My dog is getting harder to wake up!

Bumps our 13 year old Goldie is getting harder to wake

If recently you are finding that your dog is getting harder to wake up, then there could be a large variety of reasons and most of them are things that you should worry about. 

This article will come at this topic from the standpoint of old dogs- that the dog that you are struggling to wake up is in their senior years.

The main reason that your old dog is harder to wake up is because its senses weren’t as sharp as they once were, it may appear to be in a “deep” sleep.

With less than perfect hearing, sense of smell and eyesight your old friend is able to switch off better than it once did. 

Let’s unpack a few of these ideas by answering a few simple questions. 

What do I mean by older dog?

Those in the know, categorise an old dog as being 6 years old or more for larger breed dogs. 

If your dog is a smaller breed of dog, they don’t reach old age until they are seven! 

How Long Do Dogs Sleep? 

In any 24 hour period, an adult dog will sleep between 12 and 14 hours asleep. 

They will spend an average of 5 hours per day walking, or exploring their world. 

The remaining 5 hours will be spent resting. 

How do older dogs sleep? 

From around the age of 6 or 7 years old, a dog will gradually increase the number of hours that they sleep and decrease the number of hours that they are up and about. 

A quick look around in forums and the like shows that dogs who are approaching the last months of life are sleeping for up to 20 hours in any 24 hour period. 

Do older dogs need more sleep than younger dogs? 

It is a well known fact that older dogs sleep more than younger ones as mentioned here and here. 

Why do they need more sleep?

The aging process for any animal, humans included, leads to a decline in physical and cognitive performance. 

Energy levels drop and so older dogs cannot “keep going” for as many hours in a day as they once could.

As a result of this, they sleep more.

Part of this is because they need to recover for longer from any periods of activity. 

Their bodies aren’t as efficient because their organs such as their heart and lungs aren’t as strong as they once were and so it takes them longer to reset.

And I think that an older dog becomes less efficient at sleeping in and of itself.

In order to get their bodies back to 100%, they need to sleep for longer.  

Humans vs Dogs

An interesting parallel can be made with humans.

As people enter their senior years, part of the aging process and deterioration process is that we become less good at sleeping.

It is a common misconception that older people need less sleep than younger people. 

And you know what? That is rubbish. Adults of all ages need about the same amount of sleep.

It is just that for a number of reasons (to do with a decline in physical and mental processes) older people aren’t as good at sleeping as younger people. 

And so on average older people get less sleep. But they could do with more. 

And there has been lots of research on this. 

Could it be similar for dogs? In truth, we will never know until enough research hasn’t been done. 

What we do know about dog sleep

Different levels of sleep

Dogs, like humans, have two main stages of sleep:

* Short wave sleep (SWS) and 

* Rapid Eye Movement (REM)

Let’s note down some key facts about these two stages of sleep

SWS 

It is the first stage of sleep.

It is a lighter type of sleep- dogs can wake up from it quicker.

Mind and body start to relax

REM

Can move between SWS and REM within 20 minutes

Your dog’s eyes will twitch, legs will move and you may hear groaning.

10% of a dog’s sleep is spent in REM.

In terms of deep sleep, what I have noticed with our dogs is that I am much more likely to see and hear activity from the REM stage of sleep from our 4 year old as opposed to our 13 year old. 

And that I will most likely observe it in the evening of a day on which she has had a much longer walk- or a walk that has been far more taxing… 

And what a performance! Her eyes will open and close as if she is in some kind of horror film and her toes and legs will twitch enough to make you believe that she is running. 

And in top if that is the noise. Most often it is a quiet but high pitched wimper almost like a laugh but at other times, it is a full on wail: one continuous noise for a few seconds. The wail is very disturbing to hear… 

During this stage and it is the first stage of sleep that dogs enter. 

This stage of sleep is easier for a dog to wake up from to wake up fromAlthough the way that dogs move between these two stages of sleep is much different between people and dogs.

Although the way it happens in dogs is completely different. 

5 other factors (apart from age) that impact on sleep

But, it is important to note that age is only one of a range of key factors that impact on how a dog sleeps. 

These factors include: 

*size- larger breeds of dogs need more sleep than smaller dogs

*breeds- working breeds of dogs such as Border Collies or Australian Shepherds need less sleep than other similar sized breed of dog

*environment- as I am writing this article on a baking hot day and I expect my dogs to be sleep far more than usual.

