Dog snoring can be cute, or it can keep you awake — but what exactly is a snore?
The medical term for snoring is inspiratory stridor. (In plain English, it means “a harsh grating sound when breathing in.”)
In medical speak, this term neatly describes what’s going on, because a snore is what you hear when air vibrates in the upper airway — that is, when the dog breathes in.
If your dog snores a lot, you’ll find this veterinarian-written article helpful. We’ll cover the following below:
- What happens when a dog snores?
- The 7 most common causes of dog snoring
- Your dog snores now but didn’t used to snore — why is that?
- Plus, we’ll share the top ways to prevent dog snoring
Ready? Let’s dive in!
What Happens When a Dog Snores?
The noise happens as the dog breathes in or sucks air down into their lungs. The crucial word here is “sucks,” because it’s this suction effect that causes the tissue vibrations that create the sound of snoring.
The biggest reason one dog snores a lot but another doesn’t? Differences in anatomy. The classic example is a dog with a long soft palate, such as a Bulldog.
Elongated Soft Palate
OK, think about a line of laundry drying on a line.
When there’s a high wind, this causes the clothes to move and make snapping, slapping sounds.
The same principles apply at the back of a dog’s throat. If the dog has an elongated soft palate (the fleshy bit separating the nose from the throat), then it flaps around each time the dog takes a breath. And if that vibration is strong enough? Dog snoring is the result.
Other Anatomical Quirks
But long soft palates aren’t the only features that can cause snoring in dogs. Anything that causes turbulent airflow in the nose or throat can result in dog snoring or snorting.
For example, if the dog has large tonsils or a condition known as everted laryngeal saccules, this causes air turbulence and the dog snores.
Laryngeal saccules contain lymph tissue that polices the throat to fight infection. It is a quirk of smush-faced dogs that the suction of breathing tends to suck this tissue out of its tucked-away location, so that it protrudes into the airway. Thus, everted laryngeal saccules are one of the many breathing issues linked to smush-faced dogs.
7 Common Causes of Dog Snoring
Snoring can be cute, but much less so if all that dog snoring keeps you awake at night.
But aside from being a nuisance, is a snoring dog something you should worry about? Well, yes — maybe. Keep these things in mind and discuss them with your veterinarian if you’re concerned:
1. Brachycephalic Breathing
If you don’t recognize the word brachycephalic, then you’ll certainly recognize the dogs. These are those smush-faced breeds, including:
All those cute flat faces come at a price, though …
The bony case (the dog’s skull) is flattened at the front in brachycephalic breeds. But, sadly, the soft tissue structures (tongue, tonsils and soft palate) remain the original size.
This is like moving from a 5-bedroom mansion in a 1-bedroom apartment and expecting all the furniture to fit in. It can’t happen.
Our flat-faced fur friends have a long soft palate that vibrates with each breath, as it gets sucked in and out of the windpipe. This constant vibration also causes inflammation, making the palate even thicker and more of a problem … so a vicious cycle develops.
What happens when you get a sore throat?
The glands in your neck swell. This is because your immune system is fighting the infection and flooding the lymph nodes in the throat with cells to fight infection.
Exactly the same thing happens with dogs.
And if the glands in the throat swell, this narrows the larynx and entrance to the airway, causing dog snoring.
Some dogs develop allergies, which show up as sneezing or snoring. This happens if the allergens are breathed in and cause local inflammation in the nasal cavity.
These types of allergies are actually less common than you might suppose. This is because canine allergies are more likely to show up as itchy skin (not that this is a good thing) rather than the hay fever signs we humans suffer from.
Your dog has a sensitive sense of smell. It’s made possible by the sophisticated network of scrolled bone (called turbinates) inside the nose. This is all lined by moist mucous membranes that absorb the odor molecules.
Unfortunately, this large surface area also makes the canine nose especially sensitive to inhaled irritants.
Irritants range widely from obvious things like cigarette smoke or dust to less obvious things like scented candles, diffused essential oils or perfume. Anything that aggravates the dog’s delicate nose with cause inflammation and could lead to sneezing or snoring.
5. Lumps, Bumps and Blockages
Anything that narrows the airway or causes turbulent airflow can result in dog snoring.
Occasionally a medication contributes to a dog snoring. This is maybe due to relaxation of the tissues at the back of the throat, leading to vibrations.
Common chemical culprits include:
- Pain medications
- Muscle relaxants
These issues usually go away once the medication stops.
7. Carrying Too Much Weight
Additional weight produces excess throat tissue. That extra flesh can create obstructions that blocks airways and make a sleeper snore.
To get a good night’s sleep and to enjoy a much healthier lifestyle, lose weight.
Practice a healthy diet and create an exercise program with your dog. You will both benefit from the effort.
My dog snores now but didn’t used to: What’s going on?
Let’s say your German Shepherd has a lovely, long snout and has never snored before. But now, out of the blue, they’ve started snoring. Their anatomy obviously hasn’t changed, so why the sudden dog snoring?
