Surgical Procedure for Helping Bulldogs Fly More Safely

Don the BulldogSnub-nosed breeds like Pugs, English Bulldogs and Shih-Tzus are some of the most popular dog breeds. Unfortunately, these short-nosed (also known as "brachycephalic") dogs are often at risk when flying or traveling because of the difficulty they can have when breathing.

It's a relief to know that pet owners who need to travel with their snub-nosed pets can take precautions to make sure their pooch can travel safely and comfortably -- to start, here are a few of our top snub-nosed pet travel tips. Most of PetRelocation's snub-nosed clients follow these tips and enjoy perfectly safe trips (here's the story of a Pug move to Japan, for example).

Aside from taking precautions like making sure your pet is crate trained so they will experience less stress and keeping pets well hydrated during travel, some pet owners decide to consider a surgical procedure known as "soft-palate resection" in order to help their favorite snub-nosed dog breathe more easily and stay safer while traveling.

We decided to ask veterinarian Patrick Mahaney, VMD CVA, a Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist at California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW), Inc., to answer some common questions that pet owners might ask when considering the soft-palate resection for their pet travel needs. Pet owners interested in the surgery for their pet should also contact their veterinarian to see if it is right for them.

What exactly happens in the procedure? 

The procedure trims excessive tissue from the soft palate to better allow air to move from the mouth and nose into the trachea (windpipe). The procedure may be paired with a rhinoplasty (yes, a "nose job") to increase the nostril diameter and nasal air transporting capacity of those dogs born with stenotic (abnormally narrow) nares (nostrils). Additional surgery on other structures involved in the respiratory process may be included on an as needed basis.

How long does it generally take? 

The procedure takes less than 60 minutes, depending on the experience of the surgeon and the surgical technique used (laser may excise tissue more quickly than traditional surgical instrumentation). The entire process of anesthetizing these high risk dogs, performing the surgery, and allowing for recovery from anesthesia must be accounted for when determining the time required for the procedure.

What pets are good candidates for this procedure? 

Dogs that are brachycephalic (brachy= short, cephalic= of, in, or relating to the head) are the primary candidates for this procedure. Examples of Brachycephalic dog breeds include the Pug, Pekingese, French Bulldog, English Bulldog, Shih Tzu, and mixes of these breeds (i.e., the "Puggle"). All brachycephalic dog breeds are inherently born with a combination of defects collectively termed Bracycephalic Respiratory Syndrome. The degree to which if affects a particular dog varies based on genetics, body condition (overweight and less fit dogs are typically more affected), and environment (warmer and more humid environments often exacerbate respiratory difficulties). Brachycephalic dogs having fewer defects and better body condition (i.e. not overweight) may be lower candidates for surgery.

What are the risks? 

There are inherent risks with any surgical procedure, including death. Risks associated with the soft-palate resection include (but are not limited to) post-operative hemorrhage (bleeding), pain, infection, swelling, anorexia (decreased appetite), and prolonged surgical recovery time.

Will all pets who undergo this surgery see an improvement in their respiratory system?  

Every brachycephalic dog I have seen undergo this procedure shows improvement in their ability to oxygenate. If a pet has a surgical complication, then a reduced degree of improvement may be seen.

How much does this surgery generally cost?  

The fee for this surgery depends on a variety of conditions, including geography (cities more expensive than rural), experience of the surgeon (board certified veterinary surgeons are likely more expensive than general practice veterinarians), length of hospitalization (shorter time period is less expensive), and need for resolution of surgical complications.  A reasonable estimate range is from $750-2500.

What is the recovery time? 

A pet undergoing the soft palate reduction surgery should stay hospitalized until the attending doctor can be certain that the pet is able to adequately ventilate. Discharge from the hospital could be within 24 hrs post-surgery, but an owner should expect their pet to stay hospitalized as long as needed to ensure the best outcome. Once home, a convalescent period of 10-14 days (or longer) must be undertaken to ensure adequate healing.

Would you recommend it for pets who are going to have to travel by air? Do you think it will help them fly more safely? 

If a brachycephalic dog shows visible signs of reduce ability to breathe in a normal fashion, then that dog is at a greater risk for potentially life threatening health issues from the stress of travel. Having surgery to correct their conformational abnormalities may lead to improved oxygenating ability and less stressful travel.

Interested in hiring Dr. Mahaney and live in the LA area? Contact Dr. Mahaney on his website, or send him a message on Twitter or Facebook.


Looking for assistance with your snub-nosed pet's move? Contact PetRelocation to discuss your safe travel options. 


Editor's Note: This post was originally published in July 2010 and has been updated with new information.


PetRelocation Team



Snub-Nosed Breeds


Back to top