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For most dog owners, the conformation, or overall breed-specific “shape,” of their best friend is not something to be overly concerned with, though it is very interesting and can affect your dog’s day-to-day functioning in some ways.
You may have heard the terms “barrel-chested” or “deep-chested” before, but do you know the difference?
Both barrel-chested dogs and deep-chested dogs have large ribcages but are shaped very differently. Barrel-chested dogs tend to have a wide chest with a fairly straight top and bottom when viewed from the front. Deep-chested dogs have tall, narrow ribcages that often dip below their front elbows and abdomen area.
Each of these chest types was often bred with a purpose, but before we look into what that purpose may have been, let’s clarify exactly what part of the dog is considered the chest.
What Is Considered The Chest Of The Dog?
Though it seems obvious, it is important to understand exactly what area of the dog we are discussing when we say the “chest.”
The chest starts at the bottom of the neck and extends down to the top of the stomach. It encompasses their rib cage, the section of spine included in the rib cage, as well as their breastplate, sometimes known as the “keel.”
The chest is designed to provide protection, stability, and support for the vital organs inside, such as the lungs and heart. Human-led breeding in dogs has led to a variety in the shapes of chests.
The Kinds Of Chests In Dogs
There is no definitive chest type when it comes to dogs, though there are some variations that are commonly seen.
Round chests are likely the most common type of chest, where from the front their ribcage looks like a circle. They may skew slightly with either a slightly deep or barrel-chested shape, but usually not enough to place them in the category or cause any significant health concerns.
Deep-chested dogs and barrel-chested dogs are the other two common terms used when discussing chest type, both with a rich history. Let’s look at each of these builds.
When discussing the chest of a dog, the term “depth” refers to the height of the ribcage, of the measurement from the top to the bottom. Deep-chested dogs are characterized by a unique physique in that their ribcage is much taller than it is wide, giving them a greater “depth” in the chest, hence the name.
In appearance, deep-chested dogs have an oval or egg shape when viewed from the front. Their ribcages are tall and narrow. As a result, their chest typically falls below the elbows of the front legs.
Speaking of, the front legs of these dogs tend to be closer together on account of the narrow ribcage. These features can be seen in many breeds regardless of size.
Why Were Deep-Chested Dogs Bred?
Most dog breeds were used in work, so many dogs were bred with a specific goal in mind: to expand the running capabilities, speed, and endurance of the dog. Whether it was accidental or purposeful, the breeds with narrow ribcages and deep chests became top performers.
This type of anatomy gives the dog’s lungs greater capacity when it comes to taking deep breaths. This slower and deeper breathing gives their muscles extra oxygen and energy. This energy can be used in short spurts, like Greyhounds and their sprints, or for long endurance activity, like herding breeds and their days full of work.
Deep Chested Breeds
There’s a great number of dogs that have a deep chest, some of them might be more difficult to spot because of their fluffy coats, like Newfoundlands, Saint Bernards, Old English Sheepdogs, Standard Poodles, German Shepherds, Irish Wolfhounds, Gordon, and Irish Setters, and even the fluffiness of Akitas can be deceiving.
On the other hand, it’s easier to notice deep-chested breeds like the Basset Hound, Bloodhounds, Dachshunds, Doberman Pinchers, Great Danes, as well as Greyhounds, Labradors, Sighthounds, and Weimaraners.
Barrel-chested dogs, generally speaking, have remarkably wide chests, giving the appearance of a barrel shape. Their overall look tends to be stocky, with thick necks and muscular shoulders.
The top and bottom of the chest are fairly straight and even while the shoulders tend to be somewhat rounded and wider than most breeds. In barrel-chested dogs, the bottom of their chest typically lies in line with or above the elbows on their front legs. These dogs can come in any size, though most were bred for work and are considered large dogs.
Why Were Barrel-Chested Dogs Bred?
Barrel-chested dogs come with a lot of strength and power, usually concentrated in their chest area due to their impressive muscle mass and wide shoulders.
Generally speaking, medium to large barrel-chested dogs were originally bred for work such as baiting, hunting game, fighting other animals, digging, and guarding their owners’ property, though they are not the best build for swimming.
Smaller breeds on the other hand tend to have barrel-shaped chests simply due to the breeds used to create the breed. This is why it is important to look at the original breeding purpose when trying to understand why a certain dog may have an impressively muscled chest area.
There is a great deal of dog breeds that are barrel-chested, among them Boxers, Boston Terriers, English and French Bulldogs, Pugs, and Keeshonds, as well as Mastiffs, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers.
What Are The Differences Between Barrel-Chested and Deep-Chested Dogs?
Naturally, barrel-chested dogs and deep-chested dogs will have differences in their appearance, work, and function. There’s even a difference that could save your dog’s life!
Barrel-chested and deep-chested dogs by nature look quite different. The shape of their chests can affect their entire anatomy.
Barrel-chested dogs are often short, stout, and muscular. Their front legs are positioned wide apart to account for the wideness of the ribcage. Barrel-chested dogs also commonly do not have much of an abdominal tuck, if any. The stomach often lies barely above, in line with, or even below the bottom of the ribcage.
