Can Dogs Have Sleep Apnea? Dog Sleep Disorders Explained

can dogs have sleep apnea

Can dogs have sleep apnea?  Do dogs have sleeping disorders like the humans they live with?  How do you treat a dog with a sleep disorder?  Is there a doggy cpap machine?  Questions like these and others have come to me from many clients I’ve worked with over the years.  All of these questions are valid and some have surprising answers.

Hi My name is Mike and I’ve been working with dogs for the past decade.  During my time working with these wonderful creatures, I’ve come across a lot of questions and I decided to start this website to help get some answers out there.  Today we will be touching on dog sleep disorders, what to watch out for and common forms of treatment.  Lets get into it!

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Can A Dog Have Sleep Apnea?

The short answer is yes.  Dog’s can have sleep apnea much like their human caretakers.  This is not the only sleep disorder they can suffer from but it is one of the more common ones.  Snoring can sometimes be one of the most overlooked symptoms of sleep apnea.  It’s very easy to pass it off as normal sleeping behavior but the truth is, something could be affecting your dog’s long term health and it needs to be addressed.

Common Symptoms Of Dog Sleep Apnea

  • Fatigue: Fatigue or tiredness is a big issue when it comes to dogs suffering from sleep apnea.  Dog’s will tend to sleep more and more during the day if they aren’t getting good sleep because of sleep apnea.  If your dog is sleeping more than 15 or 16 hours a day, it might be a good time to contact your vet and schedule a visit.
  • Attitude:  Some dogs will begin to act more aggressively or just be more irritable in general if they aren’t getting enough quality sleep.  It’s a good idea to watch out for prolonged bouts of bad behavior as this could be a sign of sleep apnea in dogs.
  • Snoring:  As mentioned above, snoring can be one of the most overlooked signs of sleep apnea in dogs.  The reason for this is because its quite normal in both dogs and humans to begin with.  Just because your dog is snoring does not mean they have sleep apnea but it could.  If they are snoring combined with any of the other symptoms above, there could be an issue.  Time to ask your vet.
  • Choking, Snorting or Gasping During Sleep:  If your dog sounds like they are having difficulty breathing while they are sleeping, it may be because they are!  These symptoms tend to be a great alert to something going on with your dog’s health as they are hardly ever overlooked.  Get it checked out asap.

Can a dog have sleep apnea? Common causes explained.

Can A Dog Have Sleep Apnea?  Common Causes Explained

There are several common causes of sleep apnea in dogs.  Luckily, some of these can be treated very easily.  Lets talk more about the top 3 causes of sleep apnea in dogs and how to treat it in each case.

Obesity In Dogs

Pet obesity is one of the main causes of sleep apnea in dogs.  When a dog falls asleep the muscles in their mouth and neck relax.  This can cause the soft tissue to briefly obstruct the airway.  This is typically why dogs will snore as well.  More serious cases can lead to sleep disorder.  This is almost identical to how sleep apnea due to obesity affects humans as well.

How do we know if our dog is overweight?  The easiest way is to go to your vet and weigh them on the special scale over there.  Your vet can then quickly tell you where your dog is at in terms of weight and give you some suggestions on weight loss.

How do we treat obesity in dogs with sleep apnea?  I hope this is pretty obvious.  You put your pup on a diet!  There are some great suggestions online and your vet is a quality resource as always for a good diet plan.  A simple way to accomplish this is to eliminate any human food and severely limit dog treats.  If you just feed your dog once or twice a day and cut out all the snacking, the pounds should melt off fairly quickly.  Getting them up and active a few more minutes each day is also a great strategy for their health in general.

Obstructed Nose/Airway in Dogs

This one is a bit harder to diagnose.  An obstructed airway due to a nose issue is usually more of an issue for dogs with shorter snouts.  I’m referring to breeds like Pugs and Bulldogs.  These breeds tend to have flatter faces and they were intentionally bred that way.  The problem with these flatter faced breeds is that they tend to have nasal airway obstruction issues.  These obstructions can cause airway blockage in certain positions and develop into sleep apnea in dogs.

How do we treat this in our pups?  The first step would be a correct diagnosis.  If you think your dog might have an obstructed nasal cavity airway, take them to your vet and discuss options.  They may give you a collar for the dog to wear.  This collar will act as a sort of take home sleep apnea test for dogs.  The device will record specific metrics while your dog sleeps which you then bring back in to the vet for a proper diagnosis.  Once the issue is discovered, surgery is usually the standard practice to alleviate the condition in dogs.

Allergy or Allergic Reaction In Dogs

Your dog may have an allergic reaction to something that causes their airways to constrict.  When this happens, they may develop a temporary form of sleep apnea.  What can cause these types of reactions?  The same things that trigger humans generally.  Food, environment or toxins tend to be the main culprits.

How do we treat an allergic reaction causing sleep apnea in dogs?  The best way would be to bring your dog to the vet and pinpoint the origin of the reaction to begin with.  If it is food related, a change in diet might be in order.  If it’s environmental in nature,  additional steps might have to be taken including the possibility of prescription meds to handle the issue.

Is There A CPAP Machine For Dogs?

Not that I have found to be successful no.  There may be one in the works as well but there is not standard operating procedure for a doggy cpap.  I have seen some cases where human masks have been placed on dogs but this is very rare in deed.  Most dogs will just push the mask off.  They see it as a foreign object and want nothing to do with it.

