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Sleep Apnea in Cats Or Is it A Natural Feline Behavior?

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Your cat wanders all night and sleeps most of the day and evening. 
You are undoubtedly aware that plenty of humans in society suffer from a sleep apnea diagnosis, but can cats have sleep apnea?

Read on to discover the possible truth behind your cat’s night-time wanderings.

Q. Can cats have sleep apnea?

Sleep Apnea In Cats: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Sleep apnea in a human is the same as sleep apnea in cats. Your cat can have obstructive sleep apnea. Some breathing issues are likely to be present if your cat is overweight or has naturally small nasal passages.

Cats sleep an average of twelve to fifteen or more hours per day. We have rescued cats for over thirty years, and yes, most cats we see sleep during the night and into part of the day. However, we have also had some cats wandering all night and going to bed when we arise in the morning. 

I know all about sleep apnea and using a bi-pap or C-pap machine to help correct sleep apnea in humans. However, I never considered that one of my fur babies suffered from sleep apnea in all these years of cat care.

I wonder if there is a C-pap machine designed specifically for cats and if there is, how does it remain on the cat?

can cats get sleep apnea
Looking sleepy there kitty!

Because cats usually sleep a lot in 24 hours, knowing if your cat is not getting enough sleep can be challenging. And surprisingly, some cats do not get the restful sleep they need. Know that kittens and seniors require more sleep, up to 80 percent sleep per day. 

All other cats between these ages may only require 50 to 70 percent sleep per day. Humans also fit into these percentages.

Talk with your veterinarian about sleep apnea in cats treatment and prevention.

Causes of Sleep Apnea In cats

As with humans, a cat can have an underlying illness. Your cat may be restless and cry or meow during the night. Cats are excellent at hiding illnesses until they can no longer hide them. 

If your cat has a specific heart disease or diabetes diagnosis, you may see sleep apnea symptoms. Cats can suffer from other issues that impede their sleep, such as, 

  • Narcolepsy
  • Insomnia
  • Limb movement disorder
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Painful arthritis or other pain issues

However, only your veterinarian can give the correct diagnosis and treatment. Monitor your cat’s behavior and know when to seek medical help. 

If your vet finds no physical reason for your cat’s restless behavior at night, you can call other resources for help. Your vet can put you in touch with some of these resources, or you can access their website here for more information. These cat professionals are the following.

  • A Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist
  • An Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist

Treatment for Sleep Apnea In Cats

Your vet has told you that your cat is healthy. Now what? There are a few things you can do to make sure your cat drifts off to dreamland and gets a good night’s sleep on a routine basis. Follow your vet’s recommendation for sleep apnea in cats treatment.

  • Make sure that you feed your cat before bedtime. It is a good idea to put out high-quality dry cat food and fresh water before you retire. You can keep these bowls full and set them out 24/7. (Note: If you have a cat that is diabetic, don’t leave out dry cat food overnight.)
  • Engage in active play with your cat before bedtime. You may surprise yourself and sleep better also.
  • Make sure your cat gets adequate mental and physical exercise during the day.
  • Purchase a cat tree for climbing or attach a cat hammock by a window. Place a bird feeder outside by the window for your cat to enjoy watching. Have an assortment of toys for your cat and sprinkle a bit of catnip over their toys to enhance play.
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  • If you only have one cat, please consider adopting a second cat so your cat has a friend to play with and keep company. This is a toss-up because maybe these cats will not get along with each other. That is OK. It keeps each cat on alert.
     
  • Cats who cannot sleep tend to try to awaken their humans. If there are two cats in the household, they generally awaken each other instead of you. 
  • If your vet tells you your cat has pain issues, you can buy a chronic pain reliever through your vet. Many pain relievers are over-the-counter and need no prescription. 

Just as you deserve a restful night’s sleep, so does your furry best friend. 
When your vet gives your cat a diagnosis of sleep apnea, he may suggest surgical treatment and it is worthwhile considering. Talk over the risk of having this procedure versus not having the procedure.

It would be wonderful if they made C-pap machines for cats like they have for humans. However, I do not know how you could keep it on them. Researchers are working on specific devices for sleep apnea in cats, but it is far ahead of our time.

Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea causes vibrations in the cat’s nose, mouth, throat, and upper airways during the normal process of breathing. When the cat is asleep, its sleep turns into a loud snoring noise that does not allow the cat to have a restful sleep. If the cat has sleep apnea, you may be aware of the following signs.

  • Loud snoring
  • Abnormal daytime fatigue (the vet must check for infections or underlying health issues)
  • Twitching ears during sleep 
  • Fatigue, lethargy, mood changes
  • Wheezing during sleep; decreased oxygen to the lungs
  • Obesity
  • Allergies
  • Respiratory problems such as a respiratory infection 
  • Congested nose
  • Reduced oxygen to the lungs
sleeping cat

What Cat Breeds are More Susceptible to Sleep Apnea?

One sign that a cat with sleep apnea shows is loud snoring. Some domestic cats and some cat breeds typically have small nasal passages. You can hear the cat’s loud breathing and this is normal for some cat breeds. However, if this breed of cat has sleep apnea or an upper respiratory infection, breathing is that much more difficult. The following cat breeds have abnormally small nasal passages.

  • Short-headed cats
  • Persian cats
  • Burmese cat
  • Himalayan cats
  • Exotics
  • Some mixed breed domesticated cats
breathing problems in Persian cats

Related Reading: Why do cats curl up and sleep in a ball? Is it more than just keeping warm?

Sleep Apnea versus Snoring

When a human snores, it becomes an irritating issue for other people nearby. The same thing holds true for your cat, which has taken up snoring.

I have a cat who sticks to me like glue. She has always slept in her little cat bed at the foot of my bed. When Mia falls into a deep sleep, as many cats typically do, she starts to snore so loudly I think she will raise the rafters.

Many times she puts my husband’s snoring to shame. When Mia goes for her wellness visit, I will address this with the vet.

Researchers find that chronic snoring in cats has a lot to do with the shape of their heads and faces. For example, the Himalayan breed of cat has a pushed-in face with tiny nasal passages. Persian cats present the same facial features, including small nasal passages. When these cats breathe, their nasal and throat tissue vibrate.

sleep apnea in cats with breathing difficulties
Pretty cat but can have breathing problems!

If the vet told you that your cat has allergies and your cat snores, this is probably the reason, but your vet can tell you for sure if their problem lies with constricted nasal passages, as seen in humans with allergies. Your cat could be nasally congested from a cold.

Another area of concern is that cats enjoy digging in the dirt and are forever chasing objects. Did something get caught in their nasal passage, causing them to exhibit snoring? Have the vet examine your cat if you suspect this may be a problem. If the vet sees an object in the nasal passage, the doctor can easily remove the object. 

When a senior cat starts to snore, the problem could be more serious, such as nasal polyps or tumors. Polyps can be removed, tumors not so much. This is when snoring presents a severe dilemma for your cat and provides you with only a few options.


One thing is for sure, if you have a cat like my Mia, who enjoys sleeping at the foot of your bed or on your pillow and your cat is in a deep sleep, snoring away the night, you can rest assured that your cat is profoundly relaxed and comfortable. It would not be so utterly peaceful if it were in any sort of distress.

Avoid any health issues in your cat by taking it for its annual or semi-annual wellness visit and speak with your vet about any snoring issue. 

sleep apnea in cats - two cats in bed
Do you think we should get some help for your snoring dear?

Related Reading: Does your cat purr when it is asleep? Is the cat really asleep?

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