The answer is probably either infection, allergy or an airway obstruction such as a polyp or (rarely) a tumor. All these things cause airway narrowing to develop and result in unexpected snoring.
Top Ways to Prevent Dog Snoring
If loud dog snoring is making you sleep deprived, what can you do about it? Here are some possibilities to consider with your vet:
Upper Airway Surgery
If your dog’s problem comes down to their face shape, then surgery can help.
Not so much a face lift, but surgery to reduce the length of the soft palate. By trimming it back, we can remove it from the entrance to the windpipe, cut down on the vibration, and alleviate or prevent dog snoring.
However, this is finely judged surgery.
If the surgeon removes too much soft palate, the dog is at risk of food or fluid going up into their nose, or even inhaling fluid. The latter is especially dangerous and can lead to a life-threatening condition called aspiration pneumonia.
For this reason, many vets in first-opinion practice prefer to refer cases to a specialist. This has the advantage that the specialist will also assess other soft tissue structures for correction, such as removing tonsils or widening the nostrils.
If the dog snores because of a throat infection, then antibiotics might be appropriate. Because of the risk of inducing antibiotic resistance, many vets are reluctant to prescribe antibiotics unless the dog is faring very poorly.
The good news: Unless the dog has a suppressed immune system, most get better without antibiotics.
If the vet suspect an allergy is to blame, they may suggest a course of anti-inflammatory drugs, such as steroids or possibly antihistamines. These not only switch off the allergic reaction, but also reduce inflammation.
However, steroids do have side effects, such as excessive thirst and hunger.
They can also cause problems, such as Cushing’s disease or diabetes, if given for a long time. So think carefully about exactly how bothersome that dog snoring is. Or better, still, work out what the dog is allergic to and remove it from your home.
Sadly, antihistamines give disappointing results in dogs, so don’t pin your hopes on giving Benadryl or Piriton.
If irritants are bothering your dog, causing inflammation and making them snore, then try turning over a new leaf.
Deep clean the dog’s bedding, vacuum daily and remove those scented candles from your home.
Better still, stop smoking. Even smoking outside the house can cause issues as a potential irritant to the delicate canine nose, because the smoke clings to clothing and skin.
In the video below, Dr. James Speiser, DVM, DABVP, CCRT, discusses how to determine if you should be concerned if your dog snores, and possible solutions:
This is where a special camera is passed up the dog’s nose to see what’s going on.
Rhinoscopy can help detect blockages and enable the clinician to harvest tissue samples for analysis.
If a grass awn is present, it may be possible to remove it endoscopically and sort the problem there and then. Otherwise, if something more sinister is present, such as a tumor, they can collect samples to work out the best way forward.
Diet and Exercise
When an overweight pet has an extra cushion of fat around the throat, this can cause snoring. Talk with your vet about dieting the dog and gradually increasing their exercise to burn off those layers of love.
The dog’s sleeping position may worsen their snoring.
If your pup tends to curl up and snore, try encouraging them to sleep with their head and neck straight. You can do this by placing long, soft bolsters on either side of the dog to cradle them comfortably in a straight line.
Make sure the room is not too hot, because this dries out secretion in the nose and makes snoring more likely. Using a humidifier is a great idea for making the airways more comfortable and less irritated.
The popular Venta Airwasher humidifier shown below may not look very chic, but it has great reviews on Amazon. It humidifies dry room air while simultaneously removing dust, pollen, pet dander and other allergens.
Final Thoughts: When Your Dog Snores a Lot
Everyone feels better after a good night’s sleep, and dogs are no exception.
It doesn’t take many sleepless nights to produce fatigue, irritable moods and lack of concentration. A good night’s sleep is important to everyone’s overall health, whether hound or human.
If your dog’s snoring is unexpected or if it is affecting their — and your — quality of sleep, then seek your veterinarian’s help. Chronic or sudden dog snoring, wheezing or rattling can indicate an underlying illness.
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[accordion-item title=”+ Click to see the sources for this article.”]
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- Trappler, Michelle, VMD, and Kenneth W. Moore, DVM, DACVS. “Canine Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome: Surgical Management.” Vetlearn. May 2011. https://vetfolio-vetstreet.s3.amazonaws.com/59/5cda70a41911e087120050568d3693/file/PV0511_Trappler2_CE.pdf.
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- “Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS).” Fitzpatrick Referrals. https://www.fitzpatrickreferrals.co.uk/soft-tissue-service/brachycephalic-syndrome/.
- Kuehn, Ned F., DVM, DACVIM. “Rhinitis and Sinusitis in Dogs.” Merck Veterinary Manual. https://www.msdvetmanual.com/dog-owners/lung-and-airway-disorders-of-dogs/rhinitis-and-sinusitis-in-dogs.
- Lodato, Dena, DVM, and John Mauterer, DVM, DACVS. “Techniques for Performing Corrective Surgery: Dogs With Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome.” Today’s Veterinary Practice 4, no. 1 (January/February 2014): 78–83. https://todaysveterinarypractice.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2016/06/T1401C09.pdf.