Why do French Bulldogs pant?

These playful little dogs are a hugely popular breed, but they do require a little extra care and attention from their owners if they’re panting a lot.

Panting is part of any dog’s natural behaviour. Dogs of all breeds pant for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Heat
  • Exertion
  • Excitement
  • Stress
  • Pain or illness
  • Certain medications

In most circumstances, a dog's panting is nothing to worry about. However, French Bulldogs and other flat-faced breeds do have some extra health issues that mean their owners should keep a closer eye on their breathing habits.

The facial anatomy of dogs with wide heads and short muzzles is referred to as brachycephalic, which literally translates as ‘short head’. Over hundreds of years, breeds like Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boxers have been selectively bred to have shorter and flatter muzzles.

While the length of flat-faced breeds’ snouts has shortened, they still have the same amount of soft facial tissue as a breed with a longer muzzle, such as a Labrador. This tissue is now squashed into a much smaller area, which is why flat-faced breeds have wrinkles and skin folds on their faces. This excess soft tissue can sometimes obstruct their airways, making it difficult for them to breathe. Brachycephalic breeds often also have smaller nostrils, which can make it harder for them to draw air through their nose. 

As a result, brachycephalic dogs often pant, wheeze or snort more than other dog breeds, particularly during and after exercise. Those snuffling noises French Bulldogs make may sound cute, but they’re often an indication that a dog is having trouble breathing comfortably. This condition is known as brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS).

If your French Bulldog is diagnosed with BOAS, your vet may recommend surgery to help correct the problem. Excess soft tissue, including the soft palate, can be removed and the nostrils can be widened, making it easier for your dog to breathe and reducing their panting or wheezing.

When exercising your French Bulldog, aim for short walks, especially in warmer weather. Depending on the age, health and fitness of your pet, as well as the temperature outside, you will probably want to walk them for up to 20-30 minutes, twice a day. Remember to observe your pet for outward signs of discomfort such as problems breathing and low energy levels. You can then reduce or increase the amount of exercise they get according to how comfortable they seem.

Most brachycephalic breeds find breathing difficult at the best of times. Anything that makes them breathe harder, such as over-exercising or hot weather, can be an additional problem. The nasal passages within a dog’s muzzle are crucial for helping them cool down as they pant. Breeds with shorter muzzles therefore don’t have the same ability to regulate their body temperature as other dogs and are at greater risk of overheating. This can lead to life-threatening conditions like heatstroke.

The hot and humid weather of summer can make it hard for French Bulldogs to regulate their temperature, but there is plenty you can do to keep your dog comfortable:

  • Always have plenty of cool, fresh water available
  • Don’t exercise during the heat of the day
  • Make sure you’re exercising them appropriately
  • Ensure they always have a cool place to escape the sun
  • Offer your dog a cooling bed or use a cooling vest

Signs of overheating in French Bulldogs

Always watch out for the early-warning signs of your French Bulldog getting too hot, such as sustained panting with their tongue curled upwards, lethargy, shallow and fast breathing and a stretched-out neck.

If left unchecked, overheating in Frenchies can lead to serious heatstroke, with symptoms including:

  • Lethargy
  • Excessive drool
  • Redder-than-usual gums
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of coordination
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures

If your French Bulldog shows any of these signs, move them somewhere cool straight away, bring down their temperature by applying cool water – not freezing cold – or wet towels, and seek immediate veterinary attention.

And the good news is, if your dog is already insured with Petplan, some or all of their treatment may be covered.     

If you’ve decided to add a French Bulldog to your family, it’s important to look for a reputable breeder who prioritises the health of their puppies, rather than breeding for exaggerated features like an extremely short muzzle. The Kennel Club breed standard for the French Bulldog has recently been reviewed to include that these dogs should have a well-defined muzzle with visibly open nostrils. Breeders should also be happy to discuss the health conditions that can affect this breed.

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