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Your Guide to Cat Sleep Apnea: Can Cats Have Sleep Apnea?

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Sleep is essential for developing a healthy immune system and fighting off disease in both humans and animals alike. However, like humans, is there the possibility of our feline family members developing sleep disorders such as sleep apnea?

Since they sleep up to 16 hours a day, it can be difficult to pinpoint sleep apnea in cats due to their daytime napping habits. 

Some cats may have periods of deep sleep punctuated by brief awakenings called cat naps while others may sleep heavily for much of the day and then suddenly wake up. 

Observing your cat experience daytime fatigue or unusual sleeping patterns can cause concern and can result because of the lack of deep nighttime rest. If your cat is snoring or wheezing or grumpier than usual, it may be time to talk to your veterinarian about cat sleep apnea. 

Yes—cats (and dogs) can have sleep apnea. And, we understand—your furry companions are family and with that comes worries regarding their health. How can you best advocate for your furry family members? 

Keep reading to equip yourself with information regarding the common cat sleep apnea symptoms, risk factors, and ways to help and decrease the possibility of your cat developing sleep apnea.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

As a result of a blocked airway, sleep apnea is a medical condition where a temporary stoppage of breathing occurs during the night. The most common form of sleep apnea is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), which is when the muscles of the mouth and throat relax while you sleep or when there is a blockage of the passage of air to your lungs.

If left untreated, sleep apnea can result in the development of other chronic health conditions, such as:

  • High Blood Pressure: This can result due to the rapid drop in your blood oxygen levels during sleep, causing your heart to overwork.
  • Daytime Sleepiness (Hypersomnia): Because you aren’t receiving your full recommended hours of sleep based on your age, daytime sleepiness can cause brain fog, short-term memory issues, or falling asleep throughout the day.
  • Stroke: When your breathing is fractured while you sleep, your brain doesn’t receive the oxygen necessary to perform daily functions. 
  • Type 2 Diabetes: If you are experiencing disrupted sleep, your body will struggle to process sugar, increasing your blood glucose levels. 

Now that we’ve learned a little background about sleep apnea, how does sleep apnea relate back to cats? 

Can Cats Have Sleep Apnea?

Yes, cats can have sleep apnea. As your cat’s advocate, watch for loud snoring or wheezing, lethargy, daytime fatigue, or irritability. Also, be mindful of changes in behavior especially when it comes to your cat’s sleep. 

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea in Cats

As part of our family, we watch our furry family sleep and have a baseline for their typical behavior. If your cat’s behavior changes or they are appearing to be uncomfortable, try to document if they are experiencing any potential sleep apnea symptoms.

The most common symptoms of sleep apnea in cats include:

  • Loud Snoring or Excessive Noises During Sleep
  • Heavy Breathing Patterns
  • Gasping for Air
  • Restless Sleep
  • Daytime Fatigue
  • Changes in Behavior: Irritability

Does My Cat Have Sleep Apnea: What Causes Sleep Apnea in Cats?

Similar to sleep apnea in humans, the cause of sleep apnea in cats can be related to the size and shape of their airways and their weight. Specific to felines, certain breeds of cats can have shorter snouts or airways that can obstruct their breathing, leading to the development of sleep apnea. 

A cat’s airway is similar to a human’s but smaller. Cats have narrower airways than humans and can’t push out as much air during breathing, which can lead to breathing struggles. Other causes of sleep apnea in cats include:

  • Age
  • Genetic Predisposition (Breed)
  • Narrowed Trachea 
  • Nasal Congestion
  • Allergies or Respiratory Infection
  • Sleeping Position 
  • Deviated Septum

Like humans, cats can also have a deviated septum. A deviated septum—the piece of cartilage that separates your nostrils—can cause sleep apnea due to the obstruction of the nasal passageways. 

Also, similarly to humans, the relationship between sleep apnea and weight go hand-in-hand. If your cat has gained weight or is over the recommended weight, your cat’s airway can narrow or be blocked completely while they sleep. In humans and cats alike, weight gain can leave you or your animals feeling as if they are breathing through a straw while they sleep. Talk to your veterinarian about different diets or exercises that can help reduce your feline’s weight to hopefully help their sleep apnea.

