Why My Brachycephalic Dog Is Such a Snore!
Does your dog snore? My Vincent does. Like a train. All night long.
Vincent is a French Bulldog. As such, he’s considered brachycephalic (short-headed). Which leads him to snore so much, in fact, that if I happen to fall asleep in his company, I’m sure to suffer more than a titch of insomnia. And between these bouts of unwelcome wakefulness, it’ll be his rasping breath and sputtering gags that’ll punctuate my dreams long into the remainder of the night.
I know I’m by no means alone. The reality of dog snoring is one reason many human sleep specialists condemn the practice of bed sharing among humans and animals. Their contention is that people who suffer sleep disorders are less likely to get their allotted amount if they’re being assaulted by the sounds of a canine snorer (among other insomnia-inducing behaviors).
But this post isn’t about our human discomforts. It’s all about them. Because if their snoring is bad for us… what must they be feeling?
The Side Effects of Snoring
Indeed, we assume that most dogs who snore suffer from a variety of uncomfortable conditions.
Consider sleep apnea, for instance: Research out of the University of Pennsylvania using English Bulldogs as a model for human sleep apnea offers convincing evidence that snoring is a problem for this breed. It stands to reason that the same could be said for many dogs whose upper respiratory conformation is similarly deformed.
Here’s an excerpt from the abstract:
“To establish a natural model of sleep-disordered breathing, we investigated respiration during wakefulness and sleep in the English Bulldog. This breed is characterized by an abnormal upper airway anatomy… during sleep, the animals had disordered respiration and episodes of [significantly reduced blood oxygen levels]. In contrast, dogs [with normal airway anatomy] never [experienced similar episodes].”
As a direct result of this sleep disorder, dogs presumably confront the same issues similarly afflicted humans do. In other words, not only could they be at risk of life-threatening respiratory compromise during what should be restful sleep episodes, we have to assume they may also be at risk of the following:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
- Dry mouth or sore throat
Problems During the Daylight Hours
But abnormal airways can impact more than just sleep patterns. These dogs are most likely experiencing some degree of respiratory compromise that affects the entire course of their waking lives too.
Consider how dogs regulate their body temperature during exercise. Instead of the sweat mechanism humans employ, dogs primarily enlist their tongue and airway as a cooling mechanism. Cool air tempers the heat of the blood that courses through the many vessels of the tongue and respiratory tract.
So think of it this way: Dogs who are unable to move air efficiently are not only more likely to suffer heat stress, they’re also less likely to move enough air into their bodies to oxygenate their blood efficiently. Hence, it’s not just sleep and oxygen deprivation at night, these dogs probably endure chronic fatigue and exercise intolerance at all hours of the day too.
Why else would so many snore-prone breeds have a reputation for their “low-energy” ways?
Ponder, again, the plight of the typical American-bred English Bulldog. If he moves like a lumbering hulk with his tongue lolling languidly from his mouth, it’s not just because he’s an orthopedic disaster and has a face too short for his tongue; it’s because he can’t force enough air down the hatch and into the lungs to allow his blood to get enough oxygen.
Surgery Can Only Do So Much
Back to my Vincent: If his tongue doesn’t hang out as far as it can, not only does he get overheated more easily, quickly inhibiting his dogged desire for play, his tongue actually gets in the way of his larynx, thereby occluding the only route fresh air has to his lungs. Then, when he’s at rest and his tongue is finally "indoors," he snores and honks like a third-world bus.
All this despite several surgeries designed to open up his airways (two soft palate resections and one bilateral laryngeal sacculectomy procedure). Sadly, there’s only so much modern vet medicine can do in the face of such disease and deformation.
Despite the fact that snoring in these breeds is clearly abnormal and requires serious medicine to treat, many of my clients insist their pets’ snoring is "cute." In fact, it’s one reason so many people say they love their bulldoggy breeds. (“All those sweet sounds!”) And possibly why some breeders continue to breed for ever-smushier faces, judges reward the most conformationally extreme of these show dogs, and demand for brachycephalics (short-headed dogs like English Bulldogs) is at an all-time high.
But as any self-respecting veterinarian will tell you, snoring is not cute. It’s often clear evidence of disease.
Not only should you ask your veterinarian how best to manage your brachycephalic dog’s snoring issues (typically either with surgery, weight loss or both), you should do your best to limit the breeding of dogs so afflicted by refusing to buy them. Rescue, if you must have one, but never add to the misery by buying into this preventible defect.
Does this sound extreme? Perhaps. Nonetheless, I’ll argue it comes nowhere close to the extremes that drive some breeders to propagate these “adorable” snorers, the extreme tastes that fuel the trade in these traits, and, most extreme of all, the fact that even surgical techniques can’t fully fix them.