5 Common Sleep Disorders in Dogs
As human beings, we don’t get nearly enough sleep. We stay up late, we stress too much, we party too hard and we don’t take sleep very seriously to begin with. Our lifestyles, our diet and our need to constantly keep moving (to make more money, see more sights, meet more people etc) gets in the way of one of our most basic needs. And we only have ourselves to blame.
But what about our poor pooches? They’re not getting enough sleep ,either. Because while us humans need 7 to 9 hours’ sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation, dogs need a good deal more. They should be getting between 12 to 14 hours over a 24-hour period, through a combination of napping and overnight sleep, but it’s often much less. And, just like dogs can’t heal their own wounds if they injure themselves, they can’t exactly Google reasons for this sleep disturbance, or how they can sleep better at night.
Fortunately, as their owner, you can. You can help them get the sleep they deserve by informing yourself of common sleep disorders in dogs, and how you can handle them.
How to recognize a sleep disorder in your dog
If your pooch suffers from one of the following sleep disorders, he might whine, cry, or wake up several times throughout the night. He might pace around your house until the wee hours. He might seem sluggish and lethargic during the day. He might even become more aggressive or experience other behavioural changes; this is due to the build-up of the stress hormone, cortisol, in cases of sleep deprivation. Finally, a lack of sleep can damage your dog’s immune system, leaving him open to infection.
So if your dog seems overly tired, grumpy or is constantly getting sick, he may have a sleep disorder. And by familiarising yourself with these disorders, you can start bringing healthy sleep patterns to your canine companion, boosting his happiness and his well-being as a result.
So, without further ado, here are 5 of the major sleep disorders, and how you can go about treating them:
This is a genetic disorder that affects the nervous system, typically in young dogs (particularly if they’re a doberman, poodle or a lab). It leads to abnormally low levels of hypocretin, a chemical that normally helps dogs to stay alert while regulating sleep patterns. Although it’s normally caused by a dog’s genetic makeup, narcolepsy can also occur as a result of obesity, inactivity and problems with the immune system.
How do you tell if your dog has narcolepsy? Well, he might suddenly collapse on his side and fall asleep; usually after physical activity or exciting times like playing with the family or eating. Although your dog might appear to be in a deep sleep, any external noises or even petting will quickly wake him up.
Unfortunately, narcolepsy is not curable; but at least it isn’t life-threatening or even painful for your dog. It’s merely an inconvenience that can get in the way of a decent sleep. (Still though, we know that this can be detrimental to their health.) And although the narcolepsy may not stop entirely, you can manage it by identifying and blocking triggers.
During times of stress or excitement surrounding your dog, speak in a soft voice, using comforting words, and pat your dog gently to lessen the frequency of these narcoleptic episodes. You could also try medications that reduce hyperactivity or stimulate wakefulness; but sometimes the side effects of these could be worse than the disorder.
Since insomnia isn’t actually that common in dogs, if your pet is experiencing it, this may indicate another health problem. Your dog might be suffering from physical pain (like arthritis). Or he could have fleas and be too itchy to sleep. Or he might have an immune problem causing frequent urination like kidney disease. He might be anxious or stressed. Or he simply might be getting old, with his brain degenerating and his cognitive function declining.
Whatever the cause, the effect is the same: poor ol’ puppy can’t get to sleep. So how do you treat it? Well, if the sleeplessness is down to physical pain (say, because of an injury), your vet can administer something to relieve this pain and help your dog settle down. Or if it’s down to cognitive dysfunction and age, make sure your dog is ingesting plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, sardines and mackerel. Even acupuncture – yes, dogs get to enjoy its benefits too – can offer some relief.
Another strategy to combat insomnia is to wear your dog out during the day. Increase physical activity, schedule playtime to occur right before bedtime and sprinkle a few drops of lavender oil on his bed to help him relax. Lavender is known for its soothing effects on humans; and it’s no different when it comes to dogs.
3. REM Behaviour Disorder
While watching your dog chase imaginary cats in his sleep might be funny to watch, there could be an underlying sleep disorder at work. This particular kind involves physical activity during a dog’s sleep, and can often become violent. Your dog might run into walls or attack whatever happens to be nearby… including you.
If you notice this kind of behaviour, your vet can prescribe a medication called clonazepam; it should reduce physical activity during sleep. Bring your dog to the vet as soon as he starts experiencing this disorder, as it’s hampering the quality of his sleep in a big way. Not to mention putting your furniture and trinkets at risk!
4. Sleep Apnea
This might be less common that the other sleep disorders mentioned here, but it’s one to keep an eye out for nonetheless. Particularly if your dog is obese or a flat-faced breed like a bulldog or pug. And unlike the other sleep disorders, the effect of which simply hamper your dog’s sleeping habits, this disorder can actually be life-threatening.
This is because excessive internal fat (or problems with the respiration system) can temporarily collapse or narrow the airway, jolting your dog into wakefulness for 10 to 20 seconds at a time. There will be periods of loud snoring in between, as your dog struggles for breath.
Even if it doesn’t end up as being life-threatening, sleep apnea still causes your poor pooch to wake several times during his snooze, which can leave him feeling tired and sluggish. So if you hear these loud fits of snoring, and if you suspect your dog has this condition, put him on a diet, get a steam humidifier, or research surgical options.
5. Canine Dementia
This one applies to the older dogs out there. Also known as canine cognitive dysfunction, this disorder is a dog’s equivalent of Alzheimer's and can majorly disrupt their sleeping patterns.
This is because it alters your dog’s natural circadian rhythms. They don’t know the difference between day and night, so they find themselves staying awake when it’s dark and sleeping for most of the day. Of course, dogs don’t have the same circadian rhythms as humans and are bound to sleep a lot during the day anyway; but this disorder means they can’t enjoy the same quality of sleep as other dogs.
The result? Well, your dog might end up pacing around the house in the middle of the night, in clear distress. It’s a tough thing for him to go through, and it probably isn’t very easy for you to witness, either… especially if he starts getting lost in your home or wandering out in the neighbourhood, unable to find his way back. Unfortunately, just like Alzheimer’s, there is no real cure for canine dementia. But you can slow the process down and improve cognitive function by feeding your dog plenty of those Omega-3 fatty acids that I mentioned earlier.
To keep him safe, make sure doors and gates are locked at night so he doesn’t wander too far.
Help your dog get a sounder sleep
Take note of these disorders, see if they apply to your dog and make sure to get him whatever treatment you can. The problem won’t just go away, so it’s important to be sensitive to what he’s going through, and get him help early on. You can also let him sleep in your bedroom if he’s distressed… this might actually be good for you, too!
Hopefully once you’ve worked out what the problem is, and how to cure it, your dog can start sleeping better. He’ll be healthier and happier during the daytime, at less risk of physical ailments like infections or mental conditions like anxiety. Because he’s getting sufficient sleep, i.e., between 12 and 14 hours, he’ll be more rested during his waking hours, plus more settled at night. Meaning you can have sweeter dreams as a result.
Now that you know what to look out for in your pooch, enjoy a sounder sleep… tonight, tomorrow and every night thereafter.