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My Senior Dog Sleeps All Day: Is This Normal?

Dog sleeping cozy in the bed
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As our senior dogs get older, they tend to sleep a lot more during the day. In fact, sometimes it seems like that’s all they do — so much so that you may be left to wonder: why is my dog sleeping so much?  

Just like for humans, sleep is vital to the overall health and happiness of dogs as they age. Dogs are similar to people in that many important activities take place at the cellular level when they sleep, allowing their bodies to “recharge” for their awake daytime hours. Many senior dogs are dealing with ailments like arthritis or age-related conditions like heart or kidney disease. The extra stress of these diseases will cause them to feel like they need even more sleep to adequately feel rested and energetic for those awake hours.  

Changes in sleep patterns can actually be one of the first signs of health issues in some pets and can even contribute to them. Paying close attention to the amount of sleep or quality of sleep your dog gets can be helpful in picking up on illnesses and abnormalities sooner. Let’s discuss some important facts about sleep when it comes to our senior canine companions.

How Much Do Dogs Sleep?

Senior dog cozy laying on the ground

Most people recognize that their dog sleeps a lot compared to them. From sleeping at random periods throughout the day to sleeping throughout the night, the amount of time that dogs sleep is significant.

Research has shown that the amount of time a dog will sleep per day ranges from about 7.7 to 16 hours, with the average being about 10 hours [1]. Dogs of different health levels and ages need different amounts of sleep. 

The amount of time a dog spends sleeping depends a lot on their age. Research has also shown that older dogs are a lot less active than younger dogs. So if you notice that an older dog sleeps a lot more than its younger counterpart, that is likely normal. Other factors that can influence how long a dog sleeps include size and sex.  

My Senior Dog Sleeps All Day: Should I Worry?

Dog snuggling on the couch

The exact amount of time a senior dog will sleep per day can vary greatly — even among senior dogs themselves. Here are a few things to look out for if you feel like your senior dog is sleeping a little too much.

Take Note Of Your Dog’s Sleep Schedule  

Understanding what a normal sleep schedule for your dog looks like as they get older is important to help alert you to when your pet is not feeling well. Abrupt changes in sleep schedules can be a sign that something is not right and may be an indicator that you need to see your veterinarian.  

When it comes to senior dogs, sleeping a lot is not generally a concern if it’s within reason for that dog. Extra sleep is usually OK for a senior dog if they are acting bright and normal during their awake hours.  

Keep An Eye On Your Dog While Awake

Paying attention to what a senior dog is doing during their normal waking hours can be helpful in assessing if their sleep behavior is a concern. In general, we want senior dogs to have normal appetites, water intake, exercise, and participation in family events that is reasonable for their age. A gradual decline in activity and energy levels over time is to be expected, but your pup should still appear happy and excited when awake. An abrupt shift or a pet that seems uncomfortable or uninterested in their normal activities should be considered a concerning change.

A departure from their normal sleep pattern could also indicate a change worth noting. This can include waking up during nighttime hours, restlessness, and a significant difference in duration/depth of sleep. If your dog is sleeping a lot and acting unwell when awake, it’s definitely a concern and reason to visit the veterinarian.  

Take Hearing Loss Into Consideration

Many senior dogs will seem to sleep “deeper” than they used to. This can be partially because a lot of senior dogs experience age-related hearing loss as they get older, which can make their sleep seem deeper because they’re not picking up on all of the noises that they used to. They may be harder to rouse from sleep but should appear normal after a brief period of adjustment once awake. If they cannot be woken from sleep or appear to be acting mentally dull or abnormal when they do wake up, this may be a concerning change.

Check Your Dog’s Breathing Rate

Normal dogs, regardless of age, will have a breathing rate that is less than 30 breaths per minute when they are asleep. It is important to let your veterinarian know if your dog has a sleeping respiratory rate above that, especially if they are older and have a history of heart or lung disease. When counting the sleeping respiratory rate in your dog, make sure they are fully asleep or have been resting inside in a cool environment for a period of time.

Sundown Syndrome in Dogs

Senior dog laying asleep on his dog bed

It is estimated that greater than 60 percent of senior dogs over the age of 11 will have at least one sign of sundown syndrome, also known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD). One of the first signs of sundown syndrome in dogs is changes in their sleeping pattern. The classic versions of this disease are either a dog who becomes active at night and sleeps all day, or a dog who appears confused and restless before bed. For many dogs, this may look like an older dog who wakes up randomly at night and tries to engage in normal daytime behaviors. 

It’s important to understand that this is different than an older dog who wakes up to use the bathroom or drink water, then goes back to sleep. That can be considered normal in an older dog, depending on the circumstances. In a dog with sundown syndrome, their nighttime activity develops into a pattern of pacing, restlessness, and appearing lost or concerned that is not remedied after providing a simple solution like a bathroom break or drink of water.

If you notice a change in your dog’s sleep pattern, it’s best to turn to a professional. Even though CCD is not a disease that can be cured, the sooner you alert your veterinarian, the sooner you can begin to intervene and manage the disease to improve quality of life for your senior dog. Your veterinarian will help you come up with a plan to help your dog sleep better at night and allow their brain to rest.

Restlessness at night can also be seen in older dogs with chronic pain. In one study, dogs with chronic pain related to arthritis had more restlessness at night, which improved once the pain was managed with medications [2].

How to Support Your Senior Dog’s Sleep Needs

Old dog asleep on dog bed by the fireplace

Supporting your senior dog’s sleep needs is important in order to allow proper rest and recovery for their older bodies. To start, make sure your senior dog has a place to rest where they are comfortable and will not be disturbed. Many orthopedic dog beds have extra padding to help with arthritic joint comfort. 

When placing a dog bed in the home for a senior dog, make sure it is in a location that is easily accessible (especially for arthritic dogs) and consider having multiples if your pup seems to enjoy different areas of your house. The best dog bed is one that your pet will use. More padding is typically better, but keep in mind that climbing onto a larger bed can be more difficult for some older dogs. Consider adding rugs or extra traction around the bed to make it easier to get on and off.

Allowing a senior dog to have uninterrupted time to sleep is also important. If you have children or guests, let them know that your dog should not be bothered while sleeping. 

And again, pay attention to their sleep schedule and note any changes in it. If your senior dog seems restless or is getting up at night, let your veterinarian know so that they can screen for possible causes.  

Though doggy dementia does not have any one test to diagnose it, your veterinarian can help by ruling out other diseases that might influence your dog’s sleep schedule, such as diseases of chronic pain or metabolic disease. These conditions can also cause discomfort in older dogs. Your veterinarian may give your senior dog medication that could help them sleep at night or provide some comfort for arthritis.

Keeping your senior dog on a schedule can be beneficial, too. Having set times for walks, food, and “lights out” can help them understand what to expect and keep their sleep schedules regular. Just like people, senior dogs need appropriate exercise and mental stimulation every day to help encourage restful sleep at night.  

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