The best option here is to work with your vet to determine a root cause and treat from there.  Cpap machines for dogs are not very feasible in my opinion.  At least there’s no way to use one without making your dog feel very uncomfortable.

What Other Sleep Disorders Do Dogs Suffer From?

There are several other common sleep disorders that dogs can suffer from.  These include, Insomnia, Narcolepsy and Restless Leg Syndrome or RLS.  Lets look at each one in a little more detail…

Insomnia In Dogs

Insomnia is difficult to diagnose accurately in dogs.  A dog can’t simply come up to their owner and tell them that they’ve been having trouble sleeping.  This is something that needs to be directly witnessed or inferred by the pet owner themselves.   Because of this,  Insomnia can often be undiagnosed or misdiagnosed in dogs for a long time.  Here are some of the common warning signs of insomnia in dogs.

  • Pain:  Your dog will have trouble sleeping properly if it is in pain.  This one can be a little easier to diagnose because your dog will usually give you signs that it’s in pain.  If they are limping around or yelping during certain motions, odd are that they are in some significant pain.
  • Arthritis:  Similar to pain, this is another major issue when it comes to your dog sleeping well.  Arthritis can make it hard for your dog to relax and get comfortable.  A simple shift in their sleeping position in the middle of the night could cause them agony and thus ruin their sleep.
  • Separation Anxiety:  Leaving your dog for a prolonged period of time can cause anxiety which can lead to insomnia as well. Some of the worst kinds of anxiety can come from an owner leaving their pup.  We can’t really explain to a dog where we are going so each time we leave, they have no way of determining when we are coming back.   Some cope with it by chewing or acting out, other dogs develop insomnia.
  • Lack Of Exercise:  This happens more for those dogs who have a higher base energy level than normal.  If your dog breed requires a lot of exercise and they aren’t getting it,  insomnia can develop.  One of the reasons for this is because of the general boredom those dogs feel because they aren’t being as active as they should.  Luckily, the fix for this is easy.  Take your dog out more!

Another interesting thing to mention is that sleep apnea and insomnia could be intermingled in some cases.  Your dog has insomnia because it can’t sleep.  It can’t sleep because it has sleep apnea.  This can turn into a vicious cycle.  Ideally, when you fix the root cause, the other issue dissipates as well.

common symptoms of dog sleep apnea

Narcolepsy In Dogs

Narcolepsy in dogs tends to be more rare or only occur in younger dogs as they develop.  The condition is hereditary in nature and not typically fatal.  One thing to remember about narcolepsy is that it could be combined with another condition called cataplexy.  Cataplexy is a neurological condition which causes your dog’s muscles and reflexes to become impaired for a period of time.

How can I tell if my dog has narcolepsy?  You may notice your dog playing or being active and then just drift off to sleep for a few minutes before bouncing back up like nothing is wrong.  This is a typical sign of narcolepsy in dogs.

How do we treat Narcolepsy in dogs?  The best thing to do is consult your vet if you think your dog has narcolepsy and let them work on a treatment plan with you.  In a lot of cases, your dog will grow out of it as they develop.

Restless Leg Syndrome In Dogs

We aren’t really sure if dogs can get RLS.  It has been diagnosed in a few dogs I have worked with over the years.  Most vets I talk to say that its possible for a dog to get RLS but it’s also a lot harder to tell if it’s that or some other temporary condition.

Other reasons for dogs to have restless paws:

  • Vivid Dream:  I’ve owned a few dogs who had very vivid dreams.  Some would howl or bark in their sleep.  This is very common in dogs.  Occasionally a dream will be very vivid and they may come to move their paws during an active portion of the dream.
  • Shaking:  Dogs will sometimes shake.  They can shake for a variety of reasons.  When they do this while sleeping, it can sometimes be interpreted as RLS.  This could just be some anxiety or a side effect of medication or trauma they may have experienced.
  • Seizure:  This is also a common occurrence in some dogs.  If you come upon a sleeping dog who is tensing and releasing muscles or just generally moving in a weird way during sleep, they may be having a seizure.  Other signs of a seizure can be snapping jaws, drooling, howling and general unresponsive behavior on the dogs part.

We started with the question “Can A dog have sleep apnea?”, and we end up taking about paws!  To sum it up, a dog may have RLS but it could also be any variation of the conditions above.  The best thing to do is consult your vet as usual.  Explain the situation in as much detail as possible and see what they suggest.

Can Dogs Have Sleep Apnea Summed Up

So can a dog have sleep apnea?  The answer is yes.  Dogs can have this and various other sleeping conditions.  We also learned that sleep apnea can be closely related with insomnia in dogs as well.  Treating one will usually help alleviate the other.  We talked about some of the other common sleep disorders dogs are diagnosed with.  I generally believe that RLS is more of a blanket condition given when a vet may not have enough information to pinpoint a specific problem with our pups.

Hopefully this article has helped address your can a dog have sleep apnea concerns.  If you are new to dog ownership or the owner of a new dog, maybe you have some questions about how to train them.  If so, I would highly suggest you check out this guide. Most professional trainers cost a good deal of money and you will be stuck doing most of the training reinforcement with your dog anyway.  Why not cut out the middle man and save yourself a few thousand in the process?



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