Most people think it’s cute and funny, and it’s true that hearing a dog snore does generally make us giggle. There are thousands of hits on YouTube for videos of dogs snoring, with the most popular having over half a million hits. Of course, it’s far less funny if your dog sleeps in your room and has a habit of waking you up at night. But hiding behind that strange noise could be all sorts of problems, so if your dog snores it’s worth having a check over by a vet.
How is a snore created?
The snoring noise is produced by abnormal air movement through the windpipe as the dog breathes in and out. Several things can cause the air to move incorrectly, but in general any change to the shape of the airway can cause problems resulting in a snore. In the majority of cases, the airway is narrowed due to an obstruction of some sort. The dog takes a breath in, and the incoming air contacts the obstruction and moves abnormally, creating a vibrating noise. Snoring affects dogs of all shapes and sizes, although it’s more common in some breeds than others.
Note – if your dog’s coughing as well, check out the Pet Health Library for coughs as well!
Brachycephalic breeds and BOAS
The most common dog in the snoring videos is the French Bulldog, but other common breeds include Pugs, Bulldogs, and Shih Tzus. What these dogs have in common is the length of their nose. Brachycephalic (flat-faced, or short-nosed) breeds are very popular, and the rise in their popularity has coincided with a lot of recognition for the problems they face. Inside those squished-up faces is the same anatomy as in every other dog breed, but not all of it has adapted to their new face shape. Brachycephalics therefore suffer from a range of problems collected under the term ‘Obstructive Airway Syndrome’. This includes a narrowed airway with a long soft palate that flutters into the airway at times, disturbing the air movement and producing the classic ‘snoring’ noise.
Obesity can also result in a snore. Dogs that are overweight or obese have excess body fat which is laid down under the skin, around the organs, and in any spare space it can find. Fat laid down around the neck can compress and obstruct the windpipe, especially when dogs are lying down. This compression obstructs the airway, disturbs the air movement and causes a snore.
Although unusual, obstruction of the airway with a foreign body can cause a snoring noise as the air moves unusually around the object. The classic case is that of an accidently-inhaled piece of grass or a piece of stuck stick. Although this usually causes choking noises, smelly breath and runny noses, it’s not unheard of for animals to develop a snore without showing many other signs at all, and only when the problem is investigated is the foreign body found.
Although the classic symptom of a collapsing trachea is a cough, a mild snoring noise may also be created. It happens most often in small-breed dogs as the cartilage surrounding their trachea can be weak and incompletely formed. As they take a breath – particularly a deep one – instead of sucking in air, the trachea can’t hold against the pressure and collapses, causing a cough. Mild cases may not collapse the trachea completely, but the change in the shape of the windpipe can cause a snoring noise.
Collapsed arytenoids (vocal cords) can also change the shape of the airway and cause a snoring noise known as ‘inspiratory stridor’. This is a condition more common in large breed dogs. For several reasons the nerves running to the larynx struggle over time, and instead of holding the arytenoids out of the way of the airflow they leave the cartilage floppy. As the dog breathes the arytenoids flap in the airflow, causing abnormal air movement and noise.
Some dogs are slim, young, fit, healthy, and have none of the problems listed above. These dogs are more likely to be intermittent snorers, and the majority of them will snore when lying on their backs. This is because the tongue slides backwards into the airway and disturbs the air movement. If your vet finds nothing wrong with your dog and rules out the other diseases we’ve discussed, try encouraging your pooch to sleep curled up rather than on their back in order to reduce snoring noises. This can be done by using rolled-up towels to make their bed smaller and the wrong shape for sprawling.