Dogs with shorter snouts face greater risk of developing sleep apnea

HELSINKI, Finland — French bulldogs, pugs, and other brachycephalic dog breeds (having a broad and short skull) are famous for their trademark short snouts. However, new research reports those smaller noses predispose these pups to sleep apnea. Scientists at the University of Helsinki tested a new method of diagnosing sleep-disordered breathing in dogs using a neckband originally developed for human sleep apnea tests. That process led to the revelation that sleep-disordered breathing is much more prevalent among short-snouted dogs than others with longer noses.

Quite popular as pets, brachycephalic dogs have a shorter nose and flatter face due to breeding. This generally makes them more susceptible to heat, overexertion, and respiratory problems. Moreover, prior studies have found that brachycephalic dogs suffer from recurring episodes of sleep-disordered breathing, considered very similar to human obstructive sleep apnea resulting from upper airway obstruction. When this happens, normal breathing is interrupted by obstructed airways as the muscles of the upper airways relax, consequently resulting in sleep interruptions and daytime fatigue.

Studies have shown that sleep apnea can have a major detrimental impact on human well-being, but study authors say the condition can be just as debilitating for dogs.

“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,” explains Doctoral Researcher Iida Niinikoski of the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in a media release.

“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.”

couple of bulldogs sleeping
Photo by Piero Nigro from Unsplash

The team at the University of Helsinki Lung Insight research group investigated breathing while asleep among dogs using the neckband system. They measured dogs’ breathing while sleeping in their home environments, and brachycephalic dogs recorded a much higher number of sleep-disordered breathing events in comparison to dogs with longer snouts. Short-snouted dogs also tended to snore more than long-nosed canines.

All in all, researchers say the neckband system worked well as an easy-to-use method for measuring sleep-disordered breathing. However, its use is currently limited to patients actively involved in research. Still, it could provide numerous unique opportunities for sleep apnea diagnostics across a variety of contexts in the future. Moving forward, study authors want to explore all the factors predisposing dogs to sleep apnea.

“Good sleep is vital for the health of both humans and our animal friends,” Niinikoski believes.

The study is published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

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