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Old Dog Hard To Wake Up: (Why & What To Do)

As your dog enters their golden years, you may notice a few changes in their sleeping habits.

Old dogs might begin to sleep more and be harder to wake up. There are a number of reasons that this may be happening. For the most part, the cause will be benign and is a normal change that can be expected.

This tends to be a gradual change and it may happen so slowly that you don’t even notice it. Perhaps you will only realize how much “sleepier” your old boy is as you look back on videos of them in their prime. 

Old dogs have a difficult time waking up mainly due to their diminishing senses. Old dogs may have a hard time hearing and smelling quite like they used to, which in turn, causes them to be far less alert and reactive to people’s presence and daily happenings in the household.


Why Is My Old Dog So Hard to Wake Up?

This is mainly because their senses have diminished with age.

Their senses of smell and hearing are much reduced and they won’t be able to pick up on you coming over like they used to. You may call them loudly, only for them to remain asleep. 

As a dog gets older, they are much trickier to rouse from their slumber. While they are not necessarily in a deeper sleep than they used to be, they are much less sensitive to your efforts to wake them.

There could be certain medical problems that mean it becomes especially hard to wake your dog up. These would include:

➡️ Deafness:

Though hearing deteriorates with age, dogs should still be able to detect noise relatively well. High pitched sounds may not be easy for them to pick up on though.

You can test your dog’s hearing by ringing a bell or shaking keys loudly behind them. Be sure they cannot feel the ‘breeze’ made by the keys.

They should turn towards the noise or move their ears in that direction.

It is important to get a diagnosis if your dog is completely deaf as we need to make adjustments for those who have no hearing. For example, it would not be safe for these dogs to be allowed out when off lead.

➡️ Dementia:

In the later stages of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, dogs can become confused and won’t react to you or what you do like they used to.

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What To Do If Your Dog Is Difficult To Wake Up

Some dogs will need to be stroked or gently shaken to get them to wake up. Another option is to wave a strong-smelling treat in front of their nose.

But of course, you only want to wake them up if you really need to! Perhaps they are sleeping in a dangerous or uncomfortable spot.

Sometimes, startling even the most placid dog that is asleep can result in them reflexively snapping at you.

This is why it is usually best to “let sleeping dogs lie”.

If they are in a particularly deep sleep, consider their environment. They will be more drowsy if it is a very hot or humid day.

Think back to what they had been doing earlier, perhaps they have been on a long walk or have had a swim and now need some time to rest and recuperate.

Is it possible they may be unwell?

Lethargy is a non-specific sign of many illnesses. If your dog is very sleepy indeed or has suddenly started to sleep more, we need to wonder if they are actually unwell.

Are there any other signs such as a reduced appetite, limping or vomiting? Perhaps they are off their food, panting, shaking or hiding away? 

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Medical Issues That Make Senior Dogs Sleepy

Let’s run through some medical issues that could be related to an elder dog being hard to wake up.

Heart Failure

When the heart cannot pump blood efficiently, less oxygen is transported to the cells. This will inevitably result in a decrease in energy levels and an inability to exercise much. Other signs can include coughing, panting, and fluid build-up in the abdomen.

Liver Disease

The toxin build-up that occurs when the liver is not functioning as it should, can make a senior dog dazed and confused. You may also notice a yellow tinge to their mucous membranes and chronic nausea as well as weight loss.

Kidney Failure

As is the case when the liver is not working well, there is a toxin build-up that will occur in those with kidney failure. Dogs will sleep more, feel unwell, and may develop bad breath and oral ulcers. One of the characteristic signs of chronic kidney disease is a noticeable increase in thirst and urination.


When an older dog is dehydrated you may notice their gums feel tacky and dry and their eyes appear sunken. Dehydration is more likely when they aren’t eating or drinking well, during warm weather and when an animal has vomiting or diarrhea.


An underactive thyroid is a common issue that occurs in middle-aged and older dogs. The symptoms of lethargy, weight gain, and chronic infections are often mistaken for ‘normal’ signs of aging. A blood test can confirm the diagnosis and treatment with daily medication is usually successful.

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What Does This Mean For Your Senior Dog?

Oftentimes, there is no real danger of being difficult to wake and it just means our dog is not as sprightly as they used to be. However, if you have noticed a change in sleeping patterns and are worried your dog is very difficult to wake, a vet visit is sensible.

