Literally translated, ‘brachy’ means ‘shortened’ and ‘cephalic’ means head. Short noses and flat faces are synonymous with breeds such as Pugs, Boxers, Shih Tzus and Pekingeses, making them easily identifiable. What many people may be unaware of is how susceptible to heat-related dangers brachycephalic dogs can be. Their inability to release heat is the reason why they are so prone to overheating and heat stroke, and is exacerbated when they are left alone in a hot car. Although any dog regardless of breed, age and size is at risk when left in such circumstances, brachycephalic dogs are even more so.
Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome is a real problem for these breeds. Their smaller noses render them incapable of cooling themselves down effectively because they are unable to breathe properly. They have the same amount of bones, called conchae, as dogs with larger noses, but the compactness of the bone structure makes it more difficult for air to escape. Their smaller than average nares (a dog’s equivalent to human nostrils) makes drawing air in difficult to begin with. This is why brachycephalic dogs can usually be seen panting a lot, as the best way for them to expel heat is through the mouth.
However, excessive panting is not always an effective method of cooling down. The palate tissue of brachycephalic dogs can block the flow of air from escaping. In breeds where issues with the trachea are prevalent, this doesn’t bode well and may contribute to the problem.
Dogs are at risk of overheating, heatstroke and even dying if left alone in a car. This happens when they are unable to cool down and regulate their body temperature. The circulation of air is ineffective inside a car, so when the dog pants and breathes in warmer air than they are expelling, that is where the problem starts. You may be surprised to learn exactly how much a dog is affected in these circumstances.
Initially, they attempt to cool themselves down by excessively panting and dribbling. The blood vessels dilate so that more heat is able to escape the body, which means the heart works harder to supply more blood to them. When cells exceed the temperature they work at effectively, they can’t function normally and begin to break down and die. Blood pressure then starts to drop, and the organs can suffer in several ways. The kidneys are affected as cells are damaged, and clots begin to form. The cells lining the intestine, stomach and liver also experience thermal damage, resulting in vomiting and severe bloody diarrhoea. Blood clots form in the brain and it begins to swell. When the body reaches approximately 42.8 degrees Celsius a dog can slip into a coma, experience seizures, suffer from irreversible brain damage and die. For brachycephalic dogs that struggle to expel heat more than others, they are a lot more susceptible to the dangers of being in a hot car.
Great care needs to be taken with brachycephalic breeds when considering their everyday care. Leaving a dog alone in a car is never acceptable because temperatures can increase so quickly, even if the car itself isn’t very hot to begin with. If it is 21 degrees Celsius outside, within 10 minutes the temperature inside a car can rise to 32 degrees Celsius. This is dangerous and potentially deadly for any dog, but brachycephalic breeds are under more threat than most.
Pet owners should never under any circumstances leave their dog alone in a car. Opening a window does not make much difference to the temperature. The way brachycephalic breeds are affected is an example of how this careless behaviour can have dire consequences.