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Dogs can have sleep apnea, too

In an interesting new study, researchers at the University of Helsinki have put to test a novel technique for diagnosing sleep-disordered breathing in dogs, leveraging a neckband specifically engineered for human sleep apnea diagnostics. 

The study, published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, showed that sleep-disordered breathing is considerably more widespread in short-snouted dogs compared to those with longer snouts.

Brachycephalic dogs are most susceptible

Among the roster of favorite pets, we commonly find breeds like French bulldogs, pugs, and other brachycephalic dogs. Owing to selective breeding, these dogs have distinctively shorter noses and flat faces. However, these unique features also make them more prone to heat, overexertion, and a gamut of respiratory issues.

Moreover, it is found that brachycephalic dogs are frequently afflicted by episodes of sleep-disordered breathing, echoing symptoms of human obstructive sleep apnea due to the blockage of the upper airway. 

Such episodes induce irregular breathing patterns due to the relaxation of upper airway muscles, thereby causing sleep disruptions and yielding daytime fatigue. The impact of sleep apnea can significantly degrade both human and canine wellbeing.

“Sleep apnea places people at considerable risk of conditions such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Sleep affects the body’s immune system, hormone secretion, and metabolism. Sufficient, sound sleep is vital for quality of life. For these reasons and others, we are interested in canine sleep too,” said Iida Niinikoski, a doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

How the study was conducted

“Previous methods for investigating sleep apnea have required dogs to sleep either while connected to all sorts of equipment or within a certain type of box in a lab. This has made research challenging and limited our knowledge of dog sleep apnea,” said Niinikoski.

The solution to this predicament arrived in the form of the University of Helsinki Lung Insight research group’s investigation. The group studied canine sleep patterns using a neckband system initially crafted to diagnose human sleep apnea.

Measurements were conducted in the comfort of the dogs’ homes, using the screening device. The findings were striking – brachycephalic dogs exhibited a significantly higher count of sleep-disordered breathing events compared to their long-snouted counterparts. Moreover, the short-nosed dogs were found to snore more often.

The neckband system has proven to be a user-friendly tool for assessing sleep-disordered breathing in dogs. Though its usage is currently confined to research participants, the future may see it being widely employed for diagnosing sleep apnea in dogs in diverse contexts.

The next phase of the research focuses on identifying factors that predispose dogs to sleep apnea. “Good sleep is vital for the health of both humans and our animal friends,” said Niinikoski.

More about brachycephalic dogs

Brachycephalic dogs are breeds that have a uniquely short, broad skull shape, giving them a distinctive flat-faced or short-nosed appearance. This characteristic is the result of specific breeding practices. 

Some popular examples of brachycephalic breeds include the English Bulldog, French Bulldog, Boston Terrier, Pug, Pekingese, Shih Tzu, and Boxer.

While many people find the pushed-in face and large, round eyes of these dogs endearing, the anatomical alterations required to create this appearance can lead to a host of health problems, collectively known as Brachycephalic Syndrome. This syndrome is characterized by a combination of upper airway abnormalities that can cause respiratory distress, among other health issues.

Some of the specific issues related to the brachycephalic anatomy include:

Stenotic nares 

This is a congenital condition in which the dog’s nostrils are too narrow or small, making it difficult for the dog to breathe through its nose.

Elongated soft palate 

The soft part of the roof of the mouth is too long and can obstruct the airway during breathing.

Tracheal stenosis 

A condition where the trachea (or windpipe) is narrower than normal, making it hard for the dog to breathe.

Hypoplastic trachea 

A developmental disorder where the trachea is narrower than it should be.


This condition occurs when an extra row of eyelashes grow on the inside of the eyelid, which can irritate and harm the eye.

Skin disorders

Brachycephalic dogs often have deep skin folds that can lead to dermatitis and other skin conditions if not kept clean and dry.

Apart from these physical challenges, brachycephalic breeds are also more susceptible to heatstroke due to their difficulty in panting effectively, which is a primary canine cooling behavior. 

Additionally, their facial structure can cause dental and eye problems, as their shortened jaw can lead to crowded teeth and their prominent eyes are more susceptible to injury and disease.

Despite these health challenges, brachycephalic breeds are generally known for their friendly, gentle nature, and they often make excellent companions. They typically require less exercise than more athletic breeds, but owners should still ensure that these dogs get regular, moderate activity. 

The healthcare needs of brachycephalic dogs can be demanding, so potential owners should be prepared for possible high veterinary costs and the need for specialized care.

There has been increasing awareness and discussion in the veterinary and breeding communities about the ethical implications of breeding brachycephalic dogs due to the health problems associated with their physical characteristics. Some countries and kennel clubs have also started to implement guidelines and rules to promote the breeding of healthier, less extreme versions of these breeds.


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