If your dog makes snoring sounds when awake, you may be wondering what may be the problem. The onset of noisy respiration sounds that resembles snoring in dogs who were never heavy breathers in the first place, is surely not normal, and therefore warrants close investigation by the vet. While snoring while being asleep can be quite common in dogs and even endearing, when a dog makes snoring sounds when awake, it often indicates a problem that, with a vet’s help, can be localized to the dog’s nose, soft palate, pharynx, or larynx.
A Dog Snoring While Sleeping
Many dogs are predisposed to snoring when sleeping, particularly certain dog breeds that are known as “brachycephalic.” These breeds include bulldogs, pugs, chow chows, Boston terriers, Pekingese, shih-tzu and English toy spaniels, to just name a few.
Dog breeds that are brachycephalic typically have a shortened nose, narrow nostrils, long soft palate and a relatively narrow pharynx. These characteristics make brachycephalic dogs particularly prone to snoring while sleeping and noisy breathing while awake. Problems with the airways in these dogs are often categorized under the umbrella term “brachycephalic airway syndrome.”
Most specifically, when a brachycephalic dog snores loudly, it’s because its long soft palate stretches out far into the throat, flapping as the air is moved, which causes noisy snoring and breathing.
In dogs who are not brachycephalic, snoring while sleeping may be caused by some sort of blockage in the dogs’ airways, causing them to breathe from the mouth rather than the nose.
It is often caused by swollen tissue in the pharynx or soft palate which may arise as result of congestion from allergies (pollens and mold spores) or irritants in the air, and sometimes, upper respiratory infections. In dogs who are overweight, snoring during sleep may be due to excess fat encroaching on the trachea.
As dogs age, it is also possible that they snore more. Snoring in an older dog may be suggestive that the structures in the oropharynx (the back of a dog’s throat) have weakened and are obstructing the upper airways, explains veterinarian Dr. Michael Salkin.
Dog Makes Snoring Sounds While Awake
While snoring sounds while sleeping can be “normal” in certain dog breeds or due to the presence of some congestion, snoring sounds while awake may be particularly concerning.
The medical term for the intermittent, yet persistent snoring sounds is medically referred to as stertor and its associated breathing can be referred to as stertorous breathing.
Stertor is known to occur with inspiration, expiration, or both. Stertor in dogs indicates a problem with the dog’s the nasal cavity—in general, anything above the larynx.
According to veterinarian Dr. Richard B. Ford, the most common cause for stertor include the presence of some foreign body stuck in the dog’s nasopharyngeal region. Sticks, grass, juniper twigs, peas, grass awn, foxtails, cotton balls and thread are just a few examples of common foreign bodies inhaled by dogs. The second most common cause for stertor in dogs includes cancer, unfortunately. Gagging or vomiting may be suggestive of the presence of a nasopharyngeal mass. In some cases, snoring sounds in dogs may be produced when there is a tooth abscess causing swelling in the nasal area or drainage into the dog’s nasal passages.
Another possible kind of heavy breathing taking place in dogs is what is called stridor or stridulous breathing. A stridor is a high-pitched wheezing sound that is produced when there is restricted airflow at the level of the dog’s neck, cervical trachea or larynx (voice box). This restricted flow of air leads to turbulent airflow that is usually heard on inspiration.
As mentioned, when dogs age, structures in the back of their throat may weaken. A common cause of stridor in middle-aged to older large breed dogs is a condition known as laryngeal paralysis. Affected dogs often show changes in the way they vocalize or bark (hoarse bark), exercise intolerance and collapse during exercise. Left untreated, frightening respiratory distress situations may occur especially during hot and humid weather.
” Although nasal and nasopharyngeal disorders may result in stertor or other changes in respiratory pattern, they generally do not result in distress since a dog can simply breathe through his mouth. Conversely, disorders of the larynx or trachea can cause distress.”~Dr. Leah A. Cohn
At the Vet’s Office
If your dog makes snoring sounds when awake, you may want to get this checked out sooner rather than later. Once at the vet, the vet will perform a physical examination and will listen to the dog’s heart and lungs. Special attention may be paid to the dog’s nose and mouth area and the sound produced when breathing.
In the case of a stertor, the only way to determine or rule out presence of foreign bodies or tumors in the nose is through visualization of the nasopharynx which requires anesthesia.
This is accomplished by scoping the nose (rhinoscopy) which requires inserting a flexible endoscope to examine the nasopharynx, the posterior part of the dog’s nostrils, and the top of the dog’s soft palate.
In the case of stridor, the only way to assess the state of the larynx is through the insertion of a tube through the mouth and into the throat, a procedure known as laryngoscopy. This requires a light sedative.
Treatment for a dog making snoring sounds when awake varies based on the vet’s findings. Foreign bodies need removed to prevent infections and swelling. Any masses require biopsy, and based on the findings, possibly surgery and/or radiation. Laryngeal paralysis often requires tieback surgery. Dogs suffering from brachycephalic airway syndrome may benefit from surgery to improve their breathing. Growths such as benign polyps or cancerous growth may need to be surgically removed.