Does Your Dog Snore?

Patty Khuly, DVM
Published: July 25, 2010
Does Your Dog Snore?

Mine does. Like a train. All. Night. Long.  If I happen to suffer a touch of insomnia and awaken in the middle of the night, it’ll be my Vincent’s snores that keep me up way longer than necessary. And it’ll be his rasping, snorkeling gags that punctuate my dreams long into the rest of the night. 

Which is one reason many human sleep specialists decry the practice of bed sharing among humans and animals — particularly for humans who suffer sleep pathologies that manifest as insomnia. Even I can attest to the fact that sharing a bed with a pack of hair-trigger alarms when you’ve had one to many Frappuccinos is a recipe for a rough night’s sleep. But should they be snorers … now that’s real bad.

But this post isn’t really about us. It’s about them and what they might be feeling if they can’t get a good run of sleep due to airway obstruction. After all, snoring is just that: evidence of a partially occluded path between the nose and lungs. And it affects more than just their sleep patterns. Dogs who snore are almost certainly experiencing some degree of respiratory compromise that affects their waking lives too.

Consider how dogs regulate their body temperature during exercise. Instead of the sweat mechanisms humans use, dogs employ their tongue and airway as a cooling mechanism. Cool air tempers the heat of the blood coursing through the vessels by way of the tongue and the entire respiratory apparatus.

So think of it this way: Dogs who are unable to move air efficiently are not only more likely to suffer heat stress, they’re also less likely to move enough air into their bodies to oxygenate their blood efficiently. Why else would snore-prone breeds suffer from chronic fatigue?

Think of the typical American-bred English bulldog: exercise intolerance is built into his genes. If he moves like a lumbering hulk with his tongue lolling from his mouth, it’s not just because he’s an orthopedic disaster and has a face too short for his tongue; it’s because he can’t force enough air down the hatch and into the lungs to allow his blood to get enough oxygen. If his tongue doesn’t hang out as far as it can, not only does he get overheated more easily, his tongue actually gets in the way of his larynx, thereby occluding the only route fresh air has to his lungs. And when he’s at rest and his tongue is finally "indoors," he snores and honks like a bus.

But hey, the snoring is still "cute." It’s one reason we say we love bulldoggy breeds. Hell, I’ve got a French varietal. More than most, I understand the double-edged sword that is the "cute" snorer.

I got to thinking on this subject, not just because of my occasional sleepless nights, but also because of one amazing case from last week’s roster.

He was a big beautiful bulldog with the best temperament you can imagine, but overly fat by about ten or twenty pounds. He had been regurgitating his food off and on for about a week. He’d also been making funny breathing sounds when he got excited. But he seemed just fine otherwise. His owner finally came in because he looked like he had something stuck in his throat. He was making lots of gagging sounds, swallowing a lot, making louder than normal breathing noises, snoring horribly, and regurgitating more. And his plush toy was missing.

So I took the bait. The X-rays looked like those of a typical bulldog with "brachycephalic syndrome." Which is why I decided to look down his throat under sedation. Though it gave me the answer, it turns out this was a very bad idea.

No wonder this dog snores. I found his entire airway collapsed at the level of his larynx. His airway no longer opens and closes, it’s so scarred over. The swelling there was so intense it was impossible to pass a normal tube. Instead, I had to thread a urinary catheter into his airway to offer him some oxygen. He’d already turned twelve shades of purple before I finally managed it. This could have gone very, very wrong. Very.

Off to the specialist I sent him, who confirmed my findings along with this scary diagnosis: All that regurgitation was secondary to his real airway troubles; his stomach was getting shoved into an abnormal position with every breath this dog took. Strange and terrible, hiatal hernias are sometimes the outcome of breathing troubles. They’re part of the end stage of a process that most typically starts with … yes, snoring.

So can you blame me for lying awake an especially long time listening to Vincent’s labored snores? After last week’s adventure in life-threatening respiratory distress, a little insomnia on the basis of some "simple" respiratory sounds simply cannot be helped.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pic of the day: "Vincent gets a taste of his own medicine" by me


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