One of the charms of pugs is their cute little smooshed faces. The pug-look is one of those aspects that draws people to the breed time and time again.
When a dog has a flat face (like Shih Tzus, Bostons, Pekinese and yes, pugs) it’s called brachycephalic, meaning “shortened head.” There are many bigger dogs that fall into this category like Bull Mastiffs, Boxers and Bulldogs, as well. The shortened head look is a trait we’ve bred into our canine companions over time.
When you look back at pug art through history, you’ll notice, while they still had a distinctly pug look, over time, pugs have been bred to be more and more pug-like. This means big, alien eyes, shorter and shorter snouts and more wrinkles.
As cute as this look is, it’s also not healthy for the pug. Sadly through breeding we’ve caused many problems for pugs that are hard to overcome. In fact, many pugs struggle to give birth naturally and for this reason (and many others) you must always spay and neuter your pug.
The challenges faced by pugs are why we strongly advocate for supporting pug-rescues over pug-breeders. So many people buy a pug puppy because they love the look, not realizing the many problems pugs can face. When they aren’t prepared to deal with these challenges, the pug is often tragically abandoned or dumped. Irresponsible and horrible backyard breeders and puppy mills abound and sadly, they don’t focus on pug health, but on increasing the pug characteristics that are actually unhealthy and tough for the breed.
If you long for a pug, don’t worry--there are so many that need good homes! Check out our guide to pug rescues to find a pug in your neck of the woods who’s ready for a forever home. Not only will you be saving a dog in need, but you’ll come to love and enjoy one of the most charming, sweet, loyal and fun dogs out there. Pugs are perfect, not because of their cute looks, but because of their great personalities!
In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about brachycephalic dogs.
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Among the challenges brachycephalic dogs face are:
Dental issues: Because brachycephalic dogs have small mouths, they’re more prone to tooth loss and decay. Often their small front teeth will get loose and fall out, simply because there’s not enough gum tissue to hold the teeth in place. While there’s not much you can do to prevent tooth loss, keeping your pugs teeth cleaned regularly will help. If you start brushing at a young age, it’s easy to get your pug comfortable with a toothbrush.
Elongated soft palate: The soft-palate tissue covers or obstructs the airway. This condition may require corrective surgery and almost always results in snoring, loud breathing and frequent panting.
Everted laryngeal saccules: This causes pouches in the larynx to become everted or turned, which causes major breathing obstruction. Again, this is a condition that requires surgery to correct.
Eye problems: Pugs and eye problems go hand-in-hand. Because the eyes protrude from the skull, they’re more vulnerable to damage and injury. Ulcerations and dry eye are common issues. Consult with your vet on your pugs eyes regularly, early and often. Sometimes a simple lubricating gel can help prevent the eyes from getting dry and thus, more prone to infection. Eyelid canthoplasty can also be performed to help close the eyelid slightly, protecting the eye from injury and problems.
Stenotic nares: This is another term for collapsed nostrils. If your pug is a mouth-breather, this is often the cause. While this condition is particularly common in puppies (and some grow out of it), the surgery to correct it is very simple.
Tracheal stenosis: This means the trachea narrows or collapses, resulting in a loud, honking cough. If the pug is young, this can be corrected with surgery. In older pugs, this is often treated with steroids, bronchodilators and a recommendation for weight loss (obesity can cause undue pressure on the windpipe, making this condition more likely and severe).
The Best Ways to Protect Your Pug from Brachycephalic Problems
While we wish we could wrap our pug babies in protective bubble wrap or put them in a pug-sized hamster bubble, we can only do so much to keep them safe. At the end of the day, pugs are dogs, and they love to play, romp and run around like dogs--it’s important to their quality of life.
To protect your pug as much as possible, we recommend the following:
1. Always Use a Harness & A Leash
Collars can cause undue pressure on your pug’s trachea, neck and eyes. Because of pug’s unique shape, a harness is a much better choice and fit. Some pugs can easily slip a collar anyway (a hazard of having a thick neck). Always keep your pug on a leash as well and avoid retractable leashes. These leashes don’t offer as much control over your pug and it’s hard to “reel them in” when your pug is charging toward a sharp hazard. Instead use a 6-8 foot leash and think of it as holding your pug’s “hand” when they go out into the world. You are their best protector against injury and harm.
2. Keep Your Pug Cool
Brachycephalic dogs and heat don’t mix. Because dogs don’t sweat, they pant to cool off. Panting or mouth breathing is much tougher for brachycephalic dogs. Keep your pug cool. They should always have plenty of access to water. On hot days your pug should be kept in air-conditioned or cool areas. Provide them with a cooling bed to rest and don’t push them too much when the weather’s warm.
3. Keep Your Pugs Weight in Check
One of the best things you can do to help your pug breath-easy is to keep their weight in check. Pugs are prone to obesity and it’s one of the top causes of pug health problems. Even if your pug struggles with breathing, they need regular exercise and healthy snacks (carrots and green beans are great options your pug will love)! Don’t allow pugs to free-feed as a pug appetite knows no bounds. Also, watch the table scraps and people food--pugs should have a high protein, healthy diet.
4. Spay or Neuter Your Pug
We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: spay or neuter your pug. Always. Breeding is quite dangerous for pugs and many struggle with the birthing process. Keeping your pug spayed or neutered will keep them calmer, healthier and less prone to the many problems that intact animals can face (like cancer).
5. Don’t Support Bad Breeding
The AKC has very strong guidelines for registered breeders, but unfortunately scams are everywhere. Puppies listed on Craigslist, at “puppy stores” in the mall and even online are often victims of poor breeding practices. If you choose to purchase a pug, you should only buy from an AKC registered breeder who allows you to visit and pick up your puppy. Breeders that offer to ship your puppy (brachycephalic dogs struggle with air travel) or offer “teacup” breeds are especially dangerous. Expect to pay $2000+ for a pug puppy. If you find a puppy for much less, chances are high they’re from an irresponsible breeder.
A far better option is to get your pug from a rescue. This method is even recommended by the AKC Pug Dog Club of America. There are thousands of pugs discarded every year because the owners didn’t realize the responsibilities of raising a healthy pug. Even if you’re seeking a young pug or puppy, you can often find many great pugs through rescues--perfectly healthy, beautiful pugs who are just waiting for their forever home.
6. Brush Your Pugs Teeth
Keep your brachycephalic dog’s teeth in good shape with regular brushing. You can use a finger brush or a small, soft toothbrush made for toddlers. Always use toothpaste formulated for dogs! Many brands of “people toothpaste” contain artificial sweeteners which can be toxic to dogs if swallowed (and it’s impossible to brush a dog’s teeth without them swallowing the paste). With regular practice your pug will let you brush his teeth without a fuss. Start slow, treat often and work up to a regular brushing practice. Just like humans, it’s best if teeth are brushed at least daily (yes, really).
7. Take Your Pug to the Vet Regularly
After reading this, you probably realize the importance of regular vet visits for your pug. Your vet can quickly identify any of the brachycephalic issues outlined above. They will help you figure out what to do if your pug is facing health concerns and they can guide you with the best practices to protect your pug. Your pug should visit the “dogtor” every year for a check up, even if they’re in top health. They should be on a flea and tick preventative as well as heartworm preventative and be regularly vaccinated. With breathing issues, any illness can quickly turn life-threatening. Prevention is the best course of action.
8. Pay Attention to Your Pug
Remember, you know your pug better than anyone else. If you notice any health issues or something that doesn’t quite seem right, get it checked out quickly. Listen to your pug’s breathing and snoring. Yes, sometimes it can seem excessive but if you notice a marked increase in wheezing, panting or struggling, it’s cause for concern. Coughing is another issue that should be addressed as well. Regularly check your pugs eyes and teeth to ensure everything looks to be in tip top shape. If your pug is pawing at their eyes, squinting or frequently blinking, get them to the vet right away. You’re the best defender of your pug!
Pugs truly are wonderful dogs. They’re great family dogs and have perfect, sweet, laid back personalities. They’re little goofballs who make us smile all the time. With that cute pug face comes a few issues, but the good far outweighs the challenges.
Pugs are the best! Being aware of the issues faced by brachycephalic dogs, will help you keep your pug healthy and happy for years to come.