Sleep apnea is not a common term that is used in veterinary medicine. However, it can occur due to a number of various conditions. For example, dogs who are overweight or obese can have the same respiratory problems that humans can.
Excess body weight will contribute to more prominent upper airway soft tissues in the throat, and it is harder for dogs to breathe while lying down on one side.
Brachycephalic dogs breeds such as English Bulldogs, Pugs, and French Bulldogs are known to have respiratory problems due to their short snouts. These dog breeds often suffer from narrow nostrils orstenotic nares, and they may have elongated soft palates that can become entrapped by the opening to the airway known as theepiglottis. These abnormalities can cause the obstructive form of sleep apnea, and you may notice that your brachycephalic pup snores a lot or has trouble staying asleep.
Tracheal collapse is another airway disease that occurs when thetrachea or windpipe, becomes narrow due to mineralized cartilage rings or sagging soft tissue. Once narrowed, it can significantly affect your dog’s breathing both awake and while asleep due to the trachea becoming partially obstructed. Small breed dogs such as Yorkshire Terriers, Chihuahuas, and Shih Tzus have a higher risk for developing it.
Heart disease can also cause obstructive sleep apnea in dogs. With severe heart disease, the heart muscle becomes grossly enlarged and can push up on the trachea and the mainstem bronchi. Due to this compression, the same kind of turbulence occurs as that seen in patients with tracheal collapse. Your dog may cough more, especially at nighttime.
Another form of obstructive sleep apnea is caused by laryngeal paralysis. The opening to the throat orlarynx is controlled by nerves to keep the airway open while breathing and closed while eating and drinking.
When a dog has laryngeal paralysis, the muscles on one or both sides of the larynx become paralyzed and cause the airway to collapse inward. Tumors, trauma, and hormonal disorders can cause this, but there are some cases with unknown oridiopathic causes.