Can Dogs Have Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by repetitive interruptions in breathing during sleep, leading to brief periods of oxygen deprivation. While sleep apnea is commonly associated with humans, it may come as a surprise that dogs can also experience sleep-disordered breathing. Just like humans, dogs may suffer from sleep apnea, and it can have a significant impact on their health and well-being. In this article, we explore the signs, causes, and potential treatment options for sleep apnea in dogs.

Signs of Sleep Apnea in Dogs:

Identifying sleep apnea in dogs can be challenging since they cannot verbalize their symptoms. However, observant pet owners may notice some common signs that could indicate sleep-disordered breathing:

  1. Loud Snoring: Dogs with sleep apnea often snore loudly, especially during sleep. The snoring may be intermittent and accompanied by pauses in breathing.
  2. Restlessness: Dogs with sleep apnea may exhibit restlessness during sleep, frequently changing positions in an attempt to breathe more comfortably.
  3. Gasping or Choking Sounds: Some dogs may make gasping or choking sounds during sleep, indicating momentary cessation of breathing.
  4. Excessive Daytime Sleepiness: Sleep apnea disrupts the normal sleep cycle, leading to poor sleep quality. Dogs with sleep apnea may appear excessively sleepy or lethargic during the day.
  5. Irritability: Sleep apnea can cause irritability and changes in behavior in affected dogs.
  6. Weight Gain: Obesity is a risk factor for sleep apnea in both humans and dogs. Overweight dogs may be more prone to developing sleep-disordered breathing.

Causes of Sleep Apnea in Dogs:

The causes of sleep apnea in dogs can be similar to those in humans and may include:

  1. Anatomical Abnormalities: Certain anatomical features, such as brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds with narrowed airways, can predispose dogs to sleep apnea.
  2. Obesity: Excess weight can put pressure on the airways, leading to airway collapse and obstructed breathing during sleep.
  3. Age: Senior dogs may be more susceptible to sleep apnea due to age-related changes in their respiratory and sleep patterns.
  4. Allergies and Respiratory Conditions: Dogs with allergies or respiratory conditions, such as chronic bronchitis or laryngeal paralysis, may experience sleep-disordered breathing.
  5. Neurological Disorders: Some neurological conditions can affect the control of breathing during sleep, leading to sleep apnea.

What Puts Dogs at Risk for Sleep Apnea?

Several factors can put dogs at risk for sleep apnea, leading to sleep-disordered breathing during their sleep. Understanding these risk factors can help pet owners and veterinarians identify potential issues early on and take appropriate measures to address sleep apnea in dogs. Here are some common risk factors for sleep apnea in dogs:

1. Brachycephalic Breeds: Brachycephalic dogs, also known as flat-faced breeds, have a unique facial structure that can lead to respiratory issues. Breeds such as Bulldogs, Pugs, French Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers have short noses and narrowed airways, making it more challenging for them to breathe normally. These anatomical features can increase the risk of airway obstruction during sleep and contribute to sleep apnea.

2. Obesity: Just like in humans, obesity is a significant risk factor for sleep apnea in dogs. Excess weight can put pressure on the airways, leading to partial or complete airway collapse during sleep. Obesity-related sleep apnea is common in various dog breeds and can be particularly prevalent in older dogs.

3. Age: Senior dogs are more susceptible to sleep apnea due to age-related changes in their respiratory and sleep patterns. As dogs age, their airways may become less resilient, increasing the likelihood of airway collapse during sleep.

4. Anatomical Abnormalities: Some dogs may be born with or develop anatomical abnormalities in their airways, making them more prone to sleep-disordered breathing. These abnormalities can include elongated soft palates, small tracheas, or narrow nostrils.

5. Respiratory Conditions: Dogs with respiratory conditions, such as chronic bronchitis, laryngeal paralysis, or tracheal collapse, have compromised airways, increasing the risk of sleep apnea. These conditions can lead to airway inflammation or collapse, especially during sleep when muscle tone is reduced.

