If you share your home with an older dog, you may be alarmed at how much he sleeps. Rest assured, it is normal for Rover’s sleep patterns to change as he ages. Learn how much sleep is normal for a senior dog, when to worry and how you can help him snooze as soundly as possible.
Normal Aging Changes In Dogs
The age when your older dog is officially considered a senior depends on his breed. Because large and giant breed dogs typically have shorter life expectancies, they are considered seniors around 6 or 7 years of age; smaller breeds that live considerably longer are not considered seniors until they are around 10 or 11. Regardless of when your dog is considered older, the hallmark aging changes tend to appear subtlety. His muzzle may gray. His hearing may decline, and he may not rise as quickly when you call him. He may no longer enjoy brisk jogs at your side or engage in rough-and-tumble play at the dog park. It is also perfectly normal for an older dog to sleep more of the day away — up to 16 or 18 hours even; however, some of these hours will be passed in quiet rest and not true sleep.
Oversleeping In Dogs
While it is normal for senior dogs to sleep more, there is such a thing as too much sleep. Oversleeping in the geriatric dog can result from a medical problem. Any time a dog is ill or in pain, such as when he suffers from osteoarthritis, he may retreat and spend more time sleeping. Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease in dogs that affects the joints, usually after a lifetime of wear and tear. Because dogs are much more stoic than we are, arthritis may easily go undetected for years in dogs. Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose this condition and provide therapy to keep your older dog’s quality of life high.
Another common medical cause of excessive sleepiness in dogs is hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is common in middle-aged and older dogs. It occurs when there is a decrease in thyroid hormone levels in your dog’s blood. Thyroid hormones help maintain a healthy metabolism; therefore hypothyroid dogs tend to sleep more, act sluggish when awake and are prone to obesity. The onset of clinical signs is most often gradual and includes a dull coat, reluctance to exercise and heat-seeking behaviors. This hormone imbalance can have detrimental affects on many body systems, including the cardiovascular system; fortunately, it is easily managed with oral medication.
Senility In Dogs
If you notice your senior dog has his day/night sleep schedule flip-flopped, wanders aimlessly as if lost and shows a decreased responsiveness for known commands, this may be more than normal aging changes. Cognitive dysfunction can affect dogs and is similar to dementia in people. Some classic signs of this can include: progressive confusion, reversal of day-night wake-sleep patterns, anxiety and/or aggression, house soiling, poor adaptability to new situations, loss of recognition of familiar people, and either a decrease or increase in the amount of affection he seeks.
If you suspect your dog is suffering from cognitive dysfunction, have him evaluated by a veterinarian. There are different therapies available to help ease the severity and slow the course of this progressive cognitive disorder.
Improve Your Dog’s Sleep Habits
If your senior dog has trouble sleeping, you can easily incorporate many practical options into his lifestyle and home to help him (and you) get a good night’s rest.
- Provide a more comfy dog bed. Senior dogs typically experience some degree of lost muscle tone and joint pain. An orthopedic bed is a welcome addition to Rover’s lifestyle, along with strategically placed ramps to allow him to reach his favorite high spots pain-free.
- Don’t stop exercising! Improved muscle tone makes sleeping more comfortable for your senior dog, so do your best to keep him active and at an appropriate weight. While he may have previously enjoyed intense aerobic games, long walks may now be his new preferred outing. Choose activities that are gentle on aging joints but still useful at keeping off extra pounds.
- Asses any vision problems. If his vision seems to be worsening and he wanders and whines an unusual amount strictly at night, try adding a nightlight to see if this reduces the behavior.
- Consult your veterinarian. With aging comes inevitable changes, but don’t mistakenly assume that sleeping more is just a normal part of aging. It’s entirely possible that there’s a treatable medical condition behind your dog’s change in sleeping patterns, so seek veterinary advice when in doubt.
Should You Get A New Puppy With A Senior Dog In The House?
As a veterinarian, I’ve been asked countless times over the years if people should get a puppy to prevent their senior dog from becoming inactive and debilitated. In my experience, this really depends on the dog; unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer.
Most senior dogs who have slowed down don’t like change; some will become very stressed with such a drastic change in their home and never adjust to having another dog around, especially a rambunctious pup. Others can adjust as long as you plan the introduction properly and the senior dog remains the pack leader, which can require more supervision than some dog owners realize is required, especially if you bring home a puppy who naturally will challenge the senior dog — repeatedly.
Because this depends so much on the individual dog’s personality, I recommend you conduct a bit of an experiment to see how your dog responds. Ask a dog-owning friend if you can “borrow” a dog for a few hours or more to see how your dog responds. This will aid you in your decision. Some senior dogs will enjoy the companionship and others will clearly become stressed. Another consideration is adopting an adult dog instead of a rowdy puppy. This isn’t a guaranteed stress-free solution, but a mellower dog may make a better companion for your elder dog. Remember, the golden years of your dog’s life will pass before you know it; do all you can to keep Rover stress-free and ready to face each day with a wag.
By: Dr. Laci Schaible
Feature image: treetstreet/iStock/Thinkstock