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Flat-faced dogs, also known as brachycephalic dogs, are a favorite of many dog owners. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC) 2020 list of recognized breeds the French Bulldog and Bulldog rank second and fifth in popularity.

Flat-faced dogs have broad skulls and an elongated soft palate. Other brachycephalic breeds are the Boxer, Pug, Pekingese, English Toy Spaniel, Shih Tzu, and more. Grooming and bathing are essential to your dog’s health, vitality, and longevity.

Cleaning Facial Folds

Skin folds around the eyes and jowls give flat-faced dogs their trademark wrinkles, as well as increased susceptibility to inflammation and infection. Skin fold dermatitis is an inflammatory condition caused by friction or overgrowth of yeast and bacteria. Moisture, food, and dirt create an optimal breeding environment for bacteria to multiply and cause discomfort for your dog.

Signs of infection include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Discoloration
  • Odor
  • Discharge
  • Itchiness

Fortunately, regular checking and cleaning can substantially reduce the risk of infection. After wiping the fold with a damp cloth, use a dry cloth to remove excess moisture. “If there’s redness and irritation in the fold, use a zinc oxide paste to keep it dry,” says Lori Hunt, DVM, AKC licensed judge of the French Bulldog. (Note that ingestion of zinc oxide can cause stomach irritation and repeated zinc exposure could contribute to anemia.)

Pug head portrait outdoors.

Cleaning Tail Folds

Some dogs have a screw tail, meaning the vertebrae are curved or twisted. As dogs mature, tail folds deepen, becoming prone to dermatitis. Daily cleaning prevents fecal contamination and infection. “If their tail looks puffy, there’s probably a ton of extra hair which can cause areas to go bald,” says Hunt.” She recommends combing out excess fur.

Cleaning Vulvar Folds

In some female dogs, the vulva is encased in a fold. Vulvar folds “require the same care as the tail, where you’re lifting up the fold, cleaning it out, and putting zinc oxide paste to keep it dry,” advises Hunt.

Eye Care

Eyes need daily checking because “flat-faced dogs are more prone to corneal ulcers,” says Hunt. Look for squinting, swelling, and cloudiness. Some tear production is normal for lubricating the eye and removing debris. Excessive tearing, however, should be checked with your veterinarian as it may be a sign of allergies, infection, or eyelid abnormalities.

Ear Care

A healthy ear is pink and odorless. Your dog’s ear canal should be clean and dry after bathing or swimming. Floppy ears tend to get less ventilation than pointed ones. With both ear types, check for the accumulation of wax and dirt and brush the edges of the ear to remove excess fur.

For most dogs, cleaning the ear once or twice a week is sufficient. Dogs with allergies or recurrent ear infections likely need more attention. Watch for vigorous head shaking or rubbing to alleviate itchiness.

When cleaning the ear, use a cotton ball or gauze and distilled water. An alternative is a veterinary-approved ear cleaner although these solutions “can disrupt the natural pH of the ear,” explains Hunt.

Nose Care

Dry and cracked noses aren’t merely an aesthetic issue. If left untreated, a crusty scab can develop, inhibiting your dog’s ability to breathe, smell, and regulate body temperature. “When you get the scab off, it’s infected and raw underneath,” says Hunt. She suggests applying a moisturizing balm several times a week to prevent dryness and infection.

Nail Care

Flat-faced dogs tend to have thick nails that curl in toward their paw. “The nail width and thickness of a French Bulldog is equivalent to what you see on a Labrador,” says Hunt.

Long nails can impair your dog’s mobility. Hunt recommends trimming nails twice a month. Nail grinders with a narrow tip can get into tight spaces between the nail and pads. If you use clippers, “clip the nail on an angle at the top and bottom, making a point,” advises Hunt.

Dental Care

Smaller dogs tend to experience dental overcrowding and tooth displacement. Overcrowding occurs when dogs retain their baby teeth alongside their adult teeth, the result of which can be periodontal disease and premature tooth loss.

Regardless of your dog’s age, regular brushing is important. “Ideally, you would brush their teeth as much as you brush your own,” says Hunt. “Nobody does that. Doing it once a week or even once a month would be helpful.”

Apply toothpaste designed for dogs on a toothbrush, rubber finger brush, or gauze. Take care when brushing the incisors which tend to be more pronounced in flat-faced dogs. Between brushings, use a 50-50 solution of water and mouthwash containing no xylitol which is toxic to dogs. “You can spray around the gum line to kill the bacteria that form plaque,” adds Hunt.

french bulldog takes a bath
©kellermargo -

Bathing Your Dog

Brush your short or medium-coated dog before and after a bath to prevent matting and irritation. Use a bristle brush or rubber-toothed comb. Remove loose fur, making sure to pull out the dead undercoat which needs daily brushing during shedding season.

Every two to three months is sufficient for bathing a less active, indoor dog. Bathe them on a non-slip rubber mat and avoid leaving them unattended. Use a cup or low-pressure setting to keep your dog from swallowing or aspirating water. Create a lather with a shampoo specially formulated for your dog’s coat type and color.

Hunt recommends a washcloth and medicated shampoo to “clean up the folds and get the yeast and bacteria out of there.” Scrub the coat in one direction, feeling around for any bumps or abrasions. “If you go back and forth, you’ll break the hair shaft and make them break out,” she says.

Rinse the shampoo off, squeezing out excess water. Dry your dog thoroughly using a towel or a hairdryer on low heat. Hunt suggests a leave-in conditioner if your dog has dry or flaky skin.

Hunt emphasizes “grooming is important because dogs can end up with medical problems from not doing it.” Flat-faced dogs draw people in with their expressive eyes and abundant wrinkles. Keep these irresistible features in top shape with daily checking and cleaning.

Related article: How to Choose the Best Dog Food
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