Sleep apnea in pigs
There have been studies done using Yucatan pigs to demonstrate sleep apnea, or the absence of breathing during the sleep cycle. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by blockage of the upper respiratory airways in which the throat muscles collapse, the tongue falls back into the airway, or enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids impede airflow. When your airway becomes cutoff, the brain has to wake itself to signal the respiratory system to kick back into gear. This often leads to breathing resuming with loud gasps, snorts, or body jerks that may wake you from your slumber and disrupt your sleep. When a person or animal is waked multiple times through the night, the body and mind don't get the rest they need to function, leaving them tired and drained during the daytime. This theory has not been tested in other breeds of pigs though that i am able to find. So, is it possible that other breeds suffer from obstructive sleep apnea? I think so, but I am neither a doctor or a pulmonologist.....
The study done was conducted using many different sized pigs, but ONLY the obese pigs were found to have positive sleep studies for sleep apnea. In humans, a doctor would suggest a bipap or CPAP apparatus/machine to be used during sleep to help deliver and perfuse the oxygen throughout the body. During an apnea event (pause in breathing) the oxygen levels in your blood drop significantly. When this happens your brain partially wakes from sleep to send signals to the nervous system to constrict the blood vessels (tighten up) in order to increase the flow of oxygen to your heart and brain.
Unfortunately, the increased blood pressure experienced during sleep often begins to overlap into periods of wakefulness. Even though the blood pressure only needs to be increased at night when requiring extra respiratory effort to get oxygen, many people, and presumably animals with sleep apnea end up with increased blood pressure at all times. The chronic sleep deprivation that comes with sleep apnea results in daytime sleepiness, slow reflexes, poor concentration, and an increased risk of accidents. Sleep apnea can also lead to serious health problems over time, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and weight gain. But with treatment, it can control the symptoms, get sleep back on track, and start enjoying being refreshed and alert every day. With pigs, this may be very difficult though. To find an organization willing to test and treat would likely be impossible. Besides overall exhaustion, in people, its been proven to be the cause of behavioral issues and inability to concentrate as well, possibly as a result of being overtired, but nonetheless, this can be avoided by controlling the weight in overweight pigs.
It makes sense that that these giant pink creatures that spend most of their rotund lives on their sides also have sleep apnea, but the truth is that only one species of pig is scientifically known to have sleep apnea – the Yucatan miniature pig. However, they only get sleep apnea when they become morbidly obese, which is apparently quite easy for them to do, because they have no idea how to regulate their feeding patterns. Surprisingly, these little pigs are the smallest species of pig in the world. Originally, Yucatan miniature pigs were used for medical research in Europe, but over the last decade they have made their way into the hearts of the American people, because it turns out that they make great pets and they are extremely smart – just don’t let them eat too much. (Last paragraph from CPAPtimes.com)
There are 3 types of sleep apnea:
When your blood pressure increases at night to keep oxygen flowing to your heart and brain, it causes high blood pressure during sleep. Most people's blood pressure drops ten to twenty percent during sleep, but many patients with sleep apnea show an increase in blood pressure of 10-20%. They haven't done studies in pigs to see if or how this is affected. But going by that theory, if a pig has sleep apnea and is already obese, your pig would be at risk for CVA (cerebral vascular accident or stroke) due to high blood pressure as well.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, heart attack, and many other medical problems, and sleep apnea is a major risk for high blood pressure.
Here is the actual research study done with pigs proving that obese pigs are at risk. Overall, the take away message is to control obesity. It is highly unlikely that a pig will tolerate a CPAP mask at night to ensure the body is getting the appropriate oxygenation it needs to function appropriately. If your pig is overweight, put your pig on a diet and help to lessen the chances of an early death. This isn't likely anything to be too concerned about, but something to be aware of.
The take away from this blog? Keep your pig at a healthy size. Too small and they can suffer from malnutrition and deformities, too fat and they can become fat blind, deaf and possibly suffer from chronic forms of hypoxia which can lead to much worse conditions. This is all opinion based, of course. There are no studies (that I have been able to find) that have been done on the potbellied pig/mini pig, but I assume, based on my medical background, that it could happen. Click here to see what healthy versus unhealthy pigs look like and for the body scoring charts that are used as a standard.
Our names are Brittany Sawyer and Nicole Cox and we are pig parents, pig advocates and also the authors of the "Dear Pig Whisperer" blog. Follow our blog that will feature topics to help you become the best pig parent you can be...along with some other fun things. We will also feature guest bloggers from time to time who want to share their life experience or knowledge with anyone who is interested in learning.