Snooze or Lose: Understanding Sleep Disorders in Dogs

Your cute canine needs plenty of sleep to stay healthy and happy. But just like humans, dogs can experience sleep disorders that can impact their quality of life. These disorders can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty falling asleep, and abnormal sleep behaviors such as sleepwalking or sleep aggression.

How are Dogs Diagnosed with a Sleep Disorder?

Diagnosing a sleep disorder in dogs typically involves a combination of a physical examination, a review of the dog’s medical history, and observation of the dog’s sleep patterns and behaviors. The veterinarian may also perform diagnostic tests such as blood work, imaging studies, or a sleep study to help confirm a diagnosis.

During the physical examination, the veterinarian will look for signs of underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to the sleep disorder. They may also ask questions about the dog’s sleep patterns and behaviors, as well as any changes in behavior or activity level.

Observation of the dog’s sleep patterns and behaviors may involve monitoring the dog’s sleep at home or in a sleep laboratory. This may involve video recording the dog’s sleep and behavior, as well as monitoring physiological parameters such as heart rate, breathing rate, and brain activity.

Diagnostic tests such as blood work and imaging studies may be used to rule out underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to the sleep disorder. A sleep study, also known as a polysomnography, may be performed to monitor the dog’s sleep and breathing patterns and help identify any abnormalities.

General Preventative Measures

There are steps you can take in order to try and prevent certain sleep disorders, such as:

  • regular physical activity
  • a nutritious and balanced diet
  • reducing stress
  • managing any allergies they may have
  • maintaining a regular sleep schedule
  • address any pain your dog may be experiencing
  • regular check-ups with your veterinarian

Common Sleep Disorders

Here are some common sleep disorders in dogs and what you can do to help:


Narcolepsy is a genetic neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles. It causes sudden and uncontrollable sleep attacks. Dogs with narcolepsy may suddenly fall asleep at any time, even during activities like eating or playing. It causes abnormally low levels of a chemical called hypocretin, which helps maintain alertness and normal sleep patterns.

Breeds like Doberman Pinschers, Poodles, and Labrador Retrievers are more prone to narcolepsy due to inherited genes. But it can also occur in dogs with no family history of the disorder.

Symptoms include sudden episodes of sleep or cataplexy, where dogs become temporarily paralyzed due to sudden loss of muscle control, especially during episodes of excitement or stress. It is often seen during activities of playing or eating.

While there is no cure for narcolepsy, it is not considered life-threatening. And thankfully, does not get worse with age. Some dogs do not require any medical intervention, while others with more severe cases, have seen that medication helps manage symptoms and improve their quality of life. Behavioral modifications such as avoiding triggers that can cause episodes or training the dog to recognize and respond to an episode have also been used for treatments.

Preventative measures include avoiding activities that are prone to triggering an episode or providing a safe environment to prevent injury during an episode.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition that is caused by a lack of oxygen due to your dog’s airway becoming blocked during sleep. This usually causes them to snore loudly, wake up frequently through the night, or gasp for air. It commonly affects overweight dogs and brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds.

Short-faced breeds like Pugs and English Bulldogs are more prone to sleep apnea due to their narrow nostrils.

Symptoms include excessive daytime sleepiness, loud snoring during sleep, pauses in breathing during sleep, and restless during sleep.

Treatments usually involve medications, weight loss management, or use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to help keep the airways open. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to correct any anatomical abnormalities.

Preventative measures for canine obstructive sleep apnea may include maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, or avoiding exposure to pollutants and irritants which could worsen their condition.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD) is a rare condition where dogs act out their dreams during the REM stage of sleep, causing abnormal movements. This disorder may be caused by brain abnormalities or other underlying health conditions.

It is unclear whether certain breeds are more susceptible to this disorder.

Symptoms include barking, howling, biting, and sudden limb movements such as twitching or jerking. Usually, most doggies will experience symptoms by the age of 1 year old. RBD can be a symptom of other primary diseases, where it can contribute to the worsening of clinical signs.

Treatments include medications such as clonazepam or melatonin, where it is seen to be effective in the majority of cases to help regulate sleep. Or behavioral modifications such as providing a safe sleeping environment and avoiding triggers that may cause episodes.

Preventative measures include providing a safe environment to prevent injuries, and avoiding activities that may trigger an episode.

Remember, if you suspect your dog is experiencing a sleep disorder, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment. They can help diagnose the issue and recommend appropriate treatment options. Your veterinarian can help you determine the best course of treatment for your dog based on their specific needs and the underlying cause of their sleep disorder.

By taking steps to manage your dog’s sleep disorder, you can help improve their overall health and well-being.

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