There are few dogs more lovable and magnetic than the Pug. With their sweet squished faces and soulful brown eyes, pugs are a popular toy dog breed that has captured hearts around the world. Unfortunately, pugs can suffer from certain disorders that can shorten their life span drastically. So why do pugs die early?
Why Do Pugs Die Early?
Pug Dog Encephalitis and Brachycephalic Syndrome are two health issues specific to pugs and other flat-faced dogs. These health problems can cause pugs to die early.
We’ll discuss these two health issues further below as well as what you as a Pug parent can do to protect your furbaby.
#1 Pug Dog Encephalitis
What is Pug Dog Encephalitis?
Pug Dog Encephalitis, also known as Necrotizing Meningoencephalitis, or more simply PDE, is a fatal brain disease occurring primarily in Pugs but more rarely in other small breed dogs.
PDE causes swelling of the brain. It is an autoimmune disease passed down genetically. Pugs diagnosed with PDE must not be bred since there is a high chance their offspring will inherit the disease.
PDE is aggressive, sometimes causing death within weeks of diagnosis, but some dogs can have a longer life expectancy with supportive care.
Pug Dog Encephalitis occurs in 1.2% of pugs and is more commonly found in fawn females. It usually occurs in young dogs, seven years and under.
What Are The Signs Of Pug Dog Encephalitis?
PDE can present with symptoms similar to other, less serious issues, so it’s important to always get your dog seen by a vet if they start to behave strangely.
The most common symptoms of PDE are:
- Ataxia, or abnormal gait
- Behavior changes
What Is The Treatment For Pug Dog Encephalitis?
Unfortunately, PDE is always fatal, and there is no cure. There are measures that can be taken to make the dog comfortable, though.
The treatment of PDE focuses on minimizing the symptoms. Medications may be prescribed to reduce the seizures some PDE suffers may experience. These anti-epileptic drugs can have severe side effects, so the dog will need to be monitored closely by a veterinarian during treatment.
Steroids and immunosuppressive drugs are also commonly prescribed to help minimize inflammation and suppress the immune system’s response.
To prevent PDE, a genetic test can be performed on dogs before they are bred to determine if they have the genetic markers that predispose them to PDE.
Since PDE is genetic, it is imperative that dogs with these markers be removed from breeding.
How Is Pug Dog Encephalitis Diagnosed?
A veterinarian can diagnose PDE according to the symptoms the dog is experiencing and by ruling out other medical issues that present with the same symptoms.
While this process of elimination diagnosis is reasonably accurate, the only way to know for sure if the dog is suffering from PDE is by biopsy or necropsy of the brain tissue.
Some tests a veterinarian may perform to get a tentative diagnosis are:
- Blood tests
- Imaging, such as MRI
- Cerebrospinal fluid tap
A biopsy is a very invasive procedure, especially for brain tissue, so diagnosis by other testing methods is preferred.
Pug Dog Encephalitis is a serious disease for pugs, with no current treatment besides palliative care. With more research, scientists are hopeful they can find a cure for PDE to prevent the deaths of young pugs in the future.
#2 Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome
What is Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome?
Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome, or BAS affects this breed. It is the abnormalities of the airway affecting brachycephalic dogs.
A brachycephalic dog is one that has been bred to have a shorter skull. These breeds include Boston terriers, boxers, French bulldogs, and pugs.
Brachycephalic dogs have shorter or flat muzzles, and because of this, the structures in the mouth and throat can be deformed.
While not usually fatal, untreated BAS can result in more serious medical conditions like heat stroke and heart failure. These issues can be brought on by the constant struggle to breathe associated with BAS.
The five structures that can be malformed and commonly associated with BAS are:
- Nasopharyngeal turbinates – are bony ridges in the nose. In dogs with BAS, these ridges can extend past the nose into the throat, causing the dog to get less oxygen with each breath.
- Soft palate -in the roof of the mouth. With BAS, the soft palate can become elongated, obstructing breathing.
- Stenotic nares – are smaller than average nostrils. In brachycephalic dogs, the nostrils can be smaller, making it harder to get an adequate amount of oxygen.
- Laryngeal saccules – are small saccules in the larynx (voice box). These sacs can turn outward, also called everting, and obstruct the airway.
- The trachea – is the windpipe connecting to the lungs. With BAS, the trachea can be hypoplastic, which means smaller than average.
What Are The Signs Of Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome?
Pugs are notorious for their snorting and snuffling. While a small amount of this is normal for pugs, too much of it can be a sign of BAS. Other signs include:
- Heat intolerance
- Exercise intolerance
What Is The Treatment For Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome?
The first line of treatment for BAS is prevention. For brachycephalic dogs, owners should avoid too much exertion for the dog. Keeping them in the air conditioning during the summer, avoiding overly hot conditions, and most importantly, keeping their dog at a healthy weight.
Obesity can exacerbate the symptom of BAS, making it even harder for dogs to breathe.
Maintaining a healthy weight for a dog suffering from BAS can go a long way towards helping minimize BAS effects.
If all else fails, or the abnormalities of the mouth and throat structures are too severe, surgery is an option.
Common surgeries to help alleviate BAS are widening the stenotic nares or small nostrils, allowing the dog to take in more air when they breathe.
Another surgery associated with BAS is the shortening of the soft palate if it’s elongated. This prevents the elongated soft palate from blocking the airway.
These surgeries are usually well-tolerated, especially in younger dogs, and can significantly improve the quality of life for dogs suffering from BAS.
How Is Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome Diagnosed?
Since BAS presents exclusively with physical abnormalities, a physical exam by a veterinarian is usually all that is necessary to diagnose it. The physical abnormalities that are easily seen, like stenotic nares, combined with the breed of the dog, are typical giveaways of BAS.
For the abnormalities farther down in the throat, an examination under general anesthesia may be necessary.
The Good News
Both Pugs Dog Encephalitis and Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome can shorten the lifespan of a Pug, causing them to die early in life. Not all hope is lost, though.
While PDE is not currently treatable, scientists are working every day to find a cure.
BAS is treatable, sometimes very successfully, and dogs treated for BAS can go on to live long, happy lives.
The good news for pug owners is that healthy pugs are considered to be long-lived dogs! With a life expectancy of 13-15 years, pugs that receive proper veterinary can be around for a long time.
Pugs are sweet, wonderful companion dogs, but it is still important to know some health risks associated with the breed.
Pugs are brachycephalic dogs that are prone to several health conditions. However, with proper diet, exercise, and care, they can thrive and live a long healthy life.
If you’re looking to get a Pug, ensure you get one from a reliable breeder. Also, it’s essential to take your Pug to the vet regularly to ensure your dog is healthy. I realize that vet visits can be expensive. That’s why you should look at getting Pug pet insurance to help you out with costly expenses.
You may also want to read the article on what do Pugs usually die from, as it talks about other health issues that can affect this breed.