Like humans, dogs can suffer from a variety of sleep disorders including sleep apnea. While dogs with short noses, such as French Bulldogs, are predisposed to breathing issues and thus sleep apnea, there are other common causes of the condition that can affect all dogs. If you’re a dog parent, and especially if you have a short nosed breed, you should familiarize yourself with the causes and symptoms so you can talk to your vet about it if you suspect your dog is suffering from sleep apnea. Just know there’s no need to panic if that’s the case - you and your dog can still lead a long and happy life together. 

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes your dog to suddenly stop breathing while they are asleep. When this happens, the affected dog will jerk awake in an attempt to breathe again so they usually wake up gasping for air or choking. 

How do you know if your dog has sleep apnea? What should you do if you think your dog has sleep apnea?

Chronic, loud snoring is the number one indicator of sleep apnea. While most dogs will occasionally snore (especially if they are sleeping in a weird position), chronic loud snoring is the best way to tell if your dog has sleep apnea. You might also witness your dog gasping for air or choking while they sleep, a sign they likely stopped breathing momentarily. This condition disrupts their sleep often, so dogs with sleep apnea will be tired throughout the day and show higher levels of sleeping throughout the day.

If you think your dog might have sleep apnea, you should tell your vet so you can work together to address the condition. If left untreated, sleep apnea can be fatal so it’s best to err on the side of caution. Unlike CPAP machines for humans, there is no equivalent for dogs so treatment requires identifying and addressing the root cause.  For example if it’s weight or allergy driven, starting a weight loss regimen or reducing the allergen can go a long way with sleep apnea. If it’s driven by a natural obstruction, your vet may be able to prescribe medicine to ease the problem or suggest surgery if it’s a severe case. 

If you’re dealing with a snoring pup, take note of the position they are in when they are snoring so you can give your vet more details. Do they snore regardless of the position they are in? Does it get worse in certain positions? How often do they snore? How often do they jerk awake?

What are the risk factors?

There are certain characteristics and risk factors that increase your dog’s chances of suffering from sleep apnea. These are very similar to the risks factors for humans. 

  • Weight: You can add sleep apnea to the list of health reasons to keep your dog at a healthy weight. An overweight dog is more likely to have breathing problems as fatty tissues can collapse on their airways, ultimately collapsing on them while they sleep. 
  • Short-nosed breed: Due to their shorter airways and increased likelihood to have a malformed airway, they are more likely to develop sleep apnea. This is because their upper airway control is reduced as their upper airways constrict during sleep. 
  • Allergies: Allergies can lead to inflammation in the airways and result in blocked airways during sleep. 
  • Age: As your dog grows older, they are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea as well.