DOGS and cats with short skulls and flat faces are at high risk of developing breathing problems.

Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) is the term vets use to describe narrowing of the airway making it difficult for animals to take in oxygen.

Over half of owners with dog breeds such as the English bulldog, French bulldog and pug don’t think that they have breathing problems, but research shows that this is because some dogs and cats with problems are not being properly identified.

These breeds are becoming extremely popular and despite many owners being careful to research health problems before they buy or rehome a dog, they are often surprised at how serious and expensive the problems can become.

Vets know that some louder breathing and snoring sounds are expected in BOAS dogs but that doesn’t mean they are normal or not causing problems.

‘Functional grading’ by trained or specialist vets can help to decide whether flat-faced dogs have problems that require surgery.

Other tests can include CT scans, x-rays or looking up the nose with a camera, and depending on which parts of the airway are narrowed, surgery can be performed to open the passages for air flow.

Experts at Wear Referrals regularly assess and treat BOAS patients, especially as the weather gets warmer in spring and summer.

Jon Hall, a Royal College and European College Specialist in surgery told us: “Dogs that struggle to exercise (especially in the heat), have difficulty sleeping, make very loud breathing sounds or even sometimes collapse may well benefit from seeing a specialist.

"Bringing up food or water shortly after eating or when they are excited can be another unexpected sign of having breathing problems that can improve following surgery. Some dogs don’t need surgery and improve with weight loss, exercise control, wearing a harness and being careful on hot days."

For dogs that would benefit from surgery (usually the sooner the better to reduce the complications and severity of the disease) these delicate and highly skilled procedures can be quickly arranged.

The specialist anaesthesia and surgery services at Wear Referrals help to make these surgeries as safe as possible, and the critical care facilities and 24-hour veterinary monitoring are important for dogs recovering after this type of surgery.