Why do old dogs sleep so much?
20th May, 2021
We all change with age. Some of us mellow, some of us become grumpier, and almost all of us get more set in our ways. And the same can be said about our beloved pet dogs.
Just like us humans, when dogs reach their golden years, they also like to take life a little easier.
That means more daytime spent napping, longer nights spent sleeping, and a reluctance to do anything they don’t really want to. They just don’t have the same levels of energy as when they were young pups.
Senior dogs are a special part of any family. They have grown to feel totally comfortable with you – and you’ve become comfortable with them.
There comes a time when it’s hard to imagine life without them. From taking out insurance for older dogs to keeping an eye on their sleep patterns, there’s lots you can do to make life a little more comfortable for your four-legged friend.
In this article, we answer your questions about older dogs’ sleeping patterns. How much sleep do they need, how much sleep is too much, and how you can make their quieter golden years as enjoyable as possible.
How much sleep do dogs need?
Most dogs will sleep through the night. Plenty like to snooze through the day, too. Suffice to say, all dogs need plenty of rest – far more than their human friends. But how much is a normal amount of doggy sleep?
According to research, most dogs sleep up to around 50% of the day – between eight to 13.5 hours. In addition to that, your canine counterpart will also spend about another five hours of their day ‘resting’. That means a dog might be active for just 5.5 hours a day.
As the saying goes, it’s a dog’s life…
Dogs will tend to sleep or rest when there isn’t anything better to do. It’s a great way to spend long hours, right? Plus, canine sleep cycles are different to human sleep cycles.
The average dog sleeps for just 45 minutes at a time (compared to human cycles of between 70 and 120 minutes). The more rest a dog gets during the day, the happier and more relaxed they are.
But how much time your dog spends asleep is also determined by how old they are. For example, puppies are likely to spend more of their time asleep. And because life often comes full circle, older dogs need plenty of sleep, too.
How dogs change with age
So, at what age is a dog considered old and therefore needs more sleep?
The ‘how old is old’ debate among humans is a common one. 65? 70? 75 years? The general consensus is that you are as young as you feel. But as with humans, canine senior status also varies – and a lot depends on their size.
Smaller dogs often have longer life expectancies so aren’t placed into the senior age bracket until they reach 11 years of age. For medium-sized dogs, that age drops to 10 years.
While for large-breed and giant-breed canines, senior status arrives at the ages of eight and seven respectively. That means that a Great Dane is considered a senior much younger than a Chihuahua.
Whatever age your dog is officially considered old, the ageing process is generally a subtle one. You may notice their muzzle turning grey.
Their hearing might decline. They might prefer a gentler amble rather than a brisk walk. And they will probably spend far more time sleeping at night and resting during the day. In fact, it’s perfectly normal for an older dog to sleep and/or rest for up to 18 hours a day.
Reasons older dogs sleep longer
Older dogs need longer naps for a number of reasons. They get tired more quickly after exercise, so need more time to recharge their batteries.
Although it’s normal for older dogs to need more sleep, dogs getting too much sleep can be an issue. But how much is too much sleep?
If an older dog regularly spends more than 18 hours of their day asleep, it could be a sign they have a medical problem.
Any time a dog is feeling unwell or is in pain, they will seek refuge through sleep. Unlike humans who can communicate any aches or pains, older dogs may end up suffering in silence.
No one wants to think about their beloved pet becoming ill, but having senior dog insurance can help keep your options open. If you feel your older dog is sleeping more than normal, it could be the result of one of the following canine conditions:
Dementia in dogs
As any dog gets older, you can expect some decline in their brain function. However, severe cognitive decline (aka dementia) is not normal, but does affect some dogs.
If you notice that your dog has their day-night sleep schedule flipped, for example, it could signal more than just the ageing process. Equally, wandering around aimlessly (as if they are lost) or failing to respond to familiar commands are both signs that they could be suffering from some sort of dementia.
The most common signs of canine dementia include: increasing and progressive confusion and disorientation; a switch in day-night wake-sleep patterns; changes in behaviour towards family members; high levels of anxiety and/or aggression; inability to adapt to new situations; accidents in the home; and an increase in the amount of affection they seek.
If you think your older dog is showing any of these signs, it’s best to seek veterinarian advice. If caught early, dementia in dogs can be treated through medication, changes to diet and lifestyle changes.
Joint pain (osteoarthritis) in older dogs
If your pet dog is struggling to get comfortable before sleep, canine osteoarthritis could be to blame. Osteoarthritis is a disease that affects older dogs, causing pain in their joints. That pain could be preventing your pooch from getting the sleep that they so desperately need in their later years.
Key signs to look out for include: stiffness, limping or difficulty getting up; lethargy; weight gain; irritability or changes in behaviour; pain when they are stroked or touched; and difficulty getting in the right position to urinate or defecate.