How Does Sleep Apnea Affect Cats?

Cats with sleep apnea struggle to get enough oxygen into their bodies while asleep. As a result, their brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen, and their heart rate slows down. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to serious health complications, including:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heart Disease
  • Stroke

Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea in Cats

Several factors can predispose your cat to the risk of developing sleep apnea. Some of these risk factors include:

  • Breed: Some breeds are predisposed to developing OSA because they have certain anatomical features like shortened snouts that narrow their airways. Breeds with short, flat faces, such as Persians, may be at a greater risk for respiratory issues like asthma and sleep apnea. 
  • Age: Older cats are more prone to having sleep apnea. The older your cat gets, the more likely it is for them to lose muscle tone and definition in its airways. 
  • Weight: As we previously mentioned, if your cat is overweight, it is more likely for them to have sleep apnea. Cats who have gained weight are more likely to have a narrowed airway, which can lead to breathing difficulties or passage obstructions. 
  • Respiratory Problems or Allergies: Like humans, cats can suffer from seasonal or year-round allergies that can lead to nasal congestion, making it harder for them to breathe properly. Cats who have a cold or allergies may also have an inflamed airway, making it uncomfortable to breathe. Like humans, an antibiotic may be needed to clear up your pet’s ailments. 
  • Sleeping Position: Similarly to humans, apnea events can result if you are sleeping on your back due to gravity working against you. In both humans and cats, sleeping on your back causes the soft tissues to block your upper airway. While sleeping on your back may result in sleep apnea events, this would be considered positional sleep apnea. As cat owners, we know that cats that are sleeping on their backs—showing their owners their adorable bellies—are demonstrating that they are comfortable and content. Try cuddling them to their side to alleviate positional sleep apnea.

What To Do if You Suspect Your Cat Has Sleep Apnea

If you think your cat might have sleep apnea, the first step would be to talk to your vet.

As we know with humans, the best way to treat sleep apnea is with a CPAP machine. CPAP machines help alleviate sleep apnea symptoms by delivering oxygen to your airways and preventing obstructions. However, when it comes to our feline family, there are no commercially-available CPAP machines for your pets. 

Cat Sleep Apnea Treatment

As pet owners, we want our animals to feel comfortable and happy for the duration of their lives. When it comes to cat sleep apnea, there are several ways to manage their sleep disorders, which may, in turn, lower your cat’s risk of developing sleep apnea to begin with.

To help your cat with sleep apnea, first talk to your vet. Your veterinarian may recommend:

Changes in Diet: To keep your feline in tip-top shape, talk to your vet about a diet change. Cats are particular, so there needs to be a sound game plan in place before switching your feline’s food. Your vet may recommend foods that contain high levels of lean protein and nutritious vegetables.

Weight Loss: Cats that are overweight or obese have an increased risk of developing sleep apnea. If your cat has been gaining weight over time and exhibits difficulty breathing, talk to your vet about ways to encourage weight loss. This could include changes in food intake as well as increased exercise. Grab your cat’s favorite toy on a stick and initiate playtime. (They also now have hamster wheels designed for cats.)

Stress Level: If your cat has been experiencing stress, this may increase the risk of developing sleep disorders. Stressors for your cats may include moving to a new environment and/or environmental changes, the introduction of new animals, strange smells, loud noises from nearby construction, or diet changes. Talk to your vet about trying to reduce stress in your cat by getting them a comfortable new bed or calming sprays to provide your cat with a hideaway.

Advocate for Your Feline’s Sleep 

If you notice changes in your cat’s sleep, talk to your veterinarian about the potential of your cat having sleep apnea. Cat sleep apnea can result due to their age, breed, weight gain, allergies or respiratory problems, as well as their sleeping position. After discussing your concerns with your vet, they may recommend changing your cat’s diet or increasing exercise to encourage weight loss. There may also be medications such as an antibiotic your vet can prescribe to help ease any of your pet’s respiratory problems. You know your pet better than anyone—at the sign of behavior changes, make your furry family member an appointment to take their health into your hands.

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