What Breeds Have a Brachycephalic Skull? [2023]

If you're a fan of snub-nosed dogs, you've probably heard the term "brachycephalic" thrown around. But what exactly does it mean? In simple terms, brachycephalic refers to dogs with a flat, wide skull shape. This unique skull structure is responsible for their adorable, smushed face appearance. In this article, we'll explore the different breeds that have a brachycephalic skull and dive into the characteristics and implications of this distinctive feature.

Table of Contents


Brachycephaly is a term derived from two Greek words: "brachys" meaning short and "kephale" meaning head. This describes the distinct short-nosed and flat-faced appearance of certain dog breeds. These breeds have a unique skull shape that sets them apart from their longer-nosed counterparts.

The brachycephalic skull structure is often considered cute and endearing, which has made these breeds popular among dog enthusiasts. However, it's important to understand the potential health issues that can arise from this distinctive feature. Knowing which breeds possess a brachycephalic skull can help potential owners make informed decisions about which breed is the right fit for them.

Brachycephalic Breeds

Several dog breeds are known for their brachycephalic skull shape. Here are some of the most well-known examples:

  • Bulldog (English Bulldog)
  • Pug
  • Boxer
  • Boston Terrier
  • French Bulldog
  • Shih Tzu
  • Brussels Griffon
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Lhasa Apso

These breeds all share the characteristic flattened face and pushed-in nose that are typical of brachycephalic dogs. However, it's essential to note that not all dogs within these breeds may have a severe brachycephalic skull shape. Some individuals may have a less pronounced feature due to genetic variations.

What is a Brachycephalic Skull?

A brachycephalic skull refers to a shorter and wider head shape, which is seen in certain dog breeds. This particular skull structure is a result of selective breeding for the desired facial appearance. The main features that define a brachycephalic skull are:

  1. Flat Face: Brachycephalic dogs have a flatter face compared to other dog breeds. This gives them their characteristic smushed appearance.
  2. Short Nose: Due to their skull shape, brachycephalic breeds often have shorter noses or snouts. This can result in narrower nasal passages, which can have implications on their breathing.
  3. Wide Head: The skull of a brachycephalic dog tends to be wider, particularly across the width of the face. This creates a distinct look and contributes to the cute, snub-nosed appearance.

It's worth mentioning that the brachycephalic skull shape is not limited to dogs. Some cat breeds, such as Persians and Exotic Shorthairs, also exhibit this feature.

Potential Health Issues

healing hands

While the brachycephalic skull is undeniably charming, it can lead to certain health challenges for affected dogs. The unique skull shape can result in breathing difficulties and a range of other problems. Let's explore some of these health issues in more detail.

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)

One of the most significant concerns for brachycephalic dogs is Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS). This condition occurs due to the narrow airways and compromised breathing passages resulting from their skull shape. Common signs of BOAS in brachycephalic dogs include:

  • Shortness of Breath: Dogs with BOAS often struggle to breathe properly, especially during physical activities or in hot weather.
  • Labored Breathing: Brachycephalic dogs may exhibit noisy or labored breathing due to airway obstructions.
  • Snoring and Snorting: The narrowed airways can cause snoring and snorting sounds when the dog is asleep or awake.
  • Exercise Intolerance: Affected dogs may tire easily and become quickly exhausted during exercise or play.

In severe cases, BOAS can lead to life-threatening situations, requiring immediate veterinary intervention. It's important to monitor brachycephalic dogs closely and provide appropriate care to manage their breathing difficulties.

Aside from BOAS, brachycephalic dogs may be more prone to other health issues compared to their longer-nosed counterparts. These include:

  • Heat Sensitivity: Brachycephalic breeds may struggle to regulate their body temperature effectively, making them more susceptible to heatstroke.
  • Dental Problems: The flat face and crowded teeth alignment can predispose these dogs to dental issues such as overcrowding, misalignment, and increased risk of periodontal disease.
  • Eye Irritations: Some brachycephalic dogs experience eye problems due to their prominent eyes and shallow eye sockets. Irritations, dryness, and corneal ulcers are common issues.
  • Skin Fold Infections: Breeds with excessive skin folds on their face may develop infections in these folds if not kept clean and dry.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues: Some dogs with a brachycephalic skull shape may have difficulty eating and digesting their food efficiently, leading to increased risks of reflux and regurgitation.

It's essential for potential owners to be aware of these potential health concerns before bringing a brachycephalic dog into their family. Regular veterinary check-ups, proper diet, appropriate exercise, and attention to grooming can help mitigate some of these issues.

Histopathology of Brachycephalic Skull

Understanding the histopathology (the microscopic examination of tissue changes) of the brachycephalic skull can shed light on the underlying anatomical changes and help explain the related health issues. A study conducted by Professor Clare Rusbridge and others [^1^] investigated the histopathological changes in the skull base of brachycephalic dogs.

