How Older Dogs' Sleep Habits Change

Your dog’s sleep patterns will likely transform as she enters her golden years. Just as a shift in her sleep schedule occurred between puppyhood and adulthood, the physical changes that occur as she becomes a senior dog will alter her sleep habits again. Your dog may sleep a lot more than usual. She may sleep through your homecomings rather than racing to you for kisses. Or she may sleep through much of the day and pad around the house in the middle of the night. Senior dogs need more sleep because of the normal slowing down that coincides with age, and in some instances, because of age-related health problems. Read on to learn how your best friend’s slumbers are likely to change as she ages.

How Much Do Dogs Sleep?

How much a dog sleeps per 24-hour cycle varies widely depending on her size, breed, activity level, environment, health issues and age. But on average:

  • Adult dogs sleep between 12 and 14 hours.
  • Puppies sleep between 18 and 20 hours.
  • Large breed dogs, such as St. Bernards, Newfoundlands and Mastiffs, often sleep 18 hours as adults.

Rather than getting their needed zzzz’s in one long stretch overnight like people, dogs sleep in multiple naps throughout the day and night. With some variation, dogs tend to spend 50 percent of their day asleep, 30 percent awake but lying down, and only 20 percent of their day actively walking, running, playing or investigating their world.

How Much Sleep Do Older Dogs Need?

When your adult dog becomes a senior canine citizen —around the age of seven—you can expect her naps to grow steadily longer. She’ll tire more easily from exertion and need more time to replenish her energy. It’s also normal to see changes in the timing of her naps. Older dogs often sleep more during the day and have more bouts of wakefulness at night. However, any sudden and significant changes in your older dog’s sleep, such as sleeping through the bustling evening hours in your household, or getting no sleep at night, could indicate an illness and require a visit to the veterinarian.

The following are common ailments in older dogs that can contribute to sleep disturbances:

  • Dementia – Some decline in brain function is expected as dogs age, but severe cognitive decline isn’t normal and only afflicts some dogs. Also known as dementia in dogs, a common symptom of the disorder is a change in the sleep-wake cycle. This is the result of physical changes in the brain, as well as anxiety caused by increased confusion and disorientation. If your dog is showing signs of cognitive decline, including changes in sleep, changes in behavior towards family members, disorientation or accidents in the house, bring her to the veterinarian. Treatment options include medication, nutritional changes, and lifestyle modifications that are more effective earlier in the course of the illness.
  • Arthritis in Dogs – If your older dog is unable to settle into a comfortable position for sleep, canine osteoarthritis may be to blame. In this instance, pain is preventing your dog from getting the rest she needs. Osteoarthritis is a chronic degenerative disease, and treatment options—including an orthopedic dog bed, joint supplements, and other modalities—are available and more effective when introduced early.
  • Hypothyroidism – Common in middle-aged and senior dogs, hypothyroidism is caused by a drop in the thyroid hormones that help regulate your dog’s metabolism. The condition causes excessive sleep, sluggishness when awake, and obesity, but is easily treated with medication.
  • Increased Need for Walks – Your older dog probably needs to “go” more often. Give her a chance to relieve herself outside just before bedtime to help curb nighttime potty breaks. Urinary incontinence can also disturb your dog’s sleep because of wetness, cold and irritation from urine that leaks out without your dog’s awareness. Talk to your dog’s veterinarian about medical interventions and products to keep your dog more comfortable, and your house clean.

Keep A Senior Dog Diary

Consider keeping a notebook handy to track any shifts in your senior dog’s physical health, behavior, eating habits and sleep patterns. This will make it simple to mark down major alterations in your dog’s patterns, record the timing of their onset, and then easily share this information with your veterinarian. This can also be a spot to record triggers that wake your senior dog at night, so you can minimize those disturbances where possible.

Helping Your Senior Dog Sleep

Once any health-related causes of sleep problems are treated, you can make simple changes at home to ensure your old dog gets the best night’s sleep possible.

Make Sure Your Dog Gets Enough Exercise – When your dog was young and rambunctious, she probably needed little encouragement from you to get her daily exercise. But as your dog ages, she needs you to continue encouraging her activity even when she isn’t leaping toward the door when you pick up her leash or harness. Regular exercise during the daytime helps manage her weight, engages her mind, and helps wear her out physically so she gets more restful stretches of sleep.

Create a Comfortable Bed or Den – If your dog is experiencing age-related anxiety, she might benefit from sleeping in the same room as you. A cozy dog crate can be a safe sanctuary for any dog, and can be especially comforting for older dogs feeling disoriented by once-familiar surroundings. If you don’t want your dog in bed with you, place a warm dog bed and blanket next to your own bed to create a peaceful, calming spot for your anxious older canine. For arthritic dogs, look for dog beds specially designed to support aching joints.

Maintain a Regular Schedule – This is a smart move throughout your dog’s life, but it is especially comforting and helpful for aging dogs. Despite her increased confusion and tiredness, your dog will benefit from familiar activities that keep her engaged and active throughout the day. Meals, walks, play and bed should all take place at consistent times whenever possible.

Take your senior dog to regular check-ups at the veterinarian’s office and observe her sleep patterns so you’re sure to catch any issues that arise early, when the prognosis is best. With medical interventions and lifestyle changes, you’ll help your old dog get the crucial rest she needs to fully enjoy every waking moment with you.

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