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Bulldog Mortality & Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome

Bulldog Mortality & Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome
May 10, 2023

This is not an easy post for me to write. 

I will start by saying I perform bulldog (brachycephalic) airway corrective surgeries. (Stenotic nares repair, elongated soft palate resection, everted laryngeal saccule excision.) And I love my job as a veterinarian and as a surgeon.

However, I performed about 180 airway surgeries last year alone. I have developed expertise, yes, but I really wish that I could "retire" because there were no more patients for me to "correct". 

My bulldog patients come to me for surgery not because they are living their best lives: They come to me because they are barely LIVING at all. Most of them cannot walk around the block without being a heat stroke risk. Most of them chronically vomit and regurgitate because their upper gastrointestinal tract has suffered so long from negative airway pressure. Many of these dogs have already been hospitalized for aspiration pneumonia or heat stroke. Many of my patients need weeks of medical intervention to control regurgitation before I can even consider putting them under anesthesia. Some of them have such frightening congenital defects that other veterinarians have refused to anesthetize them. Some of them truly belong in the hands of a board-certified surgical specialist but my client cannot afford the $12-$20K surgery fee. So they come to me. 

I will always say "yes". I will always be willing to try. I will always be honest with my limitations and expectations. 9 out of 10 of my patients do brilliantly and are instantly transformed. 1 out of 10 suffer worrisome post-surgical complications. 3 out of 100 will pass away hours to days after surgery because of frustrating brachycephalic complications.

And this is why I am writing this post: I lost a patient yesterday. This beautiful young bulldog had airway corrective surgery with me and did great until about 6 hours later, at which point she regurgitated at home and then started having trouble breathing. I was on the phone with the clients at 10 p.m. when I sent them to their local ER. My patient was diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia (not her first time) and placed on oxygen. 24 hours later she rapidly developed complications and passed away.  A piece of me died with her. I am crushed by the weight of my sadness and by the weight of her family's sadness. 

I would like to stop doing these surgeries. I would like to not worry all night about my patients. I really would like to go home after my work day and "tune out". But I can't. I won't. I worked for 31 years developing this expertise. I will continue doing my best to transform lives -- for as long as breeders breed two dogs together that can't breathe, can't walk, can't hold food and water down, and wake up 30 times a night with sleep apnea. 

I will every now and then mourn a patient that slips through my fingers. I will remind myself that I did not create this sad individual that has TWENTY TIMES the post-anesthetic mortality rate of other breeds. 

Here is my plea:  If you are a bulldog breeder... Or, if you are thinking about breeding your bulldog because you love its "personality", or maybe you just want to make money..... And if the dog you're going to create puppies with cannot walk around the block on an 80-degree day, or if it can't sleep through the night without choking on its own narrow airways, or if it pretty much EVER vomits or regurgitates, then DO NOT BREED THIS INDIVIDUAL. Please -- I am begging you-- put me out of business by NOT creating more puppies that are going to have to end up in my surgery suite.
If you would like to have a bulldog, please rescue one. There are way too many bulldogs just waiting for homes. Please contact So Cal Bulldog Rescue and see what you can do for them, donate to them, or rescue a dog from them. Do not breed your bulldog, please. 

The Veterinary World Health Organization has decreed that the bulldog lacks enough genetic diversity to sustain its existence. I agree 100%. I love bulldogs. But I hate indiscriminate breeding practices. 

I humbly submit that I am "not enough" to fix all the issues out there in the brachycephalic world. But I will keep trying. Even though it's hard. Even though it's worrisome. Even though it's sometimes super sad. Because MOST of the time it's GLORIOUS AND OH SO REWARDING.

I am so grateful for the clients who reached out to me to tell me how much better their bulldog is doing after my surgeries. My heart sometimes feels like it might burst. 

I think I'm done with my tirade...... 

Please contact me directly if you have questions about bulldogs, brachycephalics, or Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome. Of if your dog needs my help. I am dedicated. I am here. 

Dr. Kimberly Daffner
(310) 376-0072

A note from the Family Pet Clinic of Redondo Beach team:

Dr. Daffner was not only a beloved member of our team but also a dedicated expert in bulldog and flat-nosed breed care. Her knowledge and passion have left a lasting impact on our clinic and the lives of countless pets. As a tribute to her legacy, we have chosen to keep her informational blog posts available on our website. These articles contain a wealth of knowledge that may be helpful to other veterinarians and pet owners. However, please note that we are no longer offering the specialized services mentioned in these blog posts at Family Pet Clinic of Redondo Beach. We sincerely appreciate your understanding. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us at (310) 376-0072. Thank you for your continued support.

Family Pet Clinic of Redondo Beach