Thursday, October 10, 2013

Cannon's Snort-ectomy

I knew when I adopted him that Cannon would likely need surgery. Like many brachycephalic squishy-faced dogs, Cannon has brachycephalic airway syndrome. Squishy faced dogs have been bred so that their facial bones, particularly their upper jaws, are shortened, creating that pushed-in look. This changes the way that the soft tissues in their airways are able to function. When their inability to breath significantly affects the dog's quality of life, that's when they have brachycephalic airway syndrome. Cannon had already had a soft palate resection when I adopted him, and since brachycephalic airway syndrome is a collection of defects, I knew there was a strong possibility that he would need further surgeries.

The soft palate resection drastically improved Cannon's ability to breath, but he still struggles. When I adopted him in July, it was warm out, and he was pretty much a wrinkly lump of bulldog due to his inability to cool himself (a side effect of not having being able to move air over his tongue - remember, dogs cool themselves by panting). Now that the weather has cooled, Cannon has really sparked to life, getting into all the trouble you would expect from an adolescent bulldog, and generally having ten kinds of fun doing it. But he still regularly struggles to breathe and do normal dog stuff, like walk or eat or sleep, at the same time.

So on November 7th, the CannonBall will be having his second brachycephalic airway syndrome surgery at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center. While he's under anesthesia, the (specialist) surgeon will look at his trachea to assess how narrow it is, as well check to see if there is tissue obstructing his windpipe. But the point of this surgery will be a stenotic nares resection.

A normal dog's nose will have two "nares," or nose holes that are well opened and easily pass air. This allows the dog to, well, breathe. Or in Rubi's case, easily gain enough air for screaming, jumping at squirrels, and general hyperactivity.

Rubi shows off her excellent nose holes.
And the bloody gash she got from running into a tree at full speed.

For Cannon and other dogs with brachycephalic airway syndrome, shortening their top jaw has narrowed their nostrils and can even cause their nostrils to collapse in when they try to inhale. This makes it almost impossible to breathe through their nose and can cause difficulties with everything from sleeping to walking around to eating. Compare Rubi's nice, open nose to Cannon's stunted schnoz:

So in November, Cannon will be having surgery to open his nasal passages, hopefully thereby removing his snort, purr, gasp, and other strangled breathing noises.

Not all brachycephalic, squishy-nosed dogs have brachycephalic airway syndrome, though. As a boxer, Piper Ann certainly qualifies as squishy-faced; however, aside from being a little more sensitive to heat (which is likely a combination of her facial structure and coat color), her altered face does not seem to really affect her quality of life.

One of the hot topics in dog culture right now is the ethics of creating dogs that require significant human intervention to do normal canine activities like breathe and breed. While I agree that brachycephalic dogs like Cannon are extreme, and I'm awfully glad I didn't give his breeder any money, I think that condemning dog breeds to extinction because of genetically selected for traits is a slippery slope. Is any amount of brachycephally acceptable? Piper Ann certainly doesn't seem to be suffering from it. And if it's a quality of life issue, what about, say, golden retrievers, with their predispositions to cancer or beagles with epilepsy? Both significantly effect the quality of life of these breeds, they just aren't genetic conditions apparent from looking at the dogs. And if we're getting rid of physically health conditions, should we look at mental health conditions that impact quality of life as well? Such as the border collie's tendency toward overstimulation or excessive guarding behaviors in Rottweilers? Should we end pure bred dogs altogether?

The thing is, I like purebred dogs. I like the temperament package that bulldogs seem to come with. And I love the overall genetic package that comes with the label "pit bull terrier." And I don't want to see them go away. The great thing about purebred dogs is that we have the ability to make them healthier instead of genetic train wrecks. There are French Bulldogs without brachycephalic airway syndrome and non-neurotic border collies. What is needed is not the elimination of purebred dogs, but more responsible breeders - breeders who are looking to the betterment of their breed both mentally and physically instead of breeding toward extreme characteristics while disregarding everything else.

Of course, it's all fine and dandy to leave all the pressure on dog breeders, but the truth of the matter is that breeders would not be creating sub-par dogs if people weren't buying them. And here lies the importance of research and education, not only of the breed in question, but also of the breeder. Poorly bred dogs like Cannon are not the end result of a handful of irresponsible people, but of a culture that promotes appearance over health and impulse over education. It is only by changing this culture that purebred dogs will be able to thrive.

1 comment:

  1. I like breeds too. There should be a way to work with breeders and the Kennel clubs to alleviate the genetic flaws and strengthen the breed for the future.

    And there is.

    Of course, with any closed gene pool/registry, infiltration of fresh genetics will be necessary. How this is accomplished becomes the next question.