Dog owners share a lot with our pets (sometimes whether we want to or not): our homes, our furniture, our food, etc.
Although contagious diseases that can cross species are rare, there are some medical conditions common in dogs and people alike: arthritis, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and sleep apnea to name a few. The latter has received increased attention in recent years, as awareness of sleep apnea’s life-threatening effects has grown, and as treatment options have increased for both man and his best friend.
Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Loud, recurring snoring is the most common — and obvious — symptom of sleep apnea in people and dogs. However, snoring does not always equal sleep apnea.
In dogs, snoring is especially common among the so-called brachycephalic breeds, those with relatively short snouts and broad skulls. Popular brachycephalic dog breeds include English and French bulldogs, pugs, Boston terriers, shih tzus, cavalier King Charles spaniels and boxers. The compact facial structure of these dogs affects their airways and can increase their risk for snoring, sleep apnea and the obstructive breathing condition brachycephalic syndrome.
Obesity is another risk factor for sleep apnea in dogs (as in humans). If your dog is overweight, it might be a good idea to put them on a diet, increase their exercise levels, or both. In fact, doing activities with your dog is a great way for you to get more exercise, too.
Allergens can also trigger sleep apnea in dogs. Some veterinarians will test dogs for allergies, but you can see if this might be a risk factor by noting when your dog’s snoring is at its worst. See if this corresponds to particular seasons or activities that might link to allergies.
In humans and dogs who suffer from sleep apnea, snoring may be accompanied by frequent, abrupt awakenings in which the sufferer seems to be choking or gasping for air. This is because sleep apnea results in repeated episodes in which breathing stops during sleep.
When to See a Sleep Dentist (or a Veterinarian)
If you regularly snore loud enough to disturb your own sleep or that of others, it’s a good idea to schedule an assessment with a sleep dentist who has experience in sleep apnea treatment. It’s advisable to seek a sleep apnea assessment as soon as possible if snoring occurs with feelings of shortness of breath that wake you from sleep, interruptions in breathing during sleep, and the onset of excessive daytime drowsiness or fatigue.
Likewise, if your dog is a snorer, you should mention it to your veterinarian during your pet’s regular checkup. If you notice snoring in addition to labored breathing or breathing interruptions during sleep, you may want to consider an immediate discussion with your vet about sleep apnea or other respiratory problems. There are a number of emerging diagnostic tools and treatment options for dogs with sleep apnea; last year, an article in Sleep Review: The Journal for Sleep Specialists detailed a high-tech collar that transmits sleeping and breathing data for more accurate diagnoses of sleep apnea and other conditions.
The dangers of sleep apnea should not be dismissed. Without treatment, sleep apnea can contribute to a heightened risk for potentially fatal health conditions in both humans and dogs, including high blood pressure and heart disease.
Treating Sleep Apnea in Dogs
So, what can you do for a dog that has sleep apnea? At this point, neither CPAP nor oral appliance therapy is available for dogs. Surgery might be an option, but its success rate in humans is low enough that it’s probably not worth exploring. So we’re left with some of the common home remedies for sleep apnea.
Weight loss and exercise are the most promising home remedies for both humans and animals. You can also try to reduce the amount of allergens in your home to help your dog breathe a little easier. Positional therapy could work: if you notice your dog snores more in a particular position or place, encourage them to sleep differently. This might mean getting them a new bed or kicking them out of yours. Teaching your dog to play a wind instrument is probably a long shot.
Dogs and Sleep Disorder Therapy
Dogs (at least those that don’t snore) may also be a beneficial component of therapy for sleep apnea and other sleep disorders.
Health professionals often say that people should not co-sleep with their pets—despite the fact that more than half of pet owners do so—due to a risk of sleep disruptions. However, a recent review of data regarding dogs trained as service animals and emotional-support animals found no substantial evidence to support that sleeping with your dog impairs healthy sleep. In fact, most people who allowed their dogs to sleep with them reported personal benefits including senses of comfort and security even when their dogs occasionally woke them.
One study cited in the analysis demonstrates how dogs can also be trained specifically to respond to sleep apnea risks. These include pawing or a nudging a human whose continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) masks have slipped off, or who have fallen into a cycle of snoring and breathing stoppages.
Denver sleep dentist (and dog lover) Dr. Kevin Berry has helped countless patients find long-term relief from snoring and sleep apnea. If you or your sleep partner suffers from chronic snoring and other sleep apnea symptoms mentioned here, please call (303) 691-0267 to schedule an appointment at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado.