My Dog Is Getting Harder To Wake Up… Should I Be Worried?

My dog is getting harder to wake up
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As your pup reaches its senior years, you may find that it is getting harder and harder to wake up. What was once a vibrant, hyperactive dog now spends most of its day sleeping- snuggled up with its favorite blanket and toys.

There could be several reasons why it’s become a more difficult task to awaken your best friend. Depending on the dog’s age and health, it may be a critical early warning sign worth paying attention to.

If you have found yourself wondering more frequently, “My dog is getting harder to wake up- why?”, this article will explore some of those reasons and the things that you can do about it.

As dogs get older, they start to lose their hearing, sense of smell, and eyesight. For that reason, much like your grandparents, your dog likely finds deep sleep an easier achievement than when it was a young adult.

Factors that Impact A Dog’s Sleep And Waking

Black and white dog lying on white cushion sofa

Several things will impact a dog’s sleep, including:

Health

A healthy dog is generally a well-rested dog. If your dog has an illness, that will likely affect the quality of its sleep.

The lower sleep quality may create a feedback loop of more health problems and even worse sleep, so it’s important to make sure your dog is relieving all the veterinary help you can give it.

If your dog is sleeping too much, that could be a sign of a loss of hearing, canine depression, hypothyroidism, or diabetes.

Breed

Working dogs such as Australian Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, and Great Danes tend to sleep less than other breeds of the same size.

Bred to stay awake for long and difficult tasks, working dogs lie around less than breeds which weren’t bred for difficult tasks.

Some dogs are more prone to sleep apnea if they are overweight, such as English Bulldogs. Dogs with short noses, like Rottweilers, Mastiffs, and Pugs, also tend to develop sleep apnea.

Vets usually prescribe a special diet for overweight dogs, while surgery is sometimes the best option for dogs genetically born with obstructed nostrils.

Size

Larger dogs sleep longer than smaller dogs. Big dogs tire easier than small pups due to their size, and as they get older, they sleep longer on average.

Environment

A study found that dogs kept outside have different sleep patterns than dogs that primarily live or sleep indoors. The same study showed that dogs that are away from their familiar territory also have different sleep patterns.

Some dogs prefer a crate, while nearly all old dogs enjoy sleeping over something with a bit of cushioning. Be sure to pick the right bedding and sleep environment for your senior pup.

Health Conditions of Aging Dogs That May Affect Sleep

Brown and white beagle half asleep

Older dogs often have no trouble getting to sleep, but the sleep many of them get is low quality. If their sleep is low-quality, they may still be tired even after snoozing for a whole night- making them harder to wake up as a result.

Some conditions that may cause your dog to have poor sleep include:

Arthritis

Elderly dogs are prone to arthritic joint pains (osteoarthritis). Your old dog may be unable to sleep due to the pain. Dogs suffering from arthritis frequently sleep in odd positions in an attempt to escape some of the pain, and this makes sleeping difficult.

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Weaker Bladder Control

Like humans, when dogs get old they slowly lose control of their bladder. Your dog may be visiting the yard more frequently, affecting their sleep cycles.

Excessive toileting may be a clue for other, more serious conditions. If your dog’s quality of life has decreased from their lower bladder control, or if they appear to be in pain, report the situation to your vet.

Hypothyroidism

When your dog’s thyroid isn’t at its best, their metabolism goes out of whack. Among other symptoms, hypothyroidism may lead to lethargy in dogs.

Anxiety

Short-coated white dog lying on concrete

In their later years, dogs lose a large amount of cognitive ability. A small break in their routine may lead to confusion and anxiousness.

Anxiety in dogs is often tied to feeding routines and attachment, so establishing a consistent feeding or snack routine will help lower your dog’s anxiety. A fixed feeding schedule also helps regulate a common tendency in old dogs to be more active at night.

While it’s standard for vets to prescribe medication for senior dogs suffering from sleep problems, many people are turning to alternatives.

