URBANA, Ill. — The National Sleep Foundation reports that approximately 90 million American adults snore each night. And they’re not the only ones: A lot of their pets snore, too.
“Snoring is different from just having a stuffy nose,” said Dr. Brendan McKiernan, director of the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana.
He’s a veterinary internist and internationally known expert in respiratory diseases of companion animals.
With snoring, the soft palate or other pharyngeal tissues are caused to vibrate as inspired air is drawn through a narrowed air passageway. It can be caused by a soft palate that is too long, excessively thick, relaxation of muscles in the back of the throat, obesity or edema (swelling) of these tissues, he explains.
While any breed can snore on occasion, certain breeds of dogs and cats, called the brachycephalic (literally: “short headed”) breeds, are well known as snorers.
These breeds include English bulldogs, boxers, pugs, Boston terriers, Shih-tzus, Persians, and Himalayans.
Flat-faced breeds are more likely to snore because they have been bred to have short noses, which has resulted in their airways being more constricted.
“Brachycephalic animals typically have enlarged soft palates, overly narrowed nostrils, and everted laryngeal saccules, meaning that tissue in the airway is pulled into and obstructs the airway,” said McKiernan.
Problems also occur when tissues become swollen and when repeated small injuries to tissue go without treatment over many years.
In addition, thin scrolls of bone in the nasal cavity called “turbinates” may grow abnormally in these breeds, causing further obstruction of the airway.
All vertebrates have turbinates, which serve to warm, humidify and filter air, providing the first line of immunological defense against pathogens. Because the skulls of brachycephalic breeds are foreshortened, their turbinates often grow backwards into their nasopharynx, according to McKiernan.
While snoring may be annoying to owners, it does have possible health concerns for these animals. Snoring is associated with a reduction in airflow and thus to reduced oxygen levels and poor exercise and heat tolerance, which could be life-threatening on occasion.
A veterinarian with special training in respiratory diseases can identify the specific complications to the respiratory tract and offer surgical intervention to correct many of these problems.
Ideally, the diagnostic evaluation and any surgical correction should be made during a single procedure so as to reduce risks associated with anesthesia.
Excess weight exacerbates breathing troubles. For most pets, respiratory issues, such as snoring, can be minimized by keeping the pet at a healthful weight.
According to McKiernan, more than half the dogs and cats in the United States today are obese, meaning they weigh 15 percent or more above their ideal weight. To achieve and maintain a healthful weight for your pet, provide your pet with an appropriate amount of food and daily exercise, never feed your pet table scraps, and monitor the number of treats your pet is given.
For more information about respiratory problems in pets, discuss these issues with your local veterinarian or a veterinarian who specializes in respiratory diseases.