What is Brachycephalic syndrome (BAOS)?
Some breeds of pedigree dogs & cats with very short muzzles (termed brachycephalic) can have difficulty breathing due to a disorder known as brachycephalic airway obstruction syndrome (BAOS). These animals are at a greater risk of suffering from stress and requiring veterinary attention, or passing away, during transport both by Air and Road.
In these dogs the skull length is reduced, but the amount of soft tissue in the muzzle is not, resulting in the same amount of tissue being squeezed into a smaller area. It is generally believed that this characteristic has been deliberately selected in order to conform to breed standards.
Dogs with BAOS usually have a combination of four anatomical abnormalities that contribute to the condition, all of which occur more commonly in brachycephalic breeds: an elongated soft palate, Pinched or narrow nostrils, an underdeveloped windpipe and soft tissue masses protruding into the voicebox opening.
Because all of these components make it more difficult to breathe, in situations of exercise, stress, excitement or hot conditions, an animal with these abnormalities may be unable to take deep or fast enough breaths leading to oxygen deprivation, a build up of carbon dioxide and an inability to properly regulate their body temperature through panting. This leads to distress and further increases respiratory rate, heart rate and temperature, creating a vicious cycle that can quickly lead to a life-threatening situation.
Dogs experiencing a crisis situation due to brachycephalic syndrome typically benefit from oxygen, cool temperatures, sedatives, and in some cases more advance medical intervention including intubation.
List of Brachycephalic animals
Not all breeds are affected to the same degree. Additionally some breeds are not common in Australia. It is likely that the degree of risk is proportional to the degree of flatness of the face in different breeds.
Seriously affected breeds, problems should be expected and watched for.
Bulldogs (All breeds)
Japanese spaniel, Chin, Japanese Chin
Breeds that are Brachycephalic and where problems are possible but more likely to be experienced only in the presence of other risk factors.
Boxer (all breeds)
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Bull Terriers (all breeds including Staffies and Amstaffs)
Mastiffs (All breeds)
Dogue de Bordeaux (French mastiff)
American Cocker Spaniel (not English Cocker Spaniel)
English Toy Spaniel
Symptoms or Signs associated with BAOS in these Breeds:
· Noisy breathing
· Reverse sneezing
· Nasal congestion
· Shortness of breath
· High blood pressure
· Low oxygen concentration in blood
· Fainting or collapsing
· Excessive flatulence (from gulping air)
· Exercise Intolerance
Symptoms of this condition do not seem to be an issue in young puppies but should be watched for in mature animals from approximately 9 months of age.
Specific additional risk factors for these animals include:
· Hot conditions
· Over excitement
· Previous respiratory issues
· Previous incidences of heat stress
Signs or Symptoms that may cause GTE's drivers to refuse to accept a Brachycephalic breed for transport
· Loud or unusual breathing
· Nasal congestion
· Shortness of breath.
· Unusually hot weather conditions
· Signs of over excitement or stress
· Any previous respiratory issues relating to this condition
If your pet is or does at times show any of the above signs of this problem, you must seriously consider whether it is appropriate to transport your animal. Please note that all major transporters within Australia and internationally have some form of limitation or waiver regarding the transport of Brachycephalic breeds and in the case your pet is severely affected even private transport by car may not be recommended. We suggest that you consult your veterinarian for further advice.
Additional Information regarding transport of Brachycephalic Breeds:
The RSPCA has reported in its Animal Welfare Science Update #37, July 2012, that many owners of Brachycephalic dogs in a clinical study, reported a high frequency and severity of clinical signs in their dogs, without perceiving them as a problem. In other words, there is a misperception that dogs with BAOS are normal.
Heat Stress / Heat stroke
Heat stress is a condition that these animals are particularly susceptible to due to their existing genetic and physical breed characteristics. Some animals will handle heat far better than others but all Brachycephalic animals have an impaired ability to properly regulate their body temperature to some degree.
We do focus upon heat stress in our care of your animals, it is in fact the only risk factor with these animals that we have a partial ability to control. However it is important to be aware that a Brachycephalic animal suffering from over exertion, excitement or stress can suffer similar symptoms, leading to breathing difficulties, oxygen deprivation and possibly death in the absence of heat as a factor and in fact this situation can arise in a cool or air conditioned environment.