CBD is a natural supplement that your vet may approve for treating your old dog’s anxiety, as well as arthritis symptoms. Ask a veterinarian if CBD-based products for your dog, as there is less research on the effects of CBD on animals beyond humans.

Also, if your dog is truly sleeping too much rather than compensating for lower quality sleep, CBD can potentially make it even harder to wake them up.

Dementia

Dogs suffer from a disorder similar to dementia, known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD). A diagnosis of CCD generally includes lower cognitive functions, and these affect canine circadian rhythm.

According to Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer of the American Kennel Club, several behavioral changes can inform whether you should speak with a vet:

● Pain and discomfort

● Sleeping in new places, like closets.

● Falling asleep while sitting up or standing, which are possible signs of a heart condition.

● Unresponsive to sounds or stimuli, a sign of hearing loss.

● Wandering around at night in a confused or disoriented state, indicating a possible cognitive disorder.

How Do I Wake Up My Old Dog?

Long-haired white dog sleeping

If your dog is sleeping right through mealtimes, or if the old pup is sleeping on the remote again, you unfortunately have to disturb them from their peaceful slumber.

However, old dogs tend to startle easier. Some dogs are snappy, and it’s up to the owner to know their dog’s temperament well enough.

My neighbor has five old Dobermans, and only one of them is snappy. The other four are harmless sausages. We’re always extra careful when waking up that grumpy fella.

Most of us need to wake the dog early in the morning, as that’s when we tend to fit our pet routines like feeding and toileting into our checklist before heading to work.

You could try setting your dog’s favorite treats just out of reach. If your dog wakes up after smelling the aroma, morning treats may be a beneficial addition to your pet routine.

Beyond tempting your pup with treats, the best approach is to wake the dog gently and without making any startling noises.

What Classifies As An Older Dog?

For larger dog breeds, old age begins around six years. Smaller breeds start to feel their age around seven.

Dogs around the age of 13 to 15 are well into the latter half of their senior (or geriatric) years.

Depending on your dog’s size, that is the equivalent of 70 to 115 human years. So go easy on Lassie if she’s unresponsive! She’ll be slower to react nowadays, and very deserving of some rest in her golden years.

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How Long Should Dogs Sleep?

Three black and white dogs sleeping
Our three dogs, doing what they do best!

Adult dogs need about 12 to 14 hours of sleep and another five hours of rest for optimal overall health. However, it’s not an easy task to enforce longer or shorter sleeping hours on a dog of any age.

Older dogs (six or seven years and above) spend less time wandering and exploring, and progressively more time sleeping or resting.

As a dog enters its final months of life, it may sleep for over 18 hours per day. Bigger senior dogs, such as Saint Bernards, tend to sleep for longer periods.

Anyone who’s owned a dog for several years and into its old age will attest that older dogs need much more downtime than younger pups.

The aging process for dogs is the same as all other animals, in that their physical performance and cognition begins to decline. With lower energy comes more shuteye.

As a dog’s body ages, the heart and lungs stop functioning as efficiently as they once did.

Weaker vitals means longer recovery time, like a laptop with an old battery that needs to charge for most of the day to keep going. Dogs don’t come with batteries (yet), but they similarly lose their ability to hold a charge over 24 hours.

People are the same because our “batteries” wear out over time. The old myth of elderly people requiring less sleep than youth? It’s just that, a myth! We all need a solid eight to nine hours of sleep, and it requires a strong set of organs to keep the blood pumping and the neurons firing.

The reason older people, on average, get less sleep at night is that it’s more difficult for them to get adequate, deep REM sleep. More research needs to be done on sleep and sleep disorders, but the truth is likely very similar for both humans and other animals, including dogs.

It could even be that common causes of less deep sleep in elderly people, such as sleep apnea and insomnia, are similarly prevalent in aging dogs.

How Do Dogs Sleep?

