Older dogs need just as much love as puppies, and sometimes more. It is a fact that older dogs spend far more time in shelters than younger dogs since most people looking to adopt do not want to take on the added responsibility of an older dog. But the truth is, dogs, if well cared for, can live well past 10, 12, 15 or even older. But as they reach their golden years, they may just need to take life a little slower than they used to. They need more naps and longer nights of sleep. Why is it that older dogs and puppies sleep more than adult dogs?
The Root of the Behavior
Most dogs are considered “senior” by age seven, although the larger dog breeds may be senior by age five or six. The way and rate that dogs age is dependent, not only on their actual age in years, but also their size, general health, and specific breed. Many purebred dogs have tendencies to develop certain illnesses, such as cancer, hip problems, heart problems, and others. Genetics have a great deal to do with your dog's health, although you can help fight some medical problems with a good diet, sufficient exercise, regular check-ups, preventative treatment such as glucosamine to improve mobility, and keeping up-to-date on all vaccinations. There are some things that you cannot prevent in older dogs, and general tiredness is one of them.
Would you expect your grandmother to run a marathon? Some grandmas might be physically capable, but as humans get older and develop arthritis, so do dogs. Moving around and using energy day-to-day is harder on an older dog than it is a younger adult. Senior dogs need about as much sleep as puppies, from 15 to 18 hours a day. Stress is harder on adult dogs, especially as their senses deteriorate and they lose confidence. Older dogs may begin to go blind or deaf, which makes it hard for them to navigate the world, and they may be much more anxious in new places. Sight or hearing loss may initially present as aggression since some dogs become stressed and anxious and may react aggressively if they’re surprised.
Any change in usual routine may be much harder on an older dog. As their senses decline, so do other functions. They may become incontinent, and be unable to hold their bladder or bowel movements the way they used to. Joint pain makes simple activities like climbing stairs or getting onto the bed harder or even impossible. Tiring more easily during exercise is also to be expected. Again, you wouldn’t expect your great-grandma to run a marathon, so don’t ask your dog to do it once he gets older. Allow frequent breaks during playtime or exercise, and maybe let them stay home if the activity is intense.
Encouraging the Behavior
One of the important things to consider as your elderly dog sleeps more of the time is whether they are sleeping just because they need more rest, or they’re genuinely sick. Sometimes, illness and old age share the same symptoms. Or, many pass off symptoms as old age, forgetting that diseases like cancer can make your dog’s behavior change. If anything changes suddenly in your dog, it is important to consult a vet to make sure something else isn’t going on. Dismissing illness in your dog because you think it would be expensive to treat, or because you do not think treating them would extend your dog’s life by much is not a good approach.
In fact, depending on your dog’s age and health, some dogs experience renewed energy, sometimes being more playful and puppy-like once symptoms that were bothering them are gone. Older dogs need more care and gentle attention. Their bodies may be sore, tired, or sick. They may become less social and more aggressive, either from stress, anxiety, or just because they are less tolerant of other people or dogs than they used to be. They may also develop a condition that’s a lot like Alzheimer’s disease in humans—becoming forgetful, disoriented, anxious, or suddenly changing their routines or habits.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Dogs will slow down as they age, it’s just a fact of life—for humans and canines. But there are things you can do to help. Keep your vet updated on your dog’s health and bring them in if they begin to exhibit sudden symptoms. Let your dog rest when they want to, often resting far more during the day than they ever used to. You can be proactive in your dog’s health by keeping them on an appropriate high-quality food. For older dogs who may not be able to burn calories as well as younger dogs, a higher-protein, lower-fat food may be best. Consult your vet for recommendations on supplements and an age-appropriate food.
With the right attitude, patience, and care, senior dogs can provide years of loving companionship and fun. Do not be daunted by the required care for senior dogs. You would love your grandparents, even if they were not up to a marathon, right? After a long life of fun and adventure, senior dogs have earned their right to a quiet nap in the sunshine, or in a soft, warm bed.