during this walk, with a rest in a shaded area being optimal 
  • Bring along a travel bowl and a chilled bottle of water so that you can offer your Pug hydration while out and about  
  • Be aware of your Pug's ability and endurance levels in regard to exercise...If your dog has trouble breathing at the 25 minute mark, plan to cut back to 20 minutes.  
  • If at any time your Pug begins to wheeze or show signs of respiratory distress, immediately stop activity, bring him or her to a cooler area (a shaded spot), offer a drink and do not begin walking again until your Pug has rested. If the episode seems moderate to severe, bring this to the attention of your veterinarian.  
  • Use a harness on your Pug as opposed to a collar (that puts all pressure on the neck). A harness will distribute pressure across the back, shoulders and chest. Read more about choosing the best collar and harness for a Pug 
Closeup of Pug face and nose
Photo courtesy of owner Alf Dixon

Serious Problems

Putting aside the breathing issues that are normal and daily occurrences, the Pug dog will be vulnerable to some respiratory medical issues.

Stenotic Nares - This is not uncommon with brachycephalic, short-nosed dogs. This is a physical condition in which the dog's nostril are too narrow to allow for proper breathing. 

This is also referred to as pinched nostrils. It is a congenital trait, which means that it is passed down genetically, however it cannot be bred out of the Pug due to facial structure that gives the Pug his unique appearance. 

For some, this can be noticed at birth, however many veterinarians recommend waiting on surgery because some Pugs outgrow this. 

Additionally, for some puppies, the nostrils may close off more during the teething phase but re-open enough for easy breathing once the pup's adult teeth have grown in. 

Due to the changes that can occur during puppy-hood, surgery is usually only recommended for severe cases with Pug puppies.

The most common and noticeable sign that this is a problem is if the dog can breathe just fine through his mouth, but not his nose. When the Pug's mouth is open, breathing will be normal; when closed, he will gasp, grunt and struggle for air.
If the nares do interfere with breathing at a moderate to high level and/or if the Pug has not outgrown this, the procedure to widen the nares and allow for better breathing is relatively simple. Small pieces of tissue on the walls of the nostril will be removed. There will be a few stitches and most dogs take approximately 1 week to heal.

Collapsed Trachea 

The trachea (windpipe) is surrounded by rings of cartilage. This refers to a condition in which the rings break (collapse) inward. 

This can be quite painful and it causes breathing problems. It is thought that dogs may be predisposed to this, although it can also occur due to injury. In cases of injury, this can happen when a Pug is walked on leash and collar. 

All pressure is put on the neck. Particularly in cases when the puppy or dog unexpectedly lunges forward or out to the side, damage to the airway can occur. For this reason, Pug owners are encouraged to prevent this by always using a harness, which distributes pressure evenly along the back, chest and shoulders of the dog.  

Aside from having problems breathing another sign of this is cough, often described as a whooping sound. A veterinarian will diagnose this via x-ray that will show the extent of the damage. 

With minor cases, treatment may include: 
  • Rest 
  • Use of the harness 
  • Anti-inflammatory medications 
  • A reduction in exercise during warm/hot weather 
While just rest alone would not do much as would only using a harness, these 4 non-invasive treatments work together and can often bring about great improvement.  

For moderate to severe cases, surgery is often recommended and may be the only option to allow a Pug to be free of discomfort and to restore normal breathing. 

Elongated Soft Palate 

As with the above issue, this is also common to the Pug breed and is due mainly in fact to the facial structure of the dog. 

The soft palate is a flap of tissue that closes off the dog's airway when he swallows food or drinks water so that these elements are diverted to the stomach and do not enter the lungs. With this condition, it is too large and blocks off the normal breathing passages. 

Signs of this include:
  • Excessive snoring 
  • Excessive snorting 
  • Heavy panting 
  • A tendency to only breath through the mouth, resulting in the Pug frequently keeping his mouth open (which can then lead to excessive drooling
  • Vomiting or coughing during or after eating or drinking
In moderate to severe cases, this is corrected with a procedure that trims away excess tissue. For Pug dogs that have both elongated palates and stenotic nares, often both procedures can be performed at the same time. 

Most dogs do every well after the surgery as the airway is no longer obstructed and the dog can breathe normally.

Other Conditions

Some other health conditions that can cause a Pug to have difficult range from allergies to respiratory infections.

When in doubt about the noises that your Pug makes or any signs of panting or breathing difficulties, owners are encouraged to obtain a diagnosis from an experienced and reputable veterinarian.
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