What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a disorder where sufferers stop breathing and start again repeatedly. This happens involuntarily during sleep and is a serious disorder in both humans and animals.
The word “apnea” is Greek and means “without breath.”
The condition occurs when the throat walls come together during sleep, which blocks off the airways temporarily. This forces the sleeping animal or human to reawaken to breathe again, but they usually go back to sleep quickly. This pattern can reoccur many times during sleep.
The severity of sleep apnea depends on how often the breathing is interrupted. Mild sleep apnea is roughly five to fifteen interruptions per hour, while severe sleep apnea is where there can be more than thirty interruptions per hour.
The problem with dog sleep disorders like sleep apnea is that your pet will not be getting sufficient REM sleep. Rapid Eye Movement sleep is vital for recovery and rest. Frequent waking means your dog will interrupt the cycles of this sleep, and not wake refreshed and restored.
What Are The Symptoms Of Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea develops slowly in animals, so monitor your dog’s sleeping patterns over some time. Occasional snoring is common in dogs, but if this changes to snoring very loudly and often, he or she is likely to sleep apnea.
Other symptoms include
- sleeping during the daytime
- gasping for air or choking when asleep
- being unusually tired
- difficulty staying asleep
- does not fall asleep easily
- interrupted breathing with long pauses between breaths
Your pet may or may not be aware of the interruptions to their breathing.
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is common in dogs.
Allergies can be a common cause of sleep apnea because they can inflame your dog’s airways. Check to see when your dog’s snoring is at its worst. If it is at particular times of the year, or after certain activities or being in certain environments, or after eating specific foods, your pet’s sleep apnea may be the result of allergies.
If your dog has swollen nasal passages, this may also cause sleep apnea.
Some dogs find it more difficult to breathe when the weather is warm and humid, and this can result in sleep apnea
Being overweight is another cause of sleep apnea. This is because your dog will have more fatty tissue that can collapse on their airways during sleep.
As your dog grows older, he can also develop sleep apnea.
Are Some Dogs More Prone To Sleep Apnea?
Short-nosed dogs have a higher risk of sleep apnea. These are known as brachycephalic dog breeds, and examples include rottweilers, bulldogs, Boston terriers, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, shih tzus, and boxers.
These dogs have small nostrils, a very long soft palate, and small sacs in their throats that protrude into the airway and a short windpipe. These features make breathing more difficult than for other breeds.
What Are The Risks Of Sleep Apnea?
The constant awakening caused by sleep apnea leads to sleep deprivation, which carries risks with it. Your pet could be more accident-prone or could become depressed.
Untreated sleep apnea in dogs leads to a greater risk of serious diseases. These include diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Death may also occur in rare cases.
What Can I Do About My Dog’s Sleep Apnea?
If you think allergies are the cause of the sleep apnea, it is worth seeing your vet to confirm this. The vet can also give your dog antihistamine medications to help his allergy, and recommend suitable hypoallergenic foods.
If your dog is overweight, Increase the amount of exercise your dog gets, and talk to your vet about an appropriate diet to help with your dog’s weight loss.
If you notice your dog’s snoring during sleep apnea is worse in particular places in your house, or when he sleeps in particular positions, move his bed to a different area and encourage him to rest differently. You may need to get him a new mattress, or not let your dog in your bed at night.
Anti-inflammatory medication can help swollen nasal passages and reduce sleep apnea in dogs.
Dogs who do not fare well in warm, humid conditions could be allowed to sleep with the air conditioning on.
Where sleep disorders are caused by abnormal anatomy, surgery is usually suggested by a vet. Possible surgeries include maxillofacial surgery, nasal palatopharyngeal surgery, and upper airway surgery.
Some pet owners use essential oils to help their dogs fall asleep and stay that way. You could talk to a pet aromatherapist or holistic pet professional for recommendations.
What Other Sleep Disorders Can Dogs Have?
Apart from sleep apnea, three other common disorders affect your dog’s sleep:
This means your dog will have difficulty getting to sleep or waking in the night and not being able to get back to sleep.
Insomnia can also be a sign that something is wrong, such as anxiety, an illness, or an injury. Insomnia is common in older dogs primarily because they are more likely to be in discomfort for various reasons such as having joint pain, or digestive issues. This makes it harder for them to sleep comfortably. Also, as your dog ages, he is more likely to have to wake up to pee during the night and may find it hard to get back to sleep.
Narcolepsy can disrupt your pet’s sleeping and REM cycle resulting in extreme sleepiness during the daytime. Your dog might have sudden sleep attacks or suffer from muscle weakness and paralysis even when they are awake.
These attacks do not last long, for example, a few seconds, up to a couple of minutes. They can be caused by strong emotions, for example, during play or at mealtimes.
If your dog has access to streams, rivers or pools, or anywhere else that is unsafe, these attacks can be particularly dangerous for your pet.
REM Behavior Disorder
Some dogs are very active during REM sleep. They can attack objects, run into things or bite during REM behavior disorder, even if they are usually gentle pets. They show no signs of being disorientated if they are woken during this phase.
Consult your vet if your dog displays any of these disorders. Document your dog’s sleep habits to help your vet diagnose your pet correctly and suggest appropriate treatment.
Some breeds are more likely to suffer from sleep disorders. These include poodles, beagles, labradors, English bulldogs, and dachshunds.