In contrast, deep-chested dogs are often tall and lanky. Their narrow chests mean their front legs are often close together, with their elbows in line with or above the bottom of their ribcage. Their stomach tuck is often above the bottom of their deep rib cage, making for a sleek and athletic build.
For most dog breeds, the Red Cross’s recommended method for performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) involves placing the animal on its side and compressing the chest wall.
However, barrel-chested breeds need an alternative technique due to their naturally broad rib cages. These dogs must be placed on their back, allowing compressions that are similar to those used on humans – with direct pressure over the heart.
Whether you have a barrel-chested breed or not, knowing how to perform canine CPR in any situation properly could end up saving your pet’s life one day.
What Are The Similarities Between Barrel-Chested And Deep-Chested Dogs?
Though their chest shapes seem to be opposite, the breeds that have these characteristics actually have a few traits in common.
Bred for Purpose
Almost all breeds were bred for some sort of purpose, but most deep and barrel-chested breeds were bred with a specific job in mind.
The deep-chested breeds were bred to breathe deeply and run hard, perfect for herding, swimming, and assisting their owners with hunting. Barrel-chested breeds were bred with strength and sturdiness that were needed in the early days of fighting, guarding, baiting, and like, their deep-chested friends, hunting.
As a result of this purpose-bred program, these breeds are almost always high-energy, mischievous breeds. They need lots of mental stimulation and physical exercise!
Risk of Bloat
The chest space in deep-chested and barrel-chested dogs can lead to a dangerous condition known as bloat, which can be fatal if not acted on quickly. With this condition, the dog’s stomach can fill up with gas or fluids and flip over, cutting off the flow of the digestive system.
If you want to know more about this condition then this video it goes more in-depth:
Though bloat is not entirely preventable, there are things you can do to help reduce your dog’s risk of bloat.
- Give your dog smaller meals multiple times a day to prevent them from overfilling their stomachs.
- Use a slow feeder to prevent them from gulping their food down too quickly or ingesting too much air. They’re perfect for mental stimulation too!
- Reduce their activity before and after eating. Instead of shocking their system with a big meal immediately followed by lots of work, which puts their digestive system into overdrive, allow their stomachs some time to digest a bit before playtime.
- Avoid raised feeders, though this may seem surprising to you! Many recommend raised feeders to help prevent joint pain, which is great. However, sometimes, bloat is thrown as a benefit to raised feeders, though some studies even prove otherwise, citing 20% of the large breed and an astonishing 52% of giant breed bloat cases surveyed were attributed to having a raised food bowl, though the overall risk of bloat was only 6%.
- Surgery may be needed for high-risk patients or patients that have already experienced bloat. Your vet may also recommend proactively performing this gastropexy during other routine surgeries, such as spaying.
When to Seek Veterinary Assistance
Bloat is not treatable at home, must be treated by a vet ASAP, and is 100% fatal if left untreated.
If you notice your dog showing signs of restlessness, pacing, swollen abdomen, dry vomiting, rapid breathing, panting, and just overall distress, call your local emergency vet immediately.
With early intervention, your vet may be able to flip your dog’s stomach through a tube in their mouth, but surgery isn’t uncommon.
Your vet may suggest a gastropexy or a procedure that involves “tacking” the stomach to the abdominal wall to prevent further flipping.
What Is A Keel-Chested Dog?
Keel-chested dogs are breeds of canines that have a unique kind of deep-chest structure. This consists of a slight curve towards the bottom and front of their breastbone plate and is sometimes compared to the keel of a boat due to its shape.
This type of chest shape has been historically linked to Dachshunds, Azawakh, and Bloodhounds due to it being mentioned in their breed standards, but several other breeds may have this feature due to genetics and breeding.
Greyhounds, Dobermans, and German Shepherd Dogs are some examples that may exhibit this trait, though it is not judged in the conformation ring. Overall, a keel-chested dog seems to be a deep-chested dog with a prominent curve on their lower ribcage, though it seems to be a scarcely used term in most of the dog community.
What Kind Of Chest Type Do Mixed Breed Dogs Have?
The chest shape of a dog with mixed-breed parentage is likely a surprise for owners when the dog is fully grown. Depending on its genetics, it could have any of three different shapes: deep, barrel, or round.
Of course, dogs mixed with breeds that both have one type of chest shape greatly increase the chance the puppy will also share that chest shape.
Most dogs have a round chest, but just a small amount of a deep-chested breed or barrel-chested breed can skew the dog’s build, giving them the characteristics of these unique chest shapes.
Because mixed breed dogs are hard to predict, once your dog reaches its full size you can talk to your vet about any potential health issues their chest shape, or any other part of their build, may expose them to.
Barrel-chested dogs and deep-chested dogs have their similarities and differences, but overall both have a very large chest space and ribcage. This space can be functional but also puts them at risk of health issues like bloat.
Knowing if your dog possesses either of these can help you understand them better and learn how to prevent potential health issues.