Is There Such a Thing as Sleep Disorders in Dogs?

January 8, 2020
It's a fact that sleep disorders in dogs can lead to problems having to do with the canine's immune system. Not only do they reduce the dog's defenses against illness, they also affects the animal's behavior. So, what are these sleep disorders in dogs and how can we detect them?

If your dog doesn’t sleep much and you’re wondering if sleep disorders in dogs might exist, then the answer is yes. Dogs, just like humans, can suffer from this kind of problem. Lack of sleep can produce serious consequences for a dog’s health. That’s why today’s article will help you understand more about the different sleep disorders that can affect man’s best friend.

Why do dogs suffer from sleep disorders?

In general, sleep disorders in dogs affect these animals in one of two ways. On the one hand, they may make it hard for your pet to get enough sleep at night. On the other, they may keep him or her from reaching the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep phase.

The REM phase is the period in which humans experience dreams. It’s the most important sleep phase when it comes to recovering and resting properly. What’s more, getting enough quality sleep at night is very important for our immune systems. All of this is true for our canine counterparts as well.

How does a dog’s breed influence the presence of sleep disorders

Experts have observed that some sleep disorders seem to trace back to genetic factors. In fact, there are several breeds that are more likely to suffer sleep disorders than others.

A dachsund lying on a bed.

So, which dogs are more prone to sleep disorders? English bulldogs, Dachshunds, Poodles, Doberman Pinschers, Beagles, and Labrador Retrievers are all at greater risk of suffering from sleep difficulties.

Which sleep disorders are most common in dogs?

1. REM sleep behavior disorder

This canine sleep disorder is without a doubt more common than the rest. Have you ever seen a dog twitch while sleeping or move as if it were running? More likely than not, this animal was experiencing REM sleep behavior disorder.

In the most serious cases, dogs can move about, run into walls, and even attack objects while they’re sleeping. Therefore, this disorder puts them and others at risk of injury.

Just like sleep apnea, REM sleep behavior disorder can be dangerous for your pup. But fortunately, it’s much easier to treat. Your animal’s veterinarian can prescribe medication to reduce activity while your dog is sleeping.
Two dogs sleeping in a bed.

2. Insomnia

There are several reasons why a dog may experience insomnia. In general, it has to do with some other coexisting health problem. In other words, insomnia is often a sign of injury, pain, incontinence, poor digestion, or some other illness. At the same time, it can have to do with an animal’s old age.

Canine insomnia can be the result of pain in the animal’s joints, an injury, or itching from fleas or allergies. It can also be a sign of kidney illness or even diabetes. Stress and anxiety are also common causes of insomnia in dogs, and senior dogs with cognitive problems may also suffer from canine insomnia.

The good news is that, with the help of your pet’s vet, you’ll be able to identify and treat the underlying issue.

3. Narcolepsy

Canine narcolepsy is a rare sleep disorder in dogs, but it still deserves our attention. It’s a genetic disorder that leads to low hypocretin levels–also known as orexin. This is the substance that’s responsible for maintaining a state of alert when a dog is awake. It’s also responsible for maintaining sleep patterns.

This condition has been observed in breeds like the Doberman, Poodle, and Labrador. However, it can also affect other breeds if an animal is obese, inactive, or has problems with its immune system. Typically, a dog that suffers from narcolepsy will suddenly fall over to one side and fall asleep. These crises often occur following a period of anxiety or excitement.

While narcolepsy is an incurable condition, there are ways you can reduce the occurrence of episodes. For example, keeping your dog calm and preventing situations that can lead to a narcoleptic crisis will help keep things under control.

4. Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is most common in dogs that are obese, as well as in short-muzzled breeds. These include the English Bulldog, the Boston Terrier, and the Pug. This condition is characterized by breathing problems while a dog sleeps, which interrupts the animal’s restful sleep.

Loud snoring is a definite sign that your dog can be suffering from sleep apnea. This may cause your pet to feel more tired during the day, even though it seems like he or she slept the whole night through.

If your dog is overweight, a veterinarian will generally recommend a diet in order to get back into shape. Another option involves surgery in the case of malformations in the nasal cavities or respiratory system, causing the apnea.

Sleep apnea, as opposed to other sleep disorders in dogs, can be lethal and therefore requires immediate treatment.

To conclude, it’s important to know that sleep disorders in dogs do in fact exist. Therefore, if you notice something new or different in your dog’s sleep schedule or behavior, then it’s best to reach out to your veterinarian before the problem gets any worse.

  • Nishino, S., Riehl, J., Hong, J., Kwan, M., Reid, M., & Mignot, E. (2000). Is narcolepsy a REM sleep disorder? Analysis of sleep abnormalities in narcoleptic Dobermans. Neuroscience research, 38(4), 437-446.
  • Bonnet, M. H., & Arand, D. L. (2003). Clinical effects of sleep fragmentation versus sleep deprivation. Sleep medicine reviews, 7(4), 297-310.