The study found that brachycephalic dogs tend to have a shorter skull base and an increased angle between the base of the skull and the vertebrae (basilar angle). These changes can contribute to the compression of important structures within the skull, such as the brainstem, which can lead to neurological issues.

Furthermore, the study noted the presence of abnormalities in the soft tissues and cartilage of the upper airways and respiratory system. This can result in narrowed airways, contributing to the respiratory difficulties observed in brachycephalic dogs.

Genetics of Brachycephaly and BOAS

The unique skull shape of brachycephalic dogs is primarily a product of selective breeding. Breeders have chosen individuals with increasingly flattened faces over generations to achieve the desired appearance. However, this selective breeding for appearance can have unintended consequences when it comes to the health of the dogs.

Recent research has shed light on the genetics behind brachycephaly and BOAS. A study published in the journal "PLOS Genetics" [^2^] identified multiple genomic regions associated with skull shape variation in dogs. These regions included genes involved in cartilage and bone development.

It's important to note that not all individuals within brachycephalic breeds will suffer from severe breathing issues or other health concerns. Genetic variability exists within these breeds, and some dogs may have a less severe skull shape, reducing the likelihood of associated health problems.

Welfare of Brachycephalic Dogs

The welfare of brachycephalic dogs has become a significant concern in recent years. The surge in popularity of these breeds has led to increased demand, sometimes resulting in irresponsible breeding practices that prioritize appearance over health.

Numerous organizations and veterinary bodies have expressed their concerns about the welfare issues related to brachycephalic dogs. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) launched the "Breeding for Health" campaign, which aims to raise awareness and promote responsible breeding practices for brachycephalic breeds [^3^].

It's essential for potential owners to be mindful of the impact their choices can have on the health and well-being of these breeds. Adopting from reputable breeders who prioritize health testing, genetic diversity, and responsible breeding practices can help support the long-term welfare of brachycephalic dogs.


Brachycephalic skulls are a defining characteristic of certain dog breeds, known for their cute and unique appearance. However, it's crucial to consider the potential health issues associated with this distinct skull shape. Breathing difficulties, dental problems, and heat sensitivity are among the concerns that brachycephalic dogs may face.

If you're interested in adopting a brachycephalic breed, it's important to be prepared for the specific care they require. Regular veterinary check-ups, proper diet and exercise, and attention to their unique needs are essential for maintaining their health and well-being.

While it's easy to fall in love with their adorable appearance, it's crucial to prioritize the welfare and health of brachycephalic dogs. By supporting responsible breeding practices and making well-informed decisions, we can ensure the long-term well-being of these beloved snub-nosed companions.


What breeds are brachycephalic?

Several dog breeds are considered brachycephalic due to their skull shape. Some of the well-known brachycephalic breeds include English Bulldogs, Pugs, Boxers, Boston Terriers, French Bulldogs, and Shih Tzus. These breeds are characterized by their flat faces and pushed-in noses.

What is a brachycephalic skull?

A brachycephalic skull refers to a shorter and wider head shape observed in certain dog breeds. Dogs with brachycephalic skulls have flatter faces, shorter noses, and wider heads compared to other breeds. This distinct skull shape is a result of selective breeding for a particular appearance.

Are pit bulls brachycephalic?

No, pit bulls are not typically considered brachycephalic. Most pit bulls have a mesocephalic or moderately brachycephalic skull shape. They have a more proportional head shape compared to breeds like English Bulldogs or Pugs.

What are the types of skulls in dogs?

Dogs can have different skull types, which are classified based on their shape. The three main categories are:

  1. Dolichocephalic: These dogs have long and narrow heads, such as Greyhounds and Collies.
  2. Mesocephalic: Dogs with a mesocephalic skull have a moderately proportioned head shape, which is considered typical for many breeds.
  3. Brachycephalic: Brachycephalic dogs have short and wide heads, resulting in a flatter face and shorter nose.


[^1^]: Rusbridge, C., Jacklin, R., & Sparkes, A. (2009). An observed correlation between brachycephalic features in French Bulldogs and the presence of an occipital bone remnant. The Veterinary Journal, 182(3), 475-477.
[^2^]: Dreger, D. L., Parker, H. G., Ostrander, E. A., & Schmutz, S. M. (2013). Identification of genomic regions associated with phenotypic variation between dog breeds using selection mapping. PLoS Genetics, 9(7), e1003685.
[^3^]: British Veterinary Association. (2020). Breeding for Health. Retrieved from https://www.bva.co.uk/news-campaigns-and-policy/policy/companion-animals/brachycephalic-dogs/.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.