Can Dogs Have Sleep Apnea? Everything You Need to Know to Keep Your Pet Healthy

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Did you know nearly 1 billion people suffer from sleep apnea worldwide? Sleep apnea is a serious condition that causes an individual to stop breathing periodically throughout the night. While the nature of this particular sleep disorder is well understood in humans, researchers have just recently begun studying its impact on other animals, such as dogs.

So… Can Dogs have Sleep Apnea?

While rare, sleep apnea CAN occur in our furry four-legged friends. Interestingly, the common causes of sleep apnea in dogs are similar to those in humans. Characteristics like being overweight and having an obstructed airway can make breathing difficult for dogs and increase their likelihood of developing a sleep disorder. Dogs suffering from allergies may also be at risk, as allergens can significantly impact a dog’s airway and ability to breathe properly.

Dog breeds with short noses (formally termed brachycephalic breeds) such as Boston Terriers, Pugs, Boxers, as well as French Bulldogs and English Bulldogs are naturally predisposed to breathing issues and therefore particularly susceptible to having sleep apnea

How Can I Tell if My Dog has Sleep Apnea?

Does your dog snore? While occasional snoring is typically no cause for concern, loud chronic snoring can be a key indicator that your dog is suffering from sleep apnea

Other common symptoms include:

~ Choking or gasping while sleeping → indicates that a dog may be experiencing apneas (pauses in breathing)

~ Irritability

~ Tiredness

~ Excessive sleeping during the day

Because sleep apnea interrupts sleep, a suffering dog will often fail to receive the amount of sleep he/she needs and have much lower levels of energy during the day. As a result of this sleep deprivation, a dog may become irritable, demonstrate increased daytime sleepiness, and spend most of the day catching up on those missed Zzz’s.

Other Common Sleep Disorders Pet Owners Should Know About:

Sleep apnea isn’t the only sleep disorder dogs can have. In addition to sleep apnea, dogs can have… 

Narcolepsy

Similar to sleep apnea, narcolepsy is rare in dogs. Narcolepsy is characterized by disruptions in a dog’s REM (rapid eye movement) cycle.  The telltale sign of narcolepsy is a dog losing consciousness and lying still as if napping. As a result of these REM sleep disruptions, a narcoleptic dog often demonstrates heightened daytime sleepiness.

Insomnia

Insomnia is most common in old dogs and is characterized by trouble falling asleep and repeated waking throughout the night. Typically, dogs that have insomnia are simultaneously suffering from other conditions such as anxiety and injury. 

REM Behavior Disorder

Dogs with this sleep disorder are very active during REM sleep and will engage in physical acts– such as running or attacking nearby objects– while sleeping. 

When to See a Vet…

You know your pet best. If you notice that your dog’s snoring is becoming increasingly frequent and noisy or suspect he/she isn’t getting enough sleep, speaking with a vet is always a good idea. A vet is best suited to evaluate your dog’s condition and can recommend the best treatment options

Sleep Apnea Treatment Options

People treated for sleep apnea will often undergo CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy. Cpaps are machines that deliver air (at fixed or varying pressures) to the patient’s airway while he/she sleeps so as to facilitate breathing. Unfortunately, cpaps do not exist for dogs (just yet!). Luckily, the home remedies recommended by vets are often effective in treating a dog’s sleep apnea. Most vets will recommend the following options: 

Being overweight is a major contributor to sleep apnea (particularly OSAobstructive sleep apnea). An overweight dog will often have extra tissue surrounding his/her airway which can obstruct the steady flow of air. If your pooch is overweight, your vet may suggest weight loss as a primary treatment option. Losing weight will lessen airway obstruction and make breathing easier for your pet. 

Depending on the nature of your dog’s sleep apnea, a vet may recommend the use of a humidifier. Humidifiers are effective solutions for many dogs suffering from breathing problems and are particularly useful in the treatment of mild sleep apnea. Dogs that sleep near a humidifier will often sleep better than those that don’t. Humidifiers help open a dog’s airway and make breathing easier during sleep. 

For dogs with considerable airway obstruction, a vet may recommend surgery to correct for structural issues. In brachycephalic dog breeds such as English Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, and Pugs, procedures such as soft palate surgery– process whereby a dog’s soft palate (long, thick tissue in the back of the dog’s throat) is thinned and shortened– and nares resection— the widening of a dog’s nostrils– have  been shown to dramatically improve breathing.

What Happens if Sleep Apnea Goes Untreated?

Sleep apnea can contribute to other health problems if left untreated. Undiagnosed dogs are at risk of suffering from issues such as:

Diabetes   

Heart Disease

High Blood Pressure 

Stroke

Do any of the aforementioned symptoms seem familiar to you? Have you experienced any of them yourself?  If so, YOU may be suffering from sleep apnea

Take our quiz to assess your symptoms:  

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