How Older Dogs’ Sleep Habits Change

An elderly dachshund in a red collar sleeps soundly in a round memory-foam dog bed.

Just as your dog’s sleep habits changed between puppyhood and adulthood, your dog’s sleep patterns will likely transform as they enter their golden years. Because of normal physical changes, and in some instances due to age-related health problems, your older dog will slow down and sleep more as they get older.

A yellow lab puppy asleep on the floor with a Reversible Water-Resistant Throw

How Much Do Dogs Sleep?

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

  • Adult dogs sleep between 12 and 18 hours
  • Puppies sleep between 18 and 20 hours.

Rather than getting their needed zzz’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.

A woman wearing a field coat out walking her yellow lab on a reflective leashon the road

How Much Sleep Do Older Dogs Need?

When your adult dog becomes a senior —around the age of seven—you can expect their naps to grow longer and for them to tire more easily, with more recovery time needed. However, any sudden and significant changes in your older dog’s sleep could indicate an illness—when in doubt, check with your vet.

These common issues can contribute to sleep disturbances:

  • Dementia – Some decline in brain function is expected as dogs age, but severe cognitive decline or dementia isn’t normal and only afflicts some dogs; a common symptom of the disorder is a change in the sleep-wake cycle. 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, consult with your vet.
  • Arthritis – A chronic, degenerative disease, osteoarthritis causes pain that prevents your dog from getting the rest they need. Consider investing in an orthopedic dog bed, the memory foam is easy on joints and minimizes pressure points.
  • Hypothyroidism – Caused by a drop in the thyroid hormones that help regulate your dog’s metabolism, hypothyroidism 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 your dog a chance to relieve themselves outside just before bedtime to help curb nighttime potty breaks. If your dog is struggling with incontinence, talk to your vet about solutions to keep your dog more comfortable, and your house clean.

Tip: If you notice differences in your dog’s sleep habits, physical health, or behavior, track major changes, their timing, and any possible triggers so you can note any patterns and share this info with your vet, catching any potential issues early, when the prognosis is best.

An older golden retriever mid-shake as water sprays in every direction

Helping Your Senior Dog Sleep

  • Exercise is key – While your older dog may be slowing down, regular exercise helps manage a healthy weight, engages your dog mentally, and helps physically wear them out so your dog is able to get more restful stretches of sleep for optimal recovery. 
  • Give your dog a sanctuary – Every dog needs a den. A cozy dog bed or crate can be especially comforting for older dogs feeling disoriented by once-familiar surroundings. For arthritic dogs, look for dog beds specially designed to support aching joints.
  • Rely on routine – This is a smart move throughout your dog’s life, but it is especially comforting and helpful for aging dogs. Your dog will benefit from familiar activities that keep them engaged and active throughout the day. Meals, walks, play, and bed should all take place at consistent times whenever possible.

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