April 17, 2023 3 min read

There is no shortage of stories of animals demonstrating what seem to be psychic abilities. Take, for example, the famous case of Oscar the hospice therapy cat known for his uncanny ability to predict death [1]. You’ve probably heard similar stories from pet owners, who claim their pets were the first to notice their illness — way before their doctors could.


But what about sleep apnea? Can your pet companion sense this potentially fatal sleep disorder before it is too late?

A Pet’s Keen Intuition

An animal’s intuition partially comes from its keen sense of smell and sensitivity to minute changes in its environment. Both of these things may explain why dogs, cats, and other pets can detect illness before you or your physician can. 


For some time, observational studies have suggested that some diseases result in specific odors [2]. Illness activates the immune system, which changes body chemistry in a way that results in a change in body odor. Humans can detect this change if they pay enough attention, but animals are better at noticing these changes sooner. 


Dogs possess 300 million smell receptors, while humans have a measly 6 million [3]. Their olfactory bulb — which is an organ within the brain involved in decoding smell — is 40 times larger than ours [4]! According to a research article published in a 2022 issue ofCanine Medicine and Genetics, it’s this keen sense of smell that enables dogs to detect volatile organic compounds produced by cancer at extremely low concentrations in the air [5].

But Can Animals Sense Sleep Apnea?

According to findings from a 2019 study published inSleep & Breathing, they can. 


The study in question sought to assess whether a dog can be trained to distinguish sleep apnea patients from healthy controls based on urine. Two of the three dogs detected most of the sleep apnea patients. 


Like many medical conditions, sleep apnea changes body chemistry. Sleep apnea fragments sleep, which leads to metabolic dysregulation, oxidative stress, chronic inflammation, and other derangements that may change your body odor [6]. You may not notice these changes in the beginning, but your pet definitely can. If your pet has been behaving differently around you (sitting or laying next to you more than usual, whining, and sniffing), then this could be a good signal.

Because sleep apnea can result in a number of serious conditions and make you more prone to accidents, it’s important to get screened if you show warning signs like: 


  • Frequent snoring
  • Pauses in breathing during sleep
  • Daytime sleepiness and fatigue
  • Waking up with a headache or dry mouth

Getting early treatment in the form of CPAP therapy or even mouthpieces like the  Good Morning Snore Solution will help protect your health.


References:

  1. Szawarski P. Classic cases revisited: Oscar the cat and predicting death.J Intensive Care Soc. 2016;17(4):341-345.doi:10.1177/1751143716646123

  1. Olsson MJ, Lundström JN, Kimball BA, et al. The scent of disease: human body odor contains an early chemosensory cue of sickness.Psychol Sci. 2014;25(3):817-823. doi:10.1177/0956797613515681

  1. How Powerful Is a Dog's Nose? Phoenix Pet Center. Posted: Jul. 23, 2020.

https://phoenixvetcenter.com/blog/214731-how-powerful-is-a-dogs-nose


  1. The Dog's Amazing Nose! Balance Behavior. Accessed April 2023.https://www.balancebehaviour.org/blah-1/#:~:text=The%20Olfactory%20Bulb%20is%20a,relative%20to%20total%20brain%20size.

  1. Azzouzi N, Guillory AS, Chaudieu G, Galibert F. Dog olfactory receptor gene expression profiling using samples derived from nasal epithelium brushing.Canine Med Genet. 2022;9(1):7. Published 2022 May 20.doi:10.1186/s40575-022-00116-7

  1. Arnardottir ES, Mackiewicz M, Gislason T, Teff KL, Pack AI. Molecular signatures of obstructive sleep apnea in adults: a review and perspective.Sleep. 2009;32(4):447-470.doi:10.1093/sleep/32.4.447



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