Snoring and Snorting in Dogs

Bulldogs, Pugs, Pekingese, Shih Tzu, English Toy Spaniels, Boston Terriers, Chow Chows, and other dogs with broad skulls and short muzzles frequently show some degree of airway obstruction, known as brachycephalic syndrome, manifested by mouth breathing, snorting, and snoring. These difficulties become more pronounced when the dog is exercising or is overheated, and tend to get worse as the dog grows older.

The obstructed breathing in these dogs is caused by deformities that include collapsed nostrils, an elongated soft palate, and eversion of the laryngeal saccules. These deformities often occur together. Collapsed nostrils and elongated soft palate are congenital. Eversion of the laryngeal saccules is acquired.

Stenotic Nares (Collapsed Nostrils)

In puppies with stenotic nares, the nasal openings are small and the nasal cartilage is soft and floppy, causing the nostrils to collapse as the puppy breathes in. This produces varying degrees of airway obstruction, manifested by mouth breathing, noisy breathing, and occasionally a nasal discharge. In severe cases the chest is flattened from front to back. These pups fail to thrive and are poorly developed.

Treatment: Stenotic nares can be treated successfully by surgically enlarging the nasal openings. This is accomplished by removing a wedge of nasal skin and cartilage. Not all dogs with stenotic nares require surgery. In some dogs the cartilage firms up satisfactorily by 6 months of age. If there is no urgency in symptoms, your veterinarian may delay treatment to see if this happens.

Elongated Soft Palate

The soft palate is a flap of mucosa that closes off the nasopharynx during swallowing. Normally, it touches or slightly overlaps the epiglottis. In dogs with an elongated soft palate, the palate overlaps the epiglottis to a considerable degree, partially obstructing the airway during breathing. This is manifested by snorting, snoring, stridor, gurgling, and gagging. The obstruction is worse with exercise. In time, stretched ligaments in the larynx lead to labored breathing and laryngeal collapse.

Treatment: An elongated soft palate is treated by surgically shortening the palate so that the edge opposes or slightly overlaps the epiglottis. Results are good if the operation is done before destructive changes occur in the larynx.