Some breeds of dogs are more predisposed to arthritis than others, including: Labradors (hips and elbows); Springer Spaniels (hips and elbows); German Shepherds (spine, hips, elbows); Golden Retrievers (hips); Rottweilers (hips and elbows); Bernese mountain dogs (hips and elbows).
Unfortunately, arthritis can go undetected in dogs for years, but with regular check-ups at the vets, this issue can be diagnosed and the pain alleviated.
Treatment options range from investing in an orthopaedic dog bed to hydrotherapy and joint supplements. As is the way with so many treatments, the earlier the condition is diagnosed and treatment started, the more effective it will be.
Hypothyroidism in dogs
Another common reason that dogs become excessively sleepy is hypothyroidism. Most common in middle-aged and older dogs, it is caused by a drop in thyroid hormone levels in your pet’s blood.
These hormones are what helps your dog maintain their metabolism. Too many hormones and your dog could show signs of hyperactivity.
Too few hormones and they tend to sleep more, act sluggishly while awake, and put on weight more easily.
Other signs that could indicate your older dog is suffering from hypothyroidism include a dullness to their coat, a reluctance to do any exercise, an intolerance to the cold (i.e. they get cold very easily), excessive shedding, and an increased susceptibility to skin and ear infections.
Hypothyroidism is not curable, but it is easily treatable and managed through oral medication. Close communication with your vet is important to ensure your dog is not over- or under-dosed.
An ever-increasing need to pee
Dogs generally need to ‘go’ more often as they get older, which can cause disturbance to their sleep.
From fighting the urge to urinate to the discomfort caused by a leaky bladder in bed (wetness, coldness), an increasing need to pee can be an issue.
Give your dog ample opportunity to relieve themselves throughout the day and before they go to bed to help them feel more comfortable.
You might also want to talk to your vet about whether there is any medication that could help your four-legged friend get a good night’s sleep (and keep your house clean).
Older dogs often require more frequent trips to the vets. Taking out older dogs insurance means any medical issues can be spotted (and treated) early.
Early intervention is almost always the best way to give your older pooch the best quality of life possible.
Changing sleep patterns – and how to improve them
It’s normal for an ageing dog to experience changes in their sleep patterns. They might take naps at different times of the day, sleep more during the day and have bouts of wakefulness at night.
If you notice your dog is sleeping more in the day and less at night, you could start keeping a dog diary.
As well as tracking changes in their sleep patterns, this can also be used to monitor any shifts in their eating habits, physical health and general behaviour.
This information can then be shared with your vet who can use it to help keep your older dog feeling young at heart.
If your dog is struggling with their sleep, there are a few things you can do to help them get the ZZZs they need.
Time to consider a super comfy doggy bed
In the same way some mattresses feel like you’re sleeping on a bed of nails and others feel like a cloud, dog beds also come in varying degrees of comfort.
Older dogs tend to experience a loss in muscle tone and joint pain, so the more comfortable their bed, the more likely they’ll get a good night’s sleep.
You might want to splash out on an orthopaedic dog bed designed to help man’s best friend sleep soundly.
Or, you could make their existing dog bed a bit more luxurious with blankets, cushions and all things squidgy and soft.
Make sure your older dog gets enough exercise
Puppies are often chomping at the bit to get out into the fresh air and have a run around. Older dogs may seem less enthusiastic and require a bit more encouragement to get out and about.
The best way to improve muscle tone and help your dog sleep comfortably is making sure they stay active and at a healthy weight. They might not be standing at the front door, lead in mouth, but exercise is still vitally important.
Stick with gentle walks rather than high-octane activities to make sure they feel ready for a nap once they get home.
Keep to a regular schedule
A regular schedule is a good idea at any stage in a dog’s life, but a routine can act as a real comfort for older doggies.
Keep walks, mealtimes, play and bedtime at consistent times when possible to keep anxiety and stress levels at bay.
You’ll find that familiar activities that engage your dog and keep them active will do wonders for their sleep patterns.
Invest in older dog insurance
One of the best things an owner can do for their ageing dog is to invest in older dog insurance.
Regular trips to the vets with an older pet means you can catch medical conditions early, find the right treatments and make sure your pooch stays happy and comfortable well into old age.
Never just assume that increased sleep or disrupted sleep patterns in your pet is just part of the ageing process.
Always speak to a vet about any concerns you have and make sure that you and your dog live life to the full at every age.
Petwise: Make canine comfort a priority
We all need a bit of a safety net as we get older, and Petwise insurance for senior pets can offer just that.
We offer older dog insurance at a range of levels so you can choose the best fit for you and your beloved pet.
Get in touch with the team to find out more and get a quote today.
Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.