*health/ illness- healthy dogs need less sleep than dogs that are poorly. 

Conditions in dogs that can hinder sleep

Although many older dogs seem to sleep so soundly that they struggle to wake up, there are plenty of other senior dogs who have real difficulty getting good quality sleep. 

And there are 5 main reasons for this.

*Dementia 

Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) is when a dog’s brain reduces in function in the latter stages of life. It affects many areas of a dog’s daily life, including messing around with the sleep/ wake cycle, where the quality of a dog’s sleep declines.

*Environmental

As a dog grows older, very frequently they become more anxious and confused. Routine and consistency become more important in their and any changes might upset your dog- enough to disturb their sleep. 

A big one for my old dog is food based. Bumps, has become very unsettled in the run up to her evening meal and again in the evening before bed time when she is expecting a biscuit. She will not sleep for an hour or two before the meal! 

*Arthritis

Joint pain can make sleeping very difficult for an older dog, particularly if they have joint pain that affects their normal sleeping positions

*Hypothyroidism

This condition is a result of a thyroid gland that isn’t working properly, it is underperforming. The thyroid is important in regulating a dog’s metabolism and there are several symptoms, including increased lethargy.

*Toileting

As dogs grow old, their ability to control their bladder worsens. I am not talking here about incontinence, I am talking about a process that is a natural part of aging for us all. For our senior dogs it means they need to go into the garden far more frequently, which can have an impact on their sleep.

How to gently wake up a sleeping dog

Should dogs even be woken up? It seems that some people believe that you shouldn’t ever wake up a dog that is sleeping, just in case the dog is startled and snaps at you.

And so again, this is something that will need to be left to individual owners who know their dogs inside and out.

For me, I would not hesitate to wake up Bumps because I know that she would never snap. 

I think people have the greatest need to wake their dog at the beginning and end of the day.

For many of us who need to go out to work in the morning, we need to get up at a certain time in order to get everything done and this will include walking and feeding the dogs.

If you have an elderly dog who is generally still asleep at these times, what should you do?

I guess the key thing here is to do it very gently and quietly so that you don’t frighten the dog. 

One of the best ways to do it, without having to touch your dog, could be to lay a few tasty treats around where it is sleeping and hopefully the dog will smell them and wake up.

How to help your dog sleep

There are several things that you can try in order to help your elderly dog sleep better. And there are no surprises here, these are the foundations of any loving human to dog relationship. 

Different options

In my experience, dogs like to change the location of where they sleep every few hours. And so for our dogs that means that overnight they are in a room which has a few different options- a sofa, a couple of dog beds on the floor and  access to a cool stone floor. 

But, each to their own, your elderly dog might crave the security of a crate!

Comfortable

Make sure that, among the options, your dog has a bed that is comfortable and provides some cushioning or “softness” from the floor. 

For our dogs, this means a leather sofa! (Photo)

Routine

Dogs of all ages love routines. As we have mentioned before, senior dogs crave routine even more. 

Create a consistent routine so that your dog knows what is happening next- all the things that are going to happen before they go to sleep at night. 

For me this is fairly standard as it involves a biscuit from my wife as she goes to bed. Then a while later, I take them out to the garden to do their “business” and then it is another biscuit and lights out. There is no chance that Bumps will sleep without those biscuits- she will just stare forlornly at me.

Exercise

This is a crucial part of any dog’s routine during their entire life- it is just that duration of it changes. 

As long as a dog can stand and walk, they need to be taken out on walks because this will help their mental and physical health- and not to mention that for many older dogs the physical act of walking will help in their ability to “poop”. 

Diet

The correct amount of high quality food. 

This is particularly difficult with older dogs because for many their love of food remains very high but as they exercise less, to maintain a healthy weight, they need smaller portions. 

And reducing portion sizes for older food loving dogs is very, very hard to do.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are elderly dogs who lose their appetite. Here the challenge is to get enough calories in them. And experience that I have yet to witness first hand.

Closing Thoughts

If you are finding that your elderly dog is getting harder to wake up, this is probably just part of the aging process and in and of itself it should not be too much to worry about.

Just keep an eye on how much sleep your dog is getting in any 24 hour period to make sure that it is not too much and if you do need to wake your dog up, follow our guidelines for doing it gently.