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Do dogs get sleep apnoea?

Sleep apnoea is a sleeping disorder where the sleep pattern is regularly disturbed throughout the night. Sleep apnoea is caused by your dog repeatedly having difficulties breathing during sleep; leading to them waking up regularly to reposition and allow themselves to breathe more comfortably and get air into their lungs. Regular disturbances leave dogs feeling fatigued and sluggish throughout the day, can precipitate behavioural problems, and lower the immune function leaving your pup susceptible to infections. Sleep is very important for the body to rest, relax and repair so obviously disturbed sleep can have big consequences.

Will my dog suffer from sleep apnoea and how will I know?

The good news is sleep apnoea is considered rare in dogs. It is more common in overweight or obese dogs as well as brachycephalic breeds (flat-faced dogs) such as French Bulldogs and pugs. 

The disorder is generally caused by excessive internal fat interfering with the airways temporarily as in the overweight pet when in a sleeping position. Or due to abnormal respiratory anatomy; such as with brachycephalic breeds where a long soft palate and shortened muzzle leads to physical obstruction of the airways. Both of the circumstances leading to airway complications are more of a problem at night due to the position your dog sleeps in and the soft tissue in your dogs’ throat laying over the airways in such a way that usually results in snoring. Snoring is your first indication that your dogs’ airways aren’t completely open when they sleep. 

My dog snores, should I worry?

Most dogs snore a little. Often this is nothing to worry about. Usually snoring in your dog is a quiet, cute little noise as the air passes through their nasal passages whilst they slumber. Much more tolerable than if it’s your husband or wife keeping you awake! If your dogs’ snoring results in them being restless and regularly waking; or their snoring behaviour changes suddenly such as becoming louder or causing coughing, it could be a cause for concern. A change in your dogs’ normal breathing during sleep, could indicate a change in their body such as allergies or development of an obstructive mass / tumour. 

As an owner, you may notice your dogs’ breathing patterns and be aware of them stopping breathing multiple times in the night followed by a big gasp or sigh. Your dog may seem extremely fatigued or irritable during the day; napping more than normal or interacting with the family less. This is always a concern.

Any change in your dogs’ health, especially if it disturbs your dogs’ usual routine, should be discussed with your veterinary surgeon. 

What are the causes of sleep apnoea?

There are a number of possible causes.


If your dog is overweight or obese, they are at greater risk of diseases such as arthritic joint disease and respiratory diseases or complication. Excessive weight can lead to a buildup of fat around the neck (and internal organs). This puts pressure on the airways making it more difficult to breathe in air. The effect of this excessive weight is amplified when your pet lays down; as the position of sleeping adds increased stress and pressure to the neck area, making it even harder to breathe normally. 

Breed specific respiratory difficulties (BOAS)

Brachycephalic breeds natural anatomy often makes it difficult for them to breathe in air comfortably and with ease. These breeds suffer from narrow nostrils, long soft palates that physically block the back of the throat or both. (This condition is termed BOAS, short for Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome). The effect of a shorter muzzle and the same volume of soft tissue (soft palate / tissue inside the mouth and throat) leads to difficulty in passing air through to the lungs. Again, the position of sleep makes it even more of a challenge for these breeds to breathe well. 


You may even see your dog, if one of these breeds, stretching their neck out or resting their head on a pillow / on a step in an attempt to lengthen their necks and open their airways themselves as they are struggling so much. Dogs suffering from BOAS often have lower exercise tolerance (can play and run less easily than other dogs). And they are at an increased risk of heatstroke/ death from overheating in hotter temperatures. 


Your dog could suffer from any number of allergies that affect the respiratory system leading to breathing difficulties that often worsen at night. Food allergies, seasonal allergies to outside allergens such as trees, grasses and pollens or environmental allergies such as those to house dust mites for example. 


Physiological obstruction is one where your dogs’ natural anatomy doesn’t allow the free flow of air to the lungs such as with brachycephalic breeds (bulldogs, pugs etc). This is discussed above. Another type of obstruction is by something that develops later in life rather than one your dog is born with.

Acquired causes include Rhinitis, a condition in which the nose and nasal passages are inflamed or blocked can lead to difficulty bringing air into the body and breathing. This can show by you noticing your dog has a nasal discharge or snuffley nose.  Causes of rhinitis include infections, injuries, foreign bodies, inflammatory conditions, or cancers. Your dog could develop a polyp or other non-cancerous lump in the nose or throat. Or even a tumour which physically blocks the nose or throat making it more difficult to breathe as it grows. 

Is sleep apnoea treatable?

Often, yes it is! Of course, it does depend on what the underlying causes are. See below for a discussion on treatment options: 

If your dog is overweight, weight loss is the key. Adjusting your dogs’ diet or using a prescription weight control diet, paying attention to and reducing the volume of treats you give your dog and increasing their exercise will help them be generally healthier but also reduce the risk of breathing issues at sleep. There are plenty of ways to make this fun for your dog but if you’re struggling for ideas or need help in slimming down your dog, get in touch with your vet/ vet nursing team who have LOTS of tricks up their sleeves and will be happy to help.

If your dogs’ problem is with their anatomy/ structure of their nose or a long soft palate, your vet can assess them for surgical intervention and correction to open their airways and make it easier to breathe. Surgery to treat the problems associated with brachycephalic breeds (BOAS) is often very successful and also increases their enjoyment in day-to-day activity as they can breathe better to exercise and play too! Keeping your brachycephalic dog a good healthy weight is also really important, more so than any other breed as excessive weight can really complicate health, especially breathing in those that already struggle. 

Depending on the cause of allergies, your vet may offer medication to treat the problem, a change of diet, or discuss steam humidifiers/nebulisers. Give your vet a call if you think your dog could be suffering from allergies.

Obstructive causes of sleep apnoea 

Again depending on the cause your vet may prescribe medication or suggest surgery to ease the obstruction. 

What would my vet do if I took my dog in for assessment?

Your vet will be in the best position to advise you of the cause of sleep apnoea, they may suggest further testing such as a nasal scope, x-rays, swabs or a blood test to look further into why your dog isn’t sleeping well, or it may be apparent from your history and appearance of your pup. Either way, it’s important to get checked out as untreated sleep apnoea can be life-threatening. If your dog is snoring loudly and unsettled during the night, seek veterinary treatment as soon as possible.

Further reading: 

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