Precious Cargo: Deep Dive into Snub-nosed pets

It's time to provide a more in depth look into what makes these pets special, and how as a veterinarian, I am able to provide the specialised care that these precious travellers require.

What is a snub-nosed pet?

A brachycephalic animal has a short and flat snout as a result from years of breeding to develop this characteristic. There are many well loved and recognised breeds of cats and dogs that are snub-nosed, including the following:


  • Bulldogs (all types)

  • Pugs

  • Pekinese

  • Shih Tzu

  • Boston Terrier

  • Boxer

  • Chow Chow


  • Persian

  • Himalayan

  • Exotic Shorthair

Snub nosed pets often have physical difficulty breathing, and this can vary in severity between animals. These breathing issues are usually caused by a combination of a variety of physiological factors, these being:

  1. Very small nasal openings, known as stenotic nares.

  2. An abnormally long soft palate - the flap of tissue extending back towards the throat and behind the roof of the mouth, which divides the back of the mouth from the nasal passages above. If this is too long, it flaps in the back of the throat, and can even partially cover the opening of the windpipe.

  3. Excessive folding of pharyngeal tissues in the throat.

  4. Everted laryngeal saccules - small pouches of mucosal tissue within the voice box that can sometimes bulge into the airway, obstructing airflow.

  5. Abnormally small windpipe that may also be an unusual shape, known as a hypoplastic trachea.

Snub-nosed pets may have some or all of the above issues. In addition, older animals may also have associated lung disease and/or heart disease. A detailed medical examination is recommended prior to considering air travel. If your pet has a clinical history of respiratory or cardiac disease, I will request copies of your pet's case notes from your local vet for evaluation.

When it comes to air travel, these breathing issues can often be exasperated, as the animal is often excited or stressed. This usually causes the animal's body heat to increase, but unlike humans, cats and dogs can't sweat. These animals rely on panting to reduce their body temperature, and in animals with obstructed airways, this process is not efficient enough, which can cause them to overheat. Although a very safe process, overheating is the biggest risk factor for air travel for all pets, regardless of breathing ability. Because of this, it is very important that your pet has a good sized crate with good ventilation, ensuring they are kept cool.

Treatment for Brachycephalic Pets

As a veterinarian, I see brachycephalic animals all the time in my clinic. In some cases, it is very clear that the animal is having issues breathing, and in severe cases, has a condition known as Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway syndrome, or BOAS. This is more often an issue for dogs than for cats, though cats may also have some difficulty breathing.

The gold-star treatment for BOAS is reconstructive surgery, with the aim to open up the upper respiratory tract to allow for an easier time breathing. I recommend that this should be performed as early as possible, preferably as puppies. Performed young, surgery will improve overall quality of life, and reduce the risk of developing long term respiratory issues such as bronchitis and fibrosis. This surgery is ›highly adaptable depending the specific needs of the animal, and the severity of the obstruction. This can include some or all of the following:

  • The removal of a wedge of tissue from the nostrils, making them larger. For every increment you open the nostril, there is a 16 times increase in airflow through the nose- a very substantial improvement!

  • Reducing the length of the soft palate, to prevent it from flopping over and obstructing the airway.

  • The careful removal of any extra tissue lower down in the airway, allowing for a clear path into the lungs.

After surgery, there is a huge improvement in the animal's ability to breathe, which in turn allows them to be a lot more active, and a lot less noisy and stressed.

I Have a Snub-nosed Pet. Can they fly?

Over the past few years, many airlines have tightened their policies regarding the transport of brachycephalic animals. In fact, now the majority of international airlines either completely ban or place severe restrictions on the shipment of these animals. In some cases, special arrangements need to be made for airlines to allow travel.

One example of this are snub-nosed pets travelling from Hong Kong to Singapore. Due to airline restrictions, these pets have had to travel in style by having to be booked on a freighter cargo plane, with me as their personal escort! I accompany these animals on their flight and monitors them closely, after all, it is all about getting them safely from A to B.

Over the past 5 years, I have been the chairperson for the IPATA Research & Development Task Force. The task force was established with the understanding that the inherent risk associated with pet travel is very individual, with some pets at a high risk for travelling, and others completely fit and healthy. Consequently, the current airline restrictions often result in perfectly healthy pets being unable to relocate with their loving families. The importance of individual assessment has been a main focus for the task force, and through our research as well as my veterinary experience, we have developed the Fit to Fly checklist, a tool that can be used by vets to thoroughly assess the individual risk for an animal before they fly. In the advent of this professional advice, we are hopeful that there is a promising future ahead for these special pets, as airlines, such as Qantas, reassess their policy, allowing healthy pets to fly.

You do not need to be alarmed when considering relocation of your snub nosed pet, however careful pre-export health evaluation and specific crate consideration should be standard practice in this situation. Myself, along with the team here at PetExportVet are more than happy to assist you through this process, and keeping families together.

~Dr Gerry

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