Can Pets Experience Sleep Disorders?

Can Pets Experience Sleep Disorders?

Cats and dogs experience many of the same sleep disorders that humans do. A pet parent with insomnia may wake one night to discover their four-legged companion is equally restless! And, just like humans, pets with sleep apnea will snore in their sleep and frequently jolt awake.

Treatment is fairly similar, too—melatonin, pain medication and stress management can all improve the quality of life for pets with sleep disorders. Take a look at the most common sleep disorders in pets and what you can do to help them get some better shut-eye.

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea occurs when the airways temporarily narrow or collapse. When this happens, the pet will suddenly wake up but fall back asleep in less than a minute. Pets with sleep apnea experience symptoms such as loud snoring and low energy due to poor sleep quality.

Sleep apnea is very rare in dogs and virtually unheard of in cats. But since the disorder is potentially life threatening, owners who suspect sleep apnea should speak with a vet about treatment options.

One risk factor for sleep apnea in dogs is obesity. If your dog is obese, the vet may recommend weight loss through exercise and a restricted diet. Another group that’s at risk is any dog breed with abnormally shaped airways, like pugs. In this case, the only treatment for sleep apnea is reconstructive surgery to promote better air flow.

iStock-1160996835 (1)


Many humans are all too familiar with insomnia. It’s a sleep disorder characterized by frequently waking in the middle of the night and difficulty falling back asleep. Pets with insomnia may keep their owners up at night with increased activity, whining or crying. Insomnia is also associated with daytime sleepiness and less interest in playing.

For pets, insomnia always has an underlying cause. They might be in pain due to arthritis or a recent injury. Perhaps something in their environment is causing stress or anxiety, making it nearly impossible to catch some shut-eye. Senior pets naturally experience cognitive decline, which can throw off their sleep-wake cycle.

Treatment will depend on the cause of insomnia. For instance, a vet may prescribe pain medication or an antihistamine to manage sore joints, a recovering injury or skin allergies. Omega-3 fatty acids promote cognitive function, while melatonin helps pets fall asleep at night. Unlike other sleep disorders, treatment for insomnia is all about addressing the cause rather than the disorder itself.


Narcolepsy can occur in both cats and dogs. A pet with narcolepsy will lose consciousness without warning and enter the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. Their body goes limp, and they fall to the floor. Common triggers for narcolepsy include exciting events and physical activity. Narcoleptic episodes seem alarming, but they’re neither painful nor life threatening.

While owners can’t prevent a narcoleptic episode, they can reduce their frequency with medication. Prescription medicines are available that can reduce hyperactivity and promote wakefulness during the day. The reduction in hyperactivity makes pets less likely to experience an episode during excitement, like an owner arriving home or a trip to the dog park.

Pet parents should also learn what triggers the pet’s narcoleptic episodes. When they know an episode is about to happen, they can shorten its duration by preparing to gently wake the pet. External stimuli like noise, speaking or petting can help your pet regain consciousness in seconds.

iStock-1069317442 (1)


Cataplexy is similar to narcolepsy—the key difference being cataplectic pets remain conscious throughout the episode. Also, cataplexy is caused by intense emotion rather than physical activity. The pet will collapse on their side with temporary muscle paralysis. However, they’ll stay completely aware of their surroundings. You can tell the pet is still awake because their eyes are open and tracking movement. Just like narcolepsy, the episodes are painless and usually last less than a minute.

Treatment of cataplexy involves learning what triggers the pet’s excitement, stress or fear. Try to avoid these situations or diminish them if possible. While the disorder itself is harmless, cataplexy leaves pets vulnerable to attack if they’re around other animals or in outdoor environments. Supervise your pet around stairs, pools and dog parks. Owners can ease pets out of a cataplectic episode with kind words and gentle petting.

Sleep disorders can negatively affect a pet’s quality of life by causing daytime sleepiness or abnormal behavior issues. While sleep disorders are rarely life threatening, a consultation with your vet is necessary so the pet can live their life to the fullest. With the proper treatment, some sleep disorders are even curable! The sooner you speak with a vet, the sooner your fur baby can get a good night’s rest.