With all the fuss about that Viral photograph of the two very different French bulldogs, how important is their nose shape to their health, really?



I’m talking about the photograph where we see a French bulldog with practically no nose who won the Best in Show versus a French Bulldog that is reportedly healthier being raised by a breeder who wants a healthier standard for Bulldogs. How does the nose shape affect their health and breathing? Is there a similar thing in humans, where our respiratory health as a correlation to how our noses are shaped? How, if so?

In: Biology

I’m not sure if you have ever seen a French bulldog (or a pug, or an English bulldog or a peckinese; they all have a flat snout) breathe before. Most of the are snorting and wheezing and feel like they have to put in extra labor just to breathe. Go watch them on YouTube. The squashed, tiny nose makes it harder for sufficient air to be transported into the lungs, kind of like how you’d have to inhale more often if you were breathing through a straw. Unfortunately, the squashed nose is seen as the perfect aesthetic for the dog, since they have been bred to have such a flat snout (compare it to almost all other dogs, who have a round or pointy snout), and thus is labeled a purebred, whereas a dog with a healthy nose might suggest “muddying” of the breed (aka it’s a mutt or has mixed bloodline) because them having a healthy nose is a trait that hasn’t been seen in years.

Humans don’t have this same problem. Yes, people of African origin have a flatter nose, but that doesn’t prevent them from breathing the way it does with a dog because of larger nostrils.

Very important.

Doge noses and human nosed aren’t super duper comparable (yes they have the same general shape/functions, but dog noses are much longer.)

But, in breeds like pugs and the variety of bull dogs where their noses have been all squished up against their face, all of that nose pathway doesn’t just shorten/disappear, it gets folded on itself and squished up. They can make it much more difficult to breath through the nose, it’s like drinking through a nice straight straw vs one that is full of bends and kinks.

There’s a reason why you often seen breeds with shorten snouts breathing through their mouths, something other dogs only really do when they’re panting to cool off, it’s difficult to breathe with their noses just from activity like walking around.

TLDR: all the structures that are in a normal dog nose are still present, just crumpled up like a car after a head on collision. Crumpled and smushed tissue in the head means obstructed air flow, which in turn leads to difficulty breathing and regulating temperature.

Let’s take a golden retriever as the average dog snout. Inside the snout you find the palate, the teeth, and very importantly what we call the nasal conchae. They are spiral shaped folds of tissue that help with the dogs notorious sense of smell, but they also warm and humidity the air to make it nicer for the lungs, as well as catch the majority of bacteria and viruses.

In short-shouted breeds like bulldogs, those structures dont completely disappear, they just get smushed. And the smushing leads to significant problems!

– a shorter palate means less space for teeth. But the number and size of teeth remains the same, so it gets crowded in there, the teeth rotate sideways to fit better, and the dog gets tooth problems

– smushed conchae means less space for air to flow (picture traffic on a straight highway vs on a winding, narrow street). Reduced air flow means the dog gets less air, and has to strain more to pull the air into its lungs. Smushed issue usually also includes narrow nose holes which adds difficulty.

– a common condition is an elongated soft palate. You know when you run your tongue along the roof of your mouth towards the back, you hit a spot where it’s not hard anymore but becomes soft? That’s the soft palate. If it’s too long, it obstructs the flow of air and makes that characteristic snoring/grunting sound that bulldog owners are familiar with.

I’m a vet student and I’ve intubated many dogs for surgery. When they wake up the first things we do is remove the tube from their throat so they can breathe freely. And I swear with bulldogs when we remove them they look disappointed, because for the first time in their life they could breathe normally with a tube shoved down their throat..

Breathe normally through your nose – easy enough to do.

Now grab hold of your nose, squash it into your face, pinch it shut a bit and then try breathing – it is now much harder.

This is what humans have inadvertently bred into dogs like bulldogs and pugs – the squashed nose has been seen as aesthetically pleasing, so breeders have intentionally fostered this trait in their breeding, even though it has progressively caused more and more issues for the dogs.