6. Medications and Anesthesia: Certain medications or anesthesia used during surgical procedures can relax the muscles in a dog’s airway, increasing the risk of sleep apnea during recovery.

7. Sleeping Position: The sleeping position can also influence the likelihood of sleep apnea in dogs. For example, sleeping on their backs can cause the tongue to obstruct the airway, leading to breathing difficulties during sleep.

8. Allergies and Respiratory Irritants: Dogs with allergies or exposure to respiratory irritants may experience airway inflammation and obstruction during sleep, contributing to sleep-disordered breathing.

How Can Sleep Apnea Impact Dogs?

Sleep apnea can have several negative impacts on dogs, affecting their overall health and well-being. When dogs experience sleep-disordered breathing, it disrupts the normal sleep cycle and can lead to various health issues. Here are some ways in which sleep apnea can impact dogs:

1. Poor Sleep Quality: Dogs with sleep apnea may experience fragmented and disrupted sleep due to frequent pauses in breathing and awakenings during the night. As a result, they may not get enough restorative sleep, leading to excessive daytime sleepiness and lethargy.

2. Reduced Oxygen Levels: Sleep apnea can cause intermittent interruptions in breathing, leading to brief periods of oxygen deprivation. The lack of sufficient oxygen during sleep can negatively affect various bodily functions, potentially leading to complications.

3. Increased Stress: Sleep apnea can be a stressful experience for dogs, leading to increased stress levels and changes in behavior. They may appear more irritable, anxious, or restless during the day.

4. Impaired Cognitive Function: Chronic sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea can impact cognitive function in dogs. They may have difficulty concentrating, learning, and retaining information.

5. Decreased Quality of Life: Sleep apnea can reduce a dog’s overall quality of life, leading to decreased energy levels, reduced interest in activities, and a general decline in vitality.

6. Cardiovascular Strain: The intermittent drops in oxygen levels can put additional strain on the cardiovascular system, potentially leading to cardiovascular issues over time.

7. Respiratory Complications: For dogs with pre-existing respiratory conditions, sleep apnea can exacerbate their breathing difficulties and respiratory symptoms.

8. Aggravation of Existing Health Issues: Sleep apnea can worsen certain health conditions, such as heart disease, respiratory problems, and obesity, especially if they are contributing factors to the sleep-disordered breathing.

9. Weight Gain: Dogs with sleep apnea may be more prone to weight gain due to the impact of disrupted sleep on their metabolism and appetite regulation.

10. Increased Risk of Accidents: Excessive daytime sleepiness resulting from sleep apnea can increase the risk of accidents and injuries in dogs, especially during activities that require alertness and coordination.

Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea in Dogs:

If you suspect that your dog has sleep apnea, it’s essential to seek veterinary care for a proper diagnosis and treatment. Treatment options may include:

  1. Weight Management: If obesity is a contributing factor, a veterinarian may recommend a weight management plan to reduce the risk of sleep apnea.
  2. Positional Therapy: Adjusting your dog’s sleeping position or using an elevated bed may help improve airflow during sleep.
  3. Surgical Interventions: In some cases, surgical procedures may be necessary to correct anatomical abnormalities that contribute to sleep apnea.
  4. Medications: Medications may be prescribed to manage underlying respiratory conditions that are causing sleep-disordered breathing.
  5. Humidification: In cases where dry air is exacerbating the condition, a veterinarian may recommend using a humidifier in the dog’s sleeping area.


Sleep apnea is not limited to humans; dogs can also experience sleep-disordered breathing, especially those with certain anatomical features or underlying health conditions. Identifying the signs of sleep apnea in dogs is crucial for early intervention and appropriate treatment. If you suspect that your dog may have sleep apnea, consult with a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and to explore potential treatment options. By addressing sleep-disordered breathing in dogs, we can help improve their overall health and well-being, allowing them to enjoy restful and uninterrupted sleep.

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