A couple of weeks ago, during a busy afternoon surgery, I was presented with a 12 week old British Bulldog puppy called Rollie. Most puppies at that age are very cute but Rollie, with her folds of excess skin and her huge wide eyes was instantly a hit with our nurses and receptionists.

Bulldogs belong to a group of dogs called the brachycephalic breeds. They have been bred over many generations to have a short muzzle. Many people think that this gives them a “human like” appearance. Unfortunately, while their external features have been modified by breeding, the structures deep in the throat have not, so the result is that the soft palate (the fleshy part at the back of the throat) is too long for the shape of the face.

As Rollie was carried across the waiting room in her owner’s arms, I could already hear the tell-tale bubbly rattle from her throat. Despite being bright and playful, Rollie’s chest sounded awful through the stethoscope and I had a bad feeling about state of her lungs. We admitted her immediately to the hospital and x-rays of her chest were taken within the hour. The X-rays revealed a severe pneumonia and because of the problems in Rollies throat, she simply could not cough up the fluid that was accumulating in her lungs. The X-rays showed that she was literally drowning in the fluid within her chest.

Swabs were taken and she was put onto powerful medication to deal with the infection and break up the mucous in her chest. Over the next few days, we kept a close watch on her progress and saw some of her signs ease a little but her chest continued to sound very noisy.

Despite the medication, she just could not cough up the mucus on her chest so the decision was taken to shorten her soft palate surgically. As soon as Rollie was anaesthetised and a breathing tube was inserted into her windpipe bypassing her soft palate, she immediately breathed more easily. It is vital that the correct amount of tissue is removed as removing too little would not achieve the desired effect and removing too much would mean that Rollie could not stop food entering the lungs rather than the stomach. A portion of the soft palate was removed from the back of her throat and as she came round from the anaesthetic, it was immediately clear that her breathing was improved.

It has taken a few days for her to make a full recovery but she is now back home, her breathing is much improved and she is just as cute as ever.