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What are the welfare issues associated with narrowed nostrils in dogs (stenotic nares)?

Some dogs have a condition from birth where their nostrils are narrowed or constricted; this is called stenotic nares [1]. This can partially block the dog’s airways, and can lead to the dog having difficulty breathing [2].

Stenotic nares are one component of the Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS), and brachycephalic pedigree dogs such as Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, Boxers, etc. are most commonly affected. Brachycephalic dogs have a head shape conformation that is characterised by a shortened skull, and the bottom jaw is disproportionately longer than the upper jaw. These dogs are known commonly as “short-nosed”, “short-muzzled” or “flat-faced”. This conformation is a result of breeding to pedigree “breed standards”, and where physical traits and general appearance have been selected for rather than traits that improve the health and welfare of the animal.

There are a number of welfare issues associated with stenotic nares, including the following [3]:

  • The affected dog is unable to breathe properly through their nose due to narrowed nostrils.
  • Dogs who have BOAS, may also suffer from other abnormalities including neurological, behavioural, skin, and eye conditions (you can read more here). These can have severe impacts on the dog’s health.
  • Dogs suffering from BOAS experience discomfort, pain, and disease, and cannot easily express some normal behaviours, such as exercising normally.

Some clinical signs you may see in your pet if they have stenotic nares [4, 5]:

  • Collapsing of their nostrils when breathing in
  • Increased effort to breathe
  • Very frequent or even constant panting and open mouth breathing
  • Snoring
  • Stress and an inability to exercise normally (called exercise intolerance)
  • Gastrointestinal signs (for example, regurgitation, vomiting, and excess salivation)
  • Sudden collapse.
Dog Nostrils Brachycephalic
Above: Nostrils of a dog with stenotic nares. Note the narrowed nostrils and reduced space for air to pass through.

Dog Nostrils Non-Brachycephalic
Above: Nostrils of a non-brachycephalic breed dog (R).

What can be done to help a dog with stenotic nares?

Stenotic nares can affect your dog’s health, quality of life, and their ability to behave and function normally. Luckily surgery is available that can correct, or at least improve, the abnormalities and help your dog lead a more normal and comfortable life [6]. The aim of the surgery is to make it easier for your dog to breathe by widening their nostrils. Unfortunately, it is common for dogs who have stenotic nares to also have other airway abnormalities but many of these can also be corrected by surgery. It is generally recommended that any surgery be performed at a young age but your veterinarian can advise you on the best course of action.

Some things that you can do in the short term to help your dog include avoiding stress and heat, using a harness instead of a collar (this helps to reduce pressure on your dog’s neck from a collar), and making sure that your dog is not overweight [7]. If you have a brachycephalic breed dog, discuss ways to manage the condition with your veterinarian to help your dog live a more comfortable and healthy life.

If you are a prospective puppy owner, visit the RSPCA Smart Puppy and Dog Buyer’s Guide to help you make an informed decision.

RSPCA Australia and the Australian Veterinarian Association are raising awareness of the welfare issues associated with the way purebred dogs are selected and bred in Australia. For more information or to get involved, visit the Love is Blind website.


[1] Dupre G & Heidenreich D (2016) Brachycephalic syndrome. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice 46(4): 691-707. doi:10.1016/j.cvsm.2016.02.002

[2] Asher L et al (2009) Inherited defects in pedigree dogs: Part 1: Disorders related to breed standards. The Veterinary Journal 182: 402-411. doi: 10.1016/j.tvjl.2009.08.033

[3] Fawcett A et al (2019) Consequences and management of canine brachycephaly in veterinary practice: Perspectives from Australian veterinarians and veterinary specialists. Animals 9(1): 3. doi:10.3390/ani9010003

[4] Packer R et al (2015) Impact of facial conformation on canine health: Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome. PLoS One 10(10):e0137496. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0.137496

[5] Poncet C et al (2005) Prevalence of gastrointestinal tract lesions in 73 brachycephalic dogs with upper respiratory syndrome. Journal of Small Animal Practice (46):273-279.

[6] Riecks T et al (2011) Surgical correction of brachycephalic syndrome in dogs: 62 cases (1991-2004). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (230 (9):1324-1328. Doi: 10.2460/javma.230.9.1324.

[7] Packer R & Tivers M (2015) Strategies for the management and prevention of conformation-related respiratory disorders in brachycephalic dogs. Veterinary Medicine: Research and Reports 6:219-232. doi: 10.2147/VMRR.S60475.

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Updated on June 24, 2021
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