Can pets have obstructive sleep apnea? And if so, can CPAP help treat their symptoms? The answers are yes… and possibly.
As with humans, little Fido’s sleep apnea would most likely develop over time, either on its own or as result of another medical issue or prescription drug he’s taking.1 You’ll probably notice the snoring first, but also note if he’s gasping or choking while asleep, or more tired or irritable than normal during the day.2 Sleep apnea is also more deadly for animals in the short term; while it is known to raise the risk of secondary-cause death in humans over time, “there have been several episodes of sudden death in young dogs and cats while sleeping, which are similar to sudden infant death syndrome in humans.”1
Your four-legged friends may be at greater risk for sleep apnea if they have allergies, obesity (e.g. English bulldogs) or short noses that can making breathing difficult (e.g. Boston terriers, mastiffs, rottweilers).2 Dogs experience apneas the same way we do: They temporarily stop breathing, causing their bodies to jolt them awake to take a breath. And as with humans, this constant nighttime arousal results in sleep deprivation and all its short- and long-term health risks.
Veterinarians will often suggest a diet for overweight dogs, prescription drugs or possibly surgery if their obstructions are caused by malformed nostrils or airways.3 CPAP is not a treatment option for canines right meow, but that could someday change thanks to studies like the one in 2011 – on cats.
Cats can also have OSA, particularly overweight and obese cats, and Persians due to their shortened muzzles and the breathing problems that can result from them.4 As always, Shadow’s snore will be the most noticeable sign that something may be wrong. If so, the most common treatment is surgery if the vet thinks it’s necessary. However in 2011, researchers successfully treated cats with OSA by using CPAP. Their study is self-described as “the first report of CPAP being used as an effective treatment for OSA in an animal.”5
Will this CPAP study lead to more research into animal OSA and whether CPAP can effectively treat it? Time will tell. But we do know that animals can have sleep apnea – and other sleep disorders like narcolepsy, insomnia and periodic limb movement disorder3,4 – and that it has an equally harmful effect on their sleep. That’s why you should call Oreo’s vet if you think she may have sleep apnea – or any problems sleeping.