One of the questions I am asked regularly is “Is what my dog doing normal?”. There are many behaviours that dogs act out that make them adorable goofy oddballs and some things they do are really rather gross. It can be tricky to know what is normal ‘dogs will be dogs’ behaviour and what should be a cause for concern.
Amongst the top topics are licking urine, eating poop, crazed zoomies, chasing bikes, humping, and, well the list is quite extensive. In most cases, these are all perfectly normal behaviours. They are just not something that we are familiar or even comfortable with. However, when it comes to sleeping, there are some general guidelines that can help you determine whether your dog is normal or not.
How Much Sleep Do Dogs Need?
It can come as a surprise to new owners just how much a dog sleeps. Similarly, sleep problems can be missed if owners do not know how much sleep a healthy dog needs.
The average dog will sleep between 12-14 hours a day. This is generally made up of day-time naps and overnight sleep. Puppies need even longer, typically sleeping 18-20 hours a day until around 12 weeks of age. As dogs start to reach their mature years they will sleep more as their bodies and minds tire quicker. Size, activity, age, and health are all factors in how much sleep a dog needs but most owners should expect their adult dog to sleep at least half of the day.
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Much like us, dogs need sleep to remain healthy. The human sleep cycle in a 24hr. period is fairly simple. We are awake during the daytime and have one long sleep at night. While we sleep, we enter restorative phases called deep sleep and REM. It is during this time that the body works to restore tissue and strengthen our immune system. During REM, brain activity increases and this is good for learning and development and retaining information and memories. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke states that during REM the brain exercises important neural connections which are key to mental and overall well-being.
Why Does My Dog Sleep So Much?
Dogs have a more scattered sleep pattern within a 24hr. period, consisting of short naps throughout the day and a long sleep during the night. These periods of sleep are punctuated with waking up to check their environment and scan for changes/dangers. Dogs do enter into REM quicker than humans. This is evident when quite often you are able to see them acting out dreams. However, one theory suggests that this constant state of readiness leads to less REM sleep, causing dogs to need to sleep more to fulfill the needed restorative amount.
When dogs do not have enough sleep they can become sleep deprived and the common symptoms from a lack of sleep start to appear. They are not usually as easy to notice in a dog as they are in people, especially if over a prolonged period of time.
Should I Be Concerned About My Dogs Sleeping
Dogs who are not napping during the day or who are consistently restless at night are not normal. Lack of sleep may cause them to be needy and whine, become extremely restless or sluggish or even disinterested in life. A day like this after a bad night’s sleep is quite normal and you can allow for the odd cranky day. The best remedy for this is to tire them out with a long walk or game of fetch to bring about sleep and get them back into their standard sleep cycle.
Dogs who have severe sleep disorders will exhibit more concerning behaviours. This can include excessive whining or crying, becoming disoriented when performing basic tasks or possibly become aggressive as they are increasingly on edge from the lack of rest. You may notice your dog becoming more irritable and agitated. On the flip-side, they could begin to withdraw socially and stop engaging as they previously would have. As always, my first advice if your dog’s behaviour takes a sudden change is to visit a vet.
Pain, Illness or Injury
Of course, it does not have to be a sudden change. Any symptoms that are concerning should be discussed with your veterinarian to rule out the possibility of medical-related issues.
Painful arthritis could be causing insomnia as your dog cannot be still and feel comfortable. Prescribed pain relief or special massage treatments could help.
Sleep apnea which is commonly seen in flat-faced dogs and obese dogs will cause a dog to jolt awake when their airways block. Multiple sleep interruptions can be frustrating and leave a dog feeling constantly tired.
After a vet has ruled out any medical issues, the next step is to look at what else could be the cause of your dog’s restlessness.
Lack Of Exercise
A lack of exercise is the root cause of many behavioural issues. Your dog needs an outlet to expend energy. Depending on your dog’s age and energy level, the amount of exercise they need can vary but it is key to understand the type of dog you have and meet that required amount of exercise.
I have been blessed with two delightful Greyhounds through adoption. My first, Tipps was laid back and although always happy to go for a walk, he was content with 60 minutes across the day scattered with games of fetch. My more recent Greyhound, Swift, needs at least 3 walks a day of 45-90 minutes to come back tired and ready to nap. Swift is only just becoming accustomed to toys so self-play is limited whereas Tipps could spend an hour trying to pop a squeaky toy. They were both getting around the same amount of exercise but split in different ways.
Most dogs are no longer working dogs. Today’s domestic dog does not need to hunt or protect or produce and teach their young. They rely on their human guardians to ensure that their basic needs are met. Providing food, water, shelter and affection are basic needs but so too is appropriate exercise for both body and mind.
A lack of exercise and enrichment can lead to a build-up of energy and frustration. As well as being destructive or demotivated, dogs can also become agitated and anxious, creating sleep problems. When you add insufficient sleep to those feelings, things can escalate quickly. A tired dog equals a sleeping dog.
Anxiety is another leading cause of sleeping problems. Dogs can feel anxious for all sorts of reasons. Getting to the bottom of the anxiety is the healthiest way to get your dog’s sleep into a regular pattern. Some of the common causes of anxiety in dogs:
- New surroundings
- Separation from companion(s)
- Changes to the family—additions or leavers
- Lack of exercise
- Scary sounds, such as fireworks, thunderstorms, or construction
- Forced socialisation
- Past trauma
All dogs are individuals and the cause of their anxiety might not be something obvious. A dog’s fear of the vacuum cleaner might seem quite comical, but to the dog it is a real fear and causes their anxiety levels to rise.
Many dogs feel anxious when left alone or separated from their owner or kennel mate. If a dog has a fear of being left alone or separated they will struggle to really sleep well as they are constantly listening out for triggers that indicate they are about to be left at home. When left alone, which is typically when dogs nap during the day, these dogs are pacing, whining, or watching out the window. Their cortisol levels are gradually rising and their anxiety is growing. They are never fully relaxed.
If your dog is suffering from anxiety, speak to a qualified behaviourist or trainer on how best to make your dog feel more comfortable on their own.
When your dog sleeps intermittently during the day and sleeps throughout the night it is a good sign. It means they are getting plenty of exercise, they have a well-balanced and healthy diet and they are extremely content and feel safe in their surroundings.