A dog’s stages of sleep are a part of its sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, which is slightly different from a human’s. Just like us, however, dogs have two primary stages of sleep:

Non-rapid Eye Movement (NREM)

In this first and lighter stage of sleep, also called the “slow-wave” state of sleep, a dog is more prone to waking. One study showed that dogs spend 23% of 24 hours in slow-wave sleep.

Rapid Eye Movement (REM)

If your dog is twitching, kicking, or making funny noises while asleep, it’s probably in the REM stage. Over 24 hours, dogs spend about ten to 12% of sleep time in REM. In contrast, humans spend about 25% of their sleep in REM.

What Will Help An Old Dog Sleep Well?

Happy old Labrador

Below are a few things to consider if you’d like to improve your old dog’s sleep.

Plenty of Exercise

Exercise has incredible benefits for dogs of all ages and is certainly healthier than a sedentary lifestyle. It’s important to be aware of your dog’s weak points.

Arthritis symptoms in dogs, for example, may reduce with the proper exercise, such as swimming.

Walk your dog often, and on a consistent schedule. Whether it is overweight, rehabilitating, or simply old, your vet will recommend a proactive exercise plan.

Healthy Diet

It always helps to give your pooch a diet of high-quality nutrition. The right diet may help offset senior dogs’ behavioral changes due to aging.

Old dogs often love food about as much (if not more) than younger pups, and this can cause problems if the dog exercises less often or is already overweight.

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Other aging dogs may lose their appetite. Tackle this challenge with more tasty food, and ask your veterinarian about the best diet for your senior pup.

Keep a Consistent Routine

Woman hugging Siberian Husky

Dogs are creatures of habit, and a good routine will continue tickling their brains long into old age. The older a dog gets, the more their routines define them.

Several years back, I lived with a friend who had an old Siberian Husky. Scooby (the dog’s cartoon-inspired name) used to stare at me and groan when I stayed up late in the living room.

It affected the poor boy’s sleep after a couple of weeks, so I changed my routine as well. Later he’d groan at my bedroom door when the lights were on!

I guess you could say his OCD of going to sleep after everyone else was his one great fright. I was on a different sleep schedule than everyone in my friend’s family, and this was enough to affect the old guy’s sleep.

Have a Few Comfortable Sleeping Options

Your old pooch may prefer to sleep in the same spot throughout the day and night, but many dogs prefer moving to a new location now and again.

My neighbor’s Dobermans are like that; If you kept the restaurant doors open at night, sure enough, one of them would sneak upstairs to snooze on a sofa.

When Your Dog is About to Pass Away

It is always difficult to admit it, but all dogs eventually have to cross the rainbow bridge and go to heaven.

It’s normal for senior dogs to be more lethargic and sleep for most of the day, especially as they approach their final days. Your veterinarian will help distinguish whether your dog’s sleep habits are the result of a health condition or old age.

It helps to know you’re not facing your pet’s passing alone, as your vet can guide you through your dog’s final days.

In Summary

If you find yourself thinking, “Gee, my dog is getting harder to wake up these days!”, there may be significant reasons as to why this is the case.

While younger dogs need their sleep too, most of the time it will be the older canines that have more difficulty arising from their nightly slumber.

This could be due to factors such as shortened sleep hours, lack of quality sleep, the environment, or even health problems such as arthritis or anxiety.

If these factors do play a part and affect your dog’s sleep, the key is to hone in on the cause and treat it as well as you can with the help of a trained vet.

However, if nothing is otherwise wrong with your aging pup, it may just be that it needs more and more sleep as it grows older. While we may not want to accept it, it is undeniably natural for them to start slowing down more noticeably with every year that passes.

So, if your old pal feels like sleeping more- let it! Let its battery recharge, and if you do have to wake it for meal or toilet times, make sure that you do so gently.

While your dog’s body may be getting older, the young puppy that you met on Day One is still inside, frolicking happily in spirit.

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