These issues exist for all forms of transport, by road and by air. The nature of all animal transport is such that it is not possible for a driver or handler to monitor every animal at every moment, even with regular stops it is possible for an animal suffering from respiratory distress or heat stress to progress to a critical stage in a very short space of time with the risk that symptoms may go unnoticed and/or that by the time symptoms are noticed that it is not possible to get the animal appropriate care in time. Please note additionally that in some instances the physical location and time of day will be a factor in determining whether it is possible to get an animal to appropriate care in time.
Collars / Harnesses
Dogs with brachycephalic airway syndrome should be fitted with a harness that does not tug at the neck area. It is not advisable to use a regular neck collar or choker chain for these dogs, since the collar can put undue pressure on the neck. We ask that owners provide an appropriate harness that fits the dog properly and that the dog is used to wearing. In the event that our drivers/handlers feel that your dog is pulling insistently and that this may be affecting your animals breathing they will limit the animals walks as much as is practical under the circumstances.
GTE's insurance policy does not cover veterinary bills, death or loss associated with BAOS or any other existing physical condition that an animal may have. Such insurance is not available in Australia and to the best of our knowledge no pet carrier in Australia offers such insurance. It is possible for individuals to obtain cover for their personal companion animals through the RSPCA and other insurance providers.
GTE's animal transport floats are not Air Conditioned and we make no representation that your animal will be transported in an air conditioned environment on our regional and interstate services. While air conditioning may be beneficial in keeping pets comfortable on short journeys it is our experience that the risks associated with using AC on longer trips outweigh the benefits.
Sudden and extreme changes in temperature can be experienced by animals being removed from an air conditioned cage into a hot or humid environment, either for a toilet stop or at the end of a journey. These sudden changes are believed to cause excessive stress in affected animals and to be an additional risk factor for this condition.
It is important to note here that while the external temperature is a factor in this condition and high temperatures are a risk factor, seriously affected animals are unable to properly regulate their body temperature even in a cool or air conditioned environment.
Buying a Brachycephalic breed
If you are purchasing a mature Brachycephalic animal we suggest that you discuss this condition with the previous owner and ensure that an appropriate agreement is in place regarding ownership, liability and a refund of the purchase price in the event that the animal if affected seriously enough that it is unable to be transported to you.
If you are purchasing a Brachycephalic puppy or kitten we suggest that you discuss this condition with the breeder including the condition of the parents of your animal. To date we have never seen signs or symptoms of this condition in animals under 6 months of age and do not apply any restrictions to the transport of pups or kittens.
Does BOAS affect all Brachycephalic animals?
As previously stated not all Brachycephalic breeds are affected to the same degree and not all dogs within a breed are affected. We have specifically not seen this condition affect young pups but have seen it affect young animals from about 9 months on.
However we have seen it affect otherwise healthy looking animals. We are aware of animals with symptoms of BAOS being found deceased when no other apparent risk factors were present, autopsies have indicated heat stress as a factor even when heat was not considered to be an issue or the animal was in an air conditioned vehicle.
Why do we need a specific policy for Brachycephalic animals?
Unfortunately no matter how much care we take with the animals we are responsible for, occasionally an animal will become unwell or pass away whilst in our care. BAOS is recognised as the leading cause of death amongst companion animals in transport conditions. It is a condition closely aligned to an individual animals genetic condition and as such much of the risk is out of our control. We do seek to manage the additional risk factors as much as is possible but it is ultimately the owners responsibility to make an informed decision as to suitability for transport, given the animals current condition, previous issues and experience with the animal in stressful situations.
In the event that an animal does experience issues during transport, it can be a stressful time for both the owner and our drivers. Unfortunately, some owners, when faced with such a situation seek to place the full responsibility for the problem on the transporter, in doing so ignoring that their animal had a serious pre existing condition.
Are travel restrictions common for Brachycephalic animals?
As professional animal transporters, it is our experience that this condition is the No. 1 cause of veterinary intervention and fatalities during transport. This fact is mirrored by published statistics from US airlines that have had to report injuries, losses and deaths of animals in transit since 2005. Since that time over half of all deaths have been attributed to Brachycephalic breeds with Bulldogs and pugs being overrepresented even within this figure.
Restrictions on both the carriage of and liability for Brachycephalic breeds are common amongst both airlines and road transporters of domestic animals both within Australia and Internationally and several major international airlines refuse to move Brachycephalic animals on some or all or their routes.
Those airlines that do not have complete restrictions invariably advise that these breeds are booked only on early morning or evening flights to avoid extreme changes in temperature and humidity when the animals are loaded or removed from the aircraft.