Can Dogs Have Sleep Apnea? Helping Our Furry Friends Get A Good Night’s Sleep
Just like humans, dogs are also vulnerable to disordered breathing while asleep. Sleep apnea is one example - but with steps like activity & sleep tracking, you can stay on top of it for good.
If you’ve been woken up multiple times by the sound of snoring, you might’ve wondered who’s the culprit. So if it turns out to be your dog…well, can dogs have sleep apnea? And how does it develop in the first place?
Just like humans, our furry friends are also vulnerable to disordered breathing while asleep. Sleep apnea is one example of these conditions – and it can impact your dog’s health and wellbeing for the long run. So in this blog post, we’re going to dive into dog sleep apnea, how it develops, and how steps like activity & sleep tracking can help you better manage it.
Table of contents
- Can dogs have sleep apnea?
- How does dog sleep apnea develop?
- What might cause sleep apnea in dogs?
- Symptoms of dog sleep apnea
- How to treat and manage your dog’s sleep apnea
- Simple steps for better sleep – for you & your dog
Can dogs have sleep apnea?
In short: yes, dogs can have sleep apnea in some cases – among other sleep disturbances. Besides this, your dog can also experience common sleep disorders, like narcolepsy, REM sleep behavior disorder, and sleep breathing disorder.1
The great news? Sleep apnea is actually rare in dogs. The not so great news? If your dog is overweight or a brachycephalic (or flat-faced) breed like a pug, Boston terrier, or bulldog, they might be more likely to develop sleep apnea.2
In fact, a study from this year at the University of Helsinki found that dogs with shorter snouts and flat faces are more likely to experience sleep-disordered breathing.3 As a result, they’re also more vulnerable to overexertion and other respiratory problems. Brachycephalic dogs are also more likely to experience recurring episodes of sleep apnea and other types of disordered breathing.
How does dog sleep apnea develop?
Much like humans, sleep apnea in dogs develops with the relaxing of the throat muscles that block their airways:
- This results in repeated pauses in breathing while your dog is asleep.
- These pauses (or ‘apneas’) can last for a few seconds to minutes – and also multiple times throughout the night.
- As a result, you might hear your dog “snoring” or otherwise breathing in a disordered way while asleep.
Over time, this can result in your dog missing out on the sleep they need – negatively affecting their health and wellbeing. As a result, they might be sluggish, irritable, and tired throughout the day. When you miss out on sleep, it can increase your risk for conditions like hypertension and cardiovascular disease. And in the long run, sleep apnea can have a negative impact on health – for both humans and dogs.
Tracking your dog’s sleep and activity levels is one way to stay on top of their health. For example, Tractive’s Wellness Monitoring features help you get a picture of how much quality sleep your dog’s been getting. This includes how many times they woke up or were generally disturbed while sleeping.
So if you spot a change in your dog’s sleep patterns which begins to affect their health and behavior, it might be time to drop by your local vet. And with this data at hand, you’re likely to have a more productive conversation – and take action for your buddy’s wellbeing early on.
What might cause sleep apnea in dogs?
The causes of your dog’s sleep apnea may vary – but, much like humans, there are a couple of factors that might increase your dog’s risk of developing it. Here are some of them:
Being heavier than the healthy weight range
Like in humans, being overweight or obese can lead to excess tissue accumulating in your dog’s throat.4 Over time, this can obstruct their airways and make it difficult to breathe normally while asleep.
It’s not clear whether obesity causes sleep disordered breathing in dogs – or results from it. But in general, dogs who have trouble breathing do tend to be overweight.5 At least one reason for this is because of these difficulties breathing, they might be less motivated to stay physically active.
- Over time, this makes it easier for them to gain weight.
- As a result of this weight gain, these dogs might develop excess fat tissue around their throat airways.
- This can make it difficult to breathe normally while asleep.
An obese dog might be more likely to develop severe symptoms of brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS), which we cover a little further below. Here are also some of the other reasons why dogs might grow overweight with time – and how you can prevent it.
Dogs might develop respiratory problems like nasal congestion – often as a result of allergies or exposure to pollen, dust, or some household items. In these cases, your dog’s sleep apnea may be temporary until the condition passes.
But in other cases, there might be something else obstructing your dog’s airways while asleep. So once you’ve eliminated any environmental allergens, make sure to check in with your local vet to rule out any other, more serious respiratory problem.6
Brachycephalic dogs are most vulnerable to sleep disorders, including sleep apnea.7 With their flat faces, smaller skulls, and short snouts, their facial skeletal structures can lead to their upper airways to get constricted during sleep. In many cases, these dogs’ upper and lower respiratory tracts might not develop properly as a result.
Here are some breeds of brachycephalic dogs who might be vulnerable to sleep apnea and other forms of sleep-disordered breathing:
- Bordeaux dogs
- Boston terriers
- Cane corsos
- Cavalier King Charles spaniels
- Chow chows
- French bulldogs
- Lhasa apsos
- Pekingese dogs
- Shih tzus
Because of their genetic history, these dogs are also vulnerable to brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS).8 However, even brachycephalic dogs who don’t have BOAS might still have chronic hypoxia, or low levels of oxygen in their system, which can be deadly if left untreated.9
BOAS is diagnosed by clinical examinations and advanced imaging techniques, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Unfortunately, it often remains underdiagnosed because pet parents might simply not be aware of it. A 2022 study even found that around 75% of participants considered snoring, snorting, and loud breathing as normal for brachycephalic dogs.10
The researchers then conducted an educational intervention that informed them of the health risks associated with these dogs. After the study, a good majority of brachycephalic dog parents admitted they would have liked to have been informed about these health problems before purchasing their dog.
Symptoms of dog sleep apnea
Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea in dogs you could keep an eye (and ear) out for:
- Pauses in breathing
- Gasping or choking during sleep
- Daytime sleepiness
- Changes in behavior
Some amount of snoring is pretty normal for some dogs – but excessively loud and frequent snoring can indicate sleep apnea. This could be the first indication that your dog’s upper airways are obstructed or not completely open when they’re asleep.
Pauses in breathing
If you notice your dog frequently breathes, then pauses, and then starts again with a gasp or a snort, it could be due to an obstruction in their airways.
Gasping or choking during sleep
If your dog gasps or chokes during their sleep, it might be due to sleep apnea. This is from waking up in a panic and trying to catch their breath when their airways get obstructed.
Dogs with sleep apnea might be restless while asleep, tossing and turning and thrashing about to sleep in a way that’s more comfortable. They might change positions frequently to find one that can let them breathe more easily.
Sleep apnea prevents your dog from getting the nourishing, restful sleep they need. As a result, they might be excessively sleepy during the day and less active or interested in playtime.
Just like us humans, dogs who haven’t had the best sleep can be irritable, have difficulties focusing, or just might seem out of it. Poor quality sleep can negatively affect their mood and overall well being.
If you suspect your dog might be showing symptoms of sleep apnea or disordered breathing, get in touch with your local vet. They might perform a full check-up, including a sleep study, to diagnose your dog’s condition and recommend the appropriate treatment.
How to treat and manage your dog’s sleep apnea
Once your vet has thoroughly examined your dog and you’ve briefed them about their medical history, sleep, and activity, here are a couple of options they might recommend.
Maintain a healthier body weight
If your dog is overweight or obese, the extra weight might be causing them difficulties breathing while asleep. But with regular physical activity and being more careful with their diet, you can get them on track towards a healthier body weight. So you could:
Take your dog out on walks more often
Besides the exercise, they’ll also benefit from the natural sunlight and sensory stimulation. Plus, it’ll be quality bonding time for you and your buddy if you make it a team effort.
Brachycephalic dogs, however, might be reluctant exercisers. Along with their breathing difficulties, they also overheat easily. So consider taking them out for walks in the mornings or evenings when it’s not too hot outdoors.
Switch to minimally-processed, vet-approved food options
Some examples include Hill’s Science Diet Adult Perfect Weight Canned dog food (for a wet food option) or Purina Pro Plan Weight Management Adult Dry dog food (if your dog prefers dry food.)11 Wet food, however, can actually help your dog stay better-hydrated, which might keep them more satiated.
Keep away the sugary treats and snacks
Choose healthier options instead with fewer additives or preservatives. Dogs can safely eat a number of fruits and vegetables, including celery, green beans, carrots, raspberries, and apples. Besides these, they can also snack on kibble and even air-popped popcorn!
We’d also recommend being extra mindful of table scraps. Put these away rather than letting your dog polish them off instead.
Your dog’s eating and exercise are often a result of habits. So by taking a few, small steps in the right direction, you can positively impact their health and wellbeing for the better.
Track your dog’s sleep & activity levels
Much like sleep, one of the first warning signs of a health emergency is if your dog seems less active, lethargic, or more tired than usual. It could be a sign of daytime sleepiness or even sleep deprivation, often brought about by sleep apnea. In other cases, it might be another underlying health condition that’s causing your dog to be less active.
