(Sometimes referred to as BOAS or BAOS)
Some breeds of pedigree dogs & cats with very short muzzles (termed brachycephalic) can have difficulty breathing due to a disorder known as Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS). 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 for in the past by Breeders and that it is a result of a preference for animals with flatter, more human looking features. It is common for Brachycephalic breeds to also have multiple other genetic health issues.
Dogs with BOAS usually have a combination of four anatomical abnormalities that contribute to the disease, 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. This can occur even in mild temperatures as the animal will overheat from the inside out.
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.
High Risk breeds are the breeds in which the majority of individuals are affected by BOAS. It is common for owners of these breeds to believe their Pet is normal and to underestimate the risk of transport. In these Breeds corrective surgery is commonly required for the animals’ long-term health.
Medium Risk breeds are typically breeds in which the Brachycephalic head is a definite feature of the breed but while BOAS is common it is not expected to affect the majority of individuals or to regularly cause severe outcomes. For many of these breeds, such as the Boxer, there is a wide variation between barely noticeable and serious BOAS. In other breeds, such as the Staffy, the majority of individuals may not show any sign of BOAS but they have an increased risk specifically due to other common breed issues such as a propensity towards obesity, anxiety or excitement which are all exacerbating risk factors.
The Low Risk breeds are typically breeds that are borderline Brachycephalic or where only a small number of individuals, typically poorly bred ones, would be expected to be affected by BOAS. Some breeds, such as the Newfoundland are often not categorized as Brachycephalic but are included here due to other common health risks such as their size, a propensity to be less heat resistant, common chronic issues in the breed or where their shorter noses may have a worsening effect if they are affected during transport by age, obesity, stress or illness.
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.
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.
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 BOAS are normal.
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. Whilst many dog breeds will not become susceptible to heat stroke in temperatures under 40 degrees (whilst in shade, with water, not exercising) for Brachycephalic dogs this can happen as low as the mid 20’s if they become stressed.
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. In fact this situation can arise in a cool or air conditioned environment and it will still appear as heat stroke.
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.
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.
Dogmovers is fully insured but our insurance policy does not cover veterinary bills, death or loss associated with BOAS or any other Pre-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 may be possible for individuals to obtain cover for their personal companion animals through the RSPCA and other insurance providers but it is possible that this condition would not be covered as it would be classed as a pre-existing condition.
It is important to note that Air Conditioning cannot be guaranteed during Road Transport and should never be solely relied upon. In the event that the vehicle, the power supply, or the AC unit breaks down, Air Conditioning will be unavailable putting any animals that are relying on the AC at immediate risk on hot days and in the case of vehicle breakdown will limit the transporters’ ability to get to a vet. This is especially a problem when transporting animals in modern vans which may heat up quickly and have no passive airflow. Whilst less popular, Pet Transport trailers are safer due to their insulation and design which promotes airflow.
Air Conditioning also causes an issue when overused or set at too low a temperature. Brachycephalic animals being transported on hot days may be unable to adjust quickly or regulate their temperature when being taken from an Air-Conditioned vehicle for toilet breaks. Sudden changes from the low humidity environment of the vehicle to the high humidity environments experienced in Australia’s Northern states is a major risk factor for both Road & Air Transport.
During summer months it is common for vets in QLD country towns to treat the pets of travellers who have stopped to walk their dogs which have quickly become heat stressed when taken out of their air-conditioned vehicles.
The Air conditioning in our vehicles and floats is used and set at 27°. Our policies regarding use of AC are based on best practice for the needs of the wide range of breeds that we will be transporting and cannot be altered to suit specific animals at the expense of others which may be negatively affected by the overuse of AC. If you believe your pet requires a specific or a lower temperature, please discuss alternative options with us. In all cases, we cannot stress enough that the use of AC does not guarantee the safety of your Brachycephalic pet.
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.
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.
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. BOAC 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.
Because some transporters will not move Brachecephalic breeds, it is commonplace for owners to downplay their pets condition or past issues to facilitate a sale or transport booking.
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.
As Professional Pet 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.
In Australia it is now commonplace for Brachycephalic breeds to require a Fit to Fly certificate from a vet before being allowed on a flight.