It can be a bit disconcerting to snuggle into bed at night and find your pet has already drifted off to sleep and is snoring. A partial obstruction of air as it flows over the soft palate and uvula in the back of the throat generates a vibration that causes the noise we call snoring. Depending on the degree of the obstruction, it may be a gentle snuffling sound or a very loud rumble that keeps you awake.
There are several common physical reasons that cause snoring in dogs. Identifying which is causing your dog to snore is important. There is no reason for concern for some while a few are related to a health problem that may require veterinary treatment.
All dogs can snore but the problem is more typical in some breeds than others. Dog skulls are categorized by their shape, and the shape of a dog's skull can be a major factor in whether or not he snores.
Brachycephalic skulls are quite wide with very short muzzles like those seen in the Pug, English Bulldog, Boston Terrier, and Boxer. These dogs are prone to have difficulties with nasal breathing and proper occlusion of teeth. It is almost universally true that all brachycephalic dogs snore. Their very short muzzle and very soft palate tend to cause collapsed nostrils and other anatomical features that lead to snoring.
Dolichocephalic skulls are long and narrow like that of the Greyhound, Borzoi, and Collie. Mesaticephalic skulls are intermediate in length and width and are typical of breeds like the German Shepard, Irish Wolfhound, Beagle, and Irish Setter.
Dolichocephalic and mesaticephalic dogs may snore for reasons quite different than those of brachycephalic breeds. A very common cause of snoring in these dogs is too much weight and too little activity. Weight gain and waning fitness levels are particularly seen in aging dogs. Too much fat around the throat causes obstruction. If excess weight is the cause of your dog's snoring, check with your vet to establish an appropriate feeding regime to encourage weight loss. Also increase your pup's activity level a little at a time to get him fit. The snoring may correct itself once your dog reaches and maintains an appropriate weight. Once the excess weight is gone, the sleepy-time racket will probably disappear.
Weak throat muscles, a misaligned jaw, or a tongue that drops back into the throat can all cause partial obstruction of the airways and be the source of snoring. Some dogs have a blockage in their nasal passages that is responsible for the snuffling snore. Dogs that are allergic to pollen, dust, mold, or any of a number of other allergens including cats and other dogs can suffer stuffiness and congestion. Just one more potential reason for a night-time serenade.
Identifying these reasons is more complicated. Your veterinarian may need to perform diagnostic tests to determine if one of these problems is the cause of snoring and if intervention is required.
Like some people, some dogs suffer from sleep apnea that causes shallow breathing or a brief complete pause in breathing. The next breath is a gasp that generates a snoring noise. This condition is potentially dangerous and should be checked out by your veterinarian.
No matter the cause of snoring, it is sometimes helpful to change your pet's body position during sleep. Put his head on a pillow. Elevating his head may open his air passages. At least, it may make him feel very special. A round bed encourages your pet to sleep in a curled position that discourages snoring by allowing airways to expand more easily.
If your pet snores, track down the cause and determine if it requires veterinary intervention. You may get peace and quiet by helping an overweight dog slim down. Brachycephalic dogs and others that snore due to peculiarities in their anatomy, simply need love, understanding, patience, and perhaps a set of ear plugs. The earplugs would be for you not the dog.
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With a Ph.D. in Biological sciences from the University of Texas in Austin and a masters in Zoology from Southern Illinois University, Dr. Sue is devoted to the care and massaging of pets. Read her articles here.