Big or small, blonde or brown, spotted or plain, hairy, or even bald. Our pets come in different sizes and shapes. We have bred our pets to look a certain way, either for aesthetic reasons or to perform their work better, since they became domesticated. The skulls of our pets are no exception, and by selective breeding, three main types of skulls have developed. These are the mesocephalic skull, brachycephalic skull, and dolichocephalic skull. To be able to give your pet the care they need, and monitor their health, it’s important to have basic knowledge of their build. Certain skull shapes come with their own set of problems and health issues which we will discuss further in this article. We will also look at the basic differences between the three skull types, and what other implications this might have for you as a pet owner.
From all skull shapes, we speak of mesocephalic when the skull is in proportion. It has an intermediate length and width. Mesocephalic is also called square-skulled, and basically means a normal skull shape. Examples of dog breeds with a mesocephalic skull are Beagles, Labradors, Golden Retriever, Corgi etc. For cats examples are the Domestic Shorthair and the Egyptian Mau. There are no known added health risks or issues associated with mesocephalic skulls.
Dogs and cats that have a face with a pushed in appearance, often also referred to as flat-faced or snub-nosed, have a brachycephalic skull. The literal translation of cephalic is head, and brachy is short, and therefore means a skull with shortened skull bones. We speak of brachycephaly when the shape of the skull is shorter than typical for the species. There are a few theories why they started breeding brachycephalic dogs, with one being that it was to achieve strong jaws for fighting and hunting. Another theory is that they are bred like this because it resembles human infant-like features, which attracts us as humans.
A few examples of dog and cat breeds that have a brachycephalic skull are the Pug, Bull Mastiff, French Bulldog, English Bulldog, Chihuahua etc. For cats there are the Persian, Exotic ShortHair, Himalayan etc. Dogs and cats, with significantly shortened skulls, can suffer from brachycephalic airway obstructive syndrome, which results in breathing difficulties and hyperthermia due to the fact they are unable to sufficiently cool themselves down.
Other issues which may arise in pets with a brachycephalic skull are frequent infections of the cornea, an impaired ability to fully close the eyelids, tear deficiency, entropion which is when the eyelids curl inwards which may result in corneal ulcerations, pigmentary keratitis, problems with the lacrimal glands (tear glands), and having an underbite. When teeth are not aligned properly due to an underbite, this may result in dental disease or difficulty chewing and chronic pain in the mouth.
Besides the general issues that may arise within breeds that have a brachycephalic skull, there are also genetic issues that are more prevalent within certain breeds which are connected to having a brachycephalic skull. An example of this is syringomyelia, which is a very painful neurological condition. This condition is often seen in toy breeds with a brachycephalic skull, like the Chihuahua and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
If you own a pet with a brachycephalic skull, always keep a close eye on their health and be very mindful when exercising them for overheating. If you wish to let your brachycephalic pet travel by airplane, keep in mind that airlines often have strict rules in place about when (time of the year), and how they need to travel (size crate). These rules are additional to the laws and regulations that countries set regarding to pet import and export. There are also many airlines that will not fly snub-nosed pets at all.
Dolichocephaly is when the skull is longer than typical for the species. Examples of cats with a dolichocephalic skull are the Siamese and Abyssinian. Dogs with dolichocephalic skulls are the Saluki, Greyhound, Whippet etc. These breeds were bred with a long snout to improve sight, as the long and narrow nose highers the range of their vision. It also benefits when sniffing and tracking. While there are not as many health issues associated with a dolichocephalic skull as with the brachycephalic skull, there are still some health issues to look out for.
Because the Dolichocephalic skull is narrow, eye formation problems may occur. The longer nose can also make them more vulnerable to fungal diseases of the nose, and overbites tend to be more frequent within breeds that have a dolichocephalic skull. When teeth are not aligned properly due to an overbite, this may result in gum injuries, abnormal wear of the teeth, damage to the teeth, and puncturing of the hard palate. If the misalignment is severe enough this can interfere with normal eating and drinking.
Whether your dog has a mesocephalic, brachycephalic or dolichocephalic skull, we hope that through this article we have informed you about the differences between the three main skull types and what this might mean for our pets when it comes to their health, everyday care and even traveling. We understand that pet care and traveling can be especially stressful for pet owners that have a snub-nosed pet, and we would be happy to discuss any worries pet owners might have regarding pet care or flying with their snub-nosed family member. If you would like to know more about our pet sitting, dog walking, pet relocation and dog training services, feel free to reach out. We will be happy to help.