Tracking the highs and lows of your dog’s sleep patterns can help you catch on a change early on. The same applies for their exercise. With an activity tracker, you can keep track of how often your dog’s been on the move all day. Over time, this can help you stay accountable and motivated and ensure they’re getting in their regular exercise.
So with a dedicated pet activity monitor, you can catch on to these changes in your dog’s daily activity even quicker and earlier. This helps you prevent a potential health condition from getting worse over time.
Tractive’s Wellness Monitoring features helps you get a picture of your dog’s daily physical activity. You can set daily goals for your buddy and even compare how they’re doing to other pets.
It can be challenging sticking to an exercise routine over time. But the closer you get to your goals, the more the little circle around your buddy’s photo fills up. So you can make daily exercise a fun, fulfilling activity for you and your dog both.
How Tractive helps you catch your dog’s disrupted sleep – just in time
Sleep apnea in dogs can reduce the amount of quality sleep your buddy’s getting. But it’s easy to miss out on how this can adversely impact your dog’s health down the line. Many times, your dog might seem happy and healthy – while still struggling with an infection or sickness. But by observing changes in their sleep and activity, you can catch on to any potential signs of sickness early on.
Tractive’s Wellness Monitoring features are helped pet parents around the world keep track of their dogs’ sleep levels – and take action if they notice a sudden change.
With regular sleep tracking, you can identify whether your dog’s sleeping more or less than usual and how many times they might’ve woken up due to a disturbance. So if you notice a massive dip in their sleep quality, you can get them to a vet immediately in case you notice something wrong.
One of Tractive’s pet parents noticed a change in her dog’s sleep patterns – and managed to catch on to a health problem just in time:
When I looked at Ruby’s Wellness profile, the data showed that her activity level was low and that she hadn’t slept well. I was concerned and watched her carefully.
Early the next morning, she had blood in her urine and was lethargic. We visited the emergency veterinarian, and Ruby was diagnosed with a UTI.
She received antibiotics and pain medication and is feeling much better. Her tracker data made me aware that she was not acting normally and that something could be wrong with her.
I love her tracker, and I will always have one for any dog I ever own.
Adjust your environment
Dry air or the presence of environmental allergens can both add to your dog’s sleep troubles. With a pet-friendly humidifier, you can help open and hydrate your dog’s airways while they sleep.12 Or with an air purifier, you can rid the air of airborne pollutants that might be causing them respiratory issues.
Just make sure to use a purifier that’s on the quieter side, so that the noise doesn’t stress out your pets. We’d also recommend using one with cool air and keeping it out of their reach, so they don’t knock it over by accident.
Some kinds of medication have been recently found to successfully treat sleep apnea in dogs. For example, a 2022 study found that a pug suffering from sleep apnea responded well and quickly to medication containing ondasetron.13 So medications that block the activity of serotonin during sleep can potentially help manage sleep apnea in dogs.
Besides these, you could also use a prescribed nasal congestion spray (like Afrin) to help clear your dog’s blocked airways.14 But make sure to check with your vet beforehand, as some common medications aren’t built for pets and might be toxic for them.
In some cases, your vet might suggest surgery as a way of treating your dog’s sleep apnea. This might be an option if, say, your dog has anatomical abnormalities like malformed nostrils or airways. By removing excess tissue or surgically modifying the structure of your dog’s throat or nasal passages, your vet can help reduce your dog’s airway obstructions.
The type of surgery can depend on the individual dog and your vet would need to thoroughly examine them before making a decision. Make sure to discuss all the pros, cons, and risks associated with your vet before going forward.
Is there a CPAP for dogs?
No. To date, there is no vet-approved CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device that your dog can safely use.15 As of now, CPAP devices haven’t been approved for use in pets.
You might be familiar with the use of CPAPs to manage sleep apnea in humans – but for your dog, your vet might recommend another treatment option. So if you do come across someone using it for their dog, it’s considered off-label use.
Simple steps for better sleep – for you & your dog
A well-rested dog is a happy dog and with a few steps, you can manage their sleep apnea for good. It isn’t the easiest health condition to live with – but even dogs with sleep apnea can live long, happy lives. By identifying the signs and symptoms and tracking your dog’s sleep and activity levels, you can stay informed and take action early on.
Even if you’ve gotten used to it, your dog’s breathing difficulties should never be considered normal. So make sure to keep an eye (and ear) out for any snoring or disturbed breathing tonight and check in with your vet. With this, you’ll be on your way to ensuring a healthier, better-rested life for both you and your furry friend.
Still wondering how to get your dog to get a good night’s rest? One of our key tips is to create a special sleeping area and make them comfy. We cover these in detail in our post on how to get your dog to sleep through the night.