5 Things you need to know about Elongated Soft Palate in French Bulldogs

Fist of all ,as a owner of a French Bulldog you must be familiar with the term "Brachycephalic". The origin of the word comes from the Greek root " Bracky" which its meaning is "short" and "cephalic" means head.

Brachycephalic dogs haven been breed so as to possess a normal lower jaw, that is , one in proportion to their body size, and compressed upper jaw. In producing this cosmetic appearance, we have compromised these animals in many important ways and you as a owner, must be familiar with the special needs of your Frenchie.  

You can read more about Brachycephalic dogs and problems in "Brachycephalic Dog Breeds".

1. What is the Elongated Soft Palate?

The hard palate, referred to as the ‘roof of the mouth’ – it becomes the soft palate just behind the last molar tooth in dogs with a normal sized skull and extends to the tip of the epiglottis. The soft palate is the soft part of the roof of the mouth.

In Brachycephalics dogs, the soft palate develops further back and can extend into the larynx; effectively it is too long for the length of the mouth. This can partially block the entrance to the trachea, or windpipe, and increases airway resistance which can lead to breathing difficulties. This may be detected by noisy, snoring breathing sounds on inspiration (known by vets as stertor) and snoring during sleep. In some cases, you may also be aware of your dog retching or gagging during or after swallowing. Brachycephalic breeds can often have a number of other anatomical issues present at the same time, such as narrowed nostrils, everted laryngeal saccules (or tonsils) and partial collapse of the trachea; together these contribute to a syndrome known as Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS).

2. What are the signs of an elongated soft palate?

During inspiration (breathing in), negative pressure is created to ‘pull in’ more air – this works in combination with the action of the respiratory muscles. In a dog with an elongated soft palate, this negative pressure causes the soft palate to be pulled into the larynx, reducing the available diameter of the larynx and trachea to airflow.

This reduction in diameter varies with breathing effort – the harder your dog breathes, the more negative pressure that is created and thus the more the diameter is reduced, in some cases, causing complete obstruction. As such, the degree of respiratory distress varies and the clinical signs differ depending on the degree of severity. Signs include:

  • Stertor (snoring)
  • Dyspnoea (difficulty breathing)/excessive panting
  • Stridor (wheezing)
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Retching/gagging
  • Swallowing disorders
  • Coughing
  • Breathing disorders during sleep
  • Respiratory muscle hypertrophy
  • Exaggerated abdominal movements during breathing
  • Cyanosis (blue tongue/gums due to poor oxygenation of blood)
  • Occasional collapse/fainting

These clinical signs are often made worse by overheating, stress, excitement or hyperactivity and obesity. 

You can check more info & videos from the University of Cambridge BOAS Research Team in order to recoignize the noises of BOAS.

3. How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis of soft palate disorders in French Bulldogs can take several forms.  Once the defect or symptoms have been noted, your veterinarian will need to do a physical examination.  The discovery of defects could come as a result of a normal, routine evaluation or as a result of an episode of respiratory distress.  The examination by your veterinarian may require some anesthesia in order to be performed adequately.  Before this is attempted, your veterinary caregiver will likely do some blood work and get a chest x-ray to detect possible respiratory issues before general anesthesia is administered.   

CT scan of the head and throat area will reveal any soft tissue defects and this will give a better idea of what will be found upon anesthetized examination.  Knowing the possible defects in advance will allow decisions to be made prior to anesthesia as to what surgical options should be exercised while the dog is under anesthesia.  This will reduce additional administrations of anesthesia which will put the dog at risk for further respiratory issues.

4. Which is the treatment?

Treatment involves surgery to correct the main problems of narrowed nostrils and elongated soft palate; the nostrils may be widened by removal of a wedge of skin from each nostril and the soft palate may be shortened or resected either by cutting back the excess tissue and placing sutures that do not have to be removed, or by laser surgery. Both cause significant bleeding and soft tissue swelling.

Post-operative hospitalisation is usually continued for 24-48 hours. Aftercare can often be more challenging than the corrective surgery and you may wish to consider referral to a specialist hospital for diagnosis, treatment and post-operative monitoring to be carried out.

5. Can it be prevented?

Elongation of the soft palate is a congenital condition, however, steps may be taken to reduce the risk of respiratory distress developing in your dog.

  1. Minimise factors that make the clinical signs worse e.g. exercise and excitement
  2. Your dog should wear a harness rather than a collar when exercised
  3. Weight should be controlled to decrease incidence of obesity
  4. Consider elective surgery to widen nostrils and shorten the soft palate

* Important: This advice is not a substitute for a proper consultation with a vet and is only intended as a guide. Please contact your local veterinary practice if you are worried about your pet’s health.

You can read more about French Bulldog Health in our last articles, "All you need to Know about Cherry Eye on French Bulldogs" , "3 Easy Steps to Keep your Frenchie's Teeth Clean", "All you Need to Know about the Reverse Sneezing in French Bulldogs".

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