We all love our pets. We treat them like family members, and in many ways we treat them better than people.
But can they cause you misery where you least expect it? Indeed: snoring pooches in our bed can wreak havoc on our sleep. And we're not always as inclined to kick them out as we would a snoring spouse.
- If you suffer from insomnia aside from your snoring bed partner, then your problems finding sleep are even more challenging -- especially if you awaken in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep due to the nasally roar of your neighbor.
- The same physical issues experienced by humans when they snore (airway obstruction) must also affect snoring dogs. Dogs who snore are almost certainly experiencing some degree of respiratory compromise that affects their waking lives, too. (So yes, I guess dogs can be victims of sleep apnea just like humans.)
- But unlike humans, dogs don't sweat; they regulate their body temperature through panting -- using their tongue and airway as a cooling mechanism. 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 -- which helps explain why snore-prone breeds can suffer from chronic fatigue.
- Dogs that endure a lifetime of poor breathing can end up getting hiatal hernias, which can be life-threatening. So yes, something as seemingly harmless as snoring can instigate other health troubles that create a domino effect down a dangerous path. But then again, the same can be said for humans who snore due to something like obstructive sleep apnea, which can trigger respiratory and circulatory distress farther down the line.
All this brought to mind a recent headline about dogs who die while traveling on planes. It turns out that short-snouted dogs are most likely to die on planes: bulldogs, pugs, and similar breeds made up about half of deaths in past five years. Short-nosed breeds, known as "brachycephalic" in the dog world, have a skull formation that affects their airways. They can't cool themselves off so easily and are prone to heat distress and, in severe cases, death.
Luckily, humans have similarly-shaped nasal passages. What distinguishes those who snore and may suffer health consequences from those who don't is usually related to something other than the shape of one's nose. Body weight (especially neck circumference) is one such factor. The thicker your neck, the higher your risk for snoring, among other health challenges.
But it's interesting how the problems that plague our four-legged friends aren't all too different. Dogs and humans share more than meets the eye. In addition to sharing beds, they can share a bad night's sleep.
Which is why I always advocate that people and pets keep separate bunks. And watch out: letting your pet have a piece of your slumbering space might be a hard habit to break once they've gotten used to it. Something else to keep in mind: your allergies. Over time it's quite easy to develop allergies to pets and not realize it. If you wake with a stuffy nose every day, put fido or fluffy in their own space. While that may mean off the bed, it could just mean a special space on the bed that they can call their own. This way you both can get a good night's rest.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™