It is usually a good idea for an older dog to have a general check-up every six months or so. This will allow your vet to pick up on subtle issues which are easy for owners to miss.

Things like rotten back teeth, chronic ear infections, anal gland impactions, an enlarged prostate gland, early joint disease, and heart disease will all be checked for in a routine wellness appointment.

Let your vet know about your concerns so they can assess your dog and perform a neurological and orthopedic exam. They will be looking for signs of diseases that may make it harder for your dog to wake up.

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How Much Do Senior Dogs Sleep?

Senior dogs sleep on average 16-18 hours per day, which is a little more than adults. Keep in mind this will probably be made up of many different naps throughout the day, as well as his main sleep at night.

Sleep is an interesting thing. Young puppies and senior dogs both need more sleep than adult dogs. Puppies need plenty of sleep as they are growing so much, and they use a lot of energy while awake. For seniors, however, it is quite a different story.

Seniors tend to have poor quality sleep as they do not stay in a “deep sleep” state as long as they used to. This can be due to underlying medical issues such as joint pain or breathing difficulties.

Older dogs tend to wake up more frequently overnight as they shift to get comfortable or head to the bathroom. As they don’t usually have a restful night’s sleep, they may need to catch up on their sleep during the day.

As dogs age, both their body and mind will decline in function. Energy levels drop and they spend less time active. As well as spending more time laying down and relaxing, they will drop off more than they used to.

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How do I differentiate between normal sleeping patterns and concerning behavior in my senior dog?

As dogs age, it’s natural for them to sleep more due to decreased energy levels and age-related health changes. A normal sleeping pattern for a senior dog includes consistent sleep times interspersed with periods of wakefulness where the dog interacts with its environment, eats, and goes for walks.

However, concerning behavior would include abrupt changes in sleeping patterns, such as sudden excessive sleepiness, difficulty in waking up, or complete disinterest in their surroundings even when awake. If your dog seems unusually lethargic or unresponsive, it might be more than just a normal sleeping pattern and warrant a visit to the vet.

What are the immediate first aid steps if I believe my senior dog is unresponsive and not just in deep sleep?

If you find your senior dog unresponsive, first ensure they are breathing and check for a pulse. If your dog isn’t breathing, start with clearing the airway; look inside the mouth for any obstruction and remove it. Lay your dog on its right side and begin chest compressions. If there’s no pulse, couple chest compressions with mouth-to-snout breaths.

Even if you detect breathing and a heartbeat, but the dog remains unresponsive, it’s crucial to transport them to the veterinarian immediately. Cover them with a blanket to maintain body temperature and keep the environment calm during the transportation.

Are there specific bedding or sleeping arrangements that can help older dogs sleep more comfortably?

Absolutely. Senior dogs, especially those with joint issues or arthritis, benefit from orthopedic dog beds. These beds are designed with foam that conforms to the dog’s body, providing support and relieving pressure points.

Heated dog beds or mats can also provide comfort to older dogs, especially in colder months or for dogs with chronic joint pain. Additionally, ensure the bed is placed in a quiet, draft-free area, away from high foot traffic. A ramp or steps leading to the bed can also assist older dogs who may have difficulty jumping.

When To See a Vet

As discussed, routine checks are important as your dog gets older. Mention any sleep concerns you have with your vet, so they can ensure there are no medical causes.

If your dog is suddenly a lot sleepier or harder to rouse, book them in for a check right away. Similarly, if you have noticed other signs such as a stiff gait or panting, they do need to be examined.

Your vet will listen to your concerns and check your older pooch all over. They will assess their nerve function and joint mobility and may also advise on some additional tests such as blood analysis and urine analysis. 

Last thoughts

As your dog gets older, they will not be able to do the same things they used to. They will get tired quicker and not be able to keep up on long hikes or runs. They are going to sleep more and are generally more difficult to wake up from their sleep. For many, this doesn’t pose a big issue, and owners and dogs alike will learn to cope.

If your older dog’s sleeping habits concern you, it is never a bad idea to have them checked over. There can be certain medical conditions that mean your dog is trickier to wake up, so it is important to rule these in or out.

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Before making any decisions that could affect the health and/or safety of your dog, you should always consult a trained veterinarian in your local area. Even though this content may have been written/reviewed by a trained veterinarian, our advice to you is to always consult your own local veterinarian in person. Please read our full dislcaimer if you have any questions.