For parents of senior pets, any change in your pet’s behavior can be cause for concern. Especially if this is your first dog, you’re bound to have questions: Why is my dog sleeping so much? How much sleep is normal?
If your old dog sleeps all day and night, it isn’t necessarily a reason for concern. Just like people, canines change in all sorts of ways as they age — and sleep will probably be affected. Still, you should look out for a number of things if your older dog is prone to naps, but we’re here to help. Experts weighed in on the ins and outs of sleep in senior dogs, and here’s what they found.
How much sleep is normal for a senior dog?
If it seems like your senior dog is sleeping more than she used to, she probably is. According to Dr. Albert Ahn, veterinary adviser at MYOS Corp., the average adult dog will sleep for about 12 to 14 hours a day. When they get older, however, that number can increase to 18 hours a day, including the time they sleep overnight.
When a dog sleeps, notes Kennel Club Accredited dog trainer Joe Nutkins, they “help the body recover and heal.” Since it’s normal for a senior dog to nap more often, a gradual increase in sleep as they age shouldn’t worry you. What isn’t normal, though, is a sudden change in sleeping habits. This includes more frequent sleep, deeper sleep, insomnia, or confusion upon waking. Any and all of these behaviors can be normal for a senior dog — a category Nutkins defines as 7 years old and up — but a trip to the vet is never a bad idea when something new comes up.
When to be concerned about your dog’s sleep
As a pet parent, you know your fur baby best, but you may not know exactly what to look out for in senior pups. Some things that could indicate a problem include:
- Sudden sleep changes
- Frequent naps
- Trouble falling asleep
- Disorientation upon waking
- Excessive snoring or irregular breathing
- Arthritis symptoms
Apart from sudden sleep changes, frequent naps can also be a sign of hidden discomfort, according to Nutkins, who works with arthritic senior dogs on a regular basis.
“Dogs are very good at adapting to discomfort, so may not show signs of any pain for months or even years, but this will affect [them] more as they adjust, compensate, and need to recover more, leading to needing more sleep each day,” Nutkins said. If your gray-faced pup is in pain, you may notice laziness, or even lethargy, when she is awake as well.
Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) is an age-related neurological issue that affects up to 22% of senior dogs, Ahn reports. It’s worth a trip to the vet if you notice your pet having trouble falling asleep or becoming increasingly disoriented while awake. Nutkins adds that pups suffering from CCD may become more active at night — a result of their confused sense of time. This is a great example of when a veterinarian can be especially helpful in diagnosing your senior pup and helping you all adjust to her changing needs.
Ahn also mentions that certain brachycephalic breeds — those with flat noses like bulldogs and pugs— are at risk for breathing complications as they age. Especially if they’re overweight, these pups may snore excessively or breathe irregularly in their sleep. A veterinarian can help guide you and your pet toward the best course of action should this be the case.
One last problem to look out for is a result of too much sleep. A senior dog may develop arthritis or lose muscle mass if they swap enough activity for sleep, which can result in stiffness, limping, or even lameness, Ahn states. You’ve got many natural and medicinal options for helping your dog regain muscle and keep joints strong, so it’s not the end of the world if your senior dog is sleeping too much. When in doubt, ask a vet!
How to help your senior dog sleep better
As dog owners, we can do a lot to help our older pups stay comfortable and healthy. No matter how much your dog tends to sleep, finding her a soft and supportive bed is a great place to start. Ahn recommends placing your dog’s bed in a quiet section of your home for maximum comfort and minimal stress.
Addressing your dog’s dietary and exercise needs can be done anytime with your trusted vet. It’s vital to take care of any underlying conditions so she gets restful sleep, and a large part of that includes managing nutrition and activity.
Pet ownership is a fun and rewarding journey no matter what stage you’re in, but it can certainly come with its fair share of changes and questions. Whether your senior dog sleeps all day or takes naps here and there, it’s important to stay on top of routine vet visits. A doctor can help you decide whether your pup is sleeping too much or just adjusting to her new age, but it’s always important to pay attention to your dog’s behaviors since you spend the most time with her … even if you spend most of that time sleeping.
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