By some estimates, seven out of 10 Americans with pets let them sleep in bed with the human family.
My wife Teresa and I are among the majority, as we’re joined, conjoined actually, atop the pillow-top mattress every night with our beloved papillion/poodle/Yorkie cross or porkipoo, Quixote.
The other day my wife noted that Quixote seemed to sleep about twice as long as we did and asked me how many hours a day dogs sleep and if we should ever worry about Quixote, the laggard, sleeping too much?
“All mammals need a certain amount of hours of sleep per day that is phylogentically (evolutionary development and history of a species) and biologically related to how efficient a hunter their ancestors were and hibernation patterns during the winter,” says Larry Lachman, animal behavior consultant and author of “Dogs on the Couch.”
“Dogs were efficient hunters and didn’t take as long as humans to stalk, catch and eat their prey and therefore had more time to sleep, about 10 to 16 hours per day.”
Dr. Stanley Coren, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, author of “How Dogs Think” and a sleep expert for both pets and people, says middle-aged dogs sleep an average of 14 to 16 hours per day. Coren notes that older pets can sleep much more than that.
“But determining an overall average amount of hours a pet sleeps per day is difficult because it depends on so many different factors such as environment, breed, sex and age of the pet,” says Pierre S. Bichsel, DVM, a board-certified neurologist with Michigan Veterinary Specialists near Detroit, who thinks that dogs sleep anywhere from 10 to 13 hours per day.
“For example, a dog living as an only pet inside of a house may sleep much more than a dog that spends the day outdoors working on a farm. Also, some breeds are more energetic than others, while aging pets may need more rest than pets in their middle age.”
“A 2-year-old basset hound likely sleeps more than Irish setter of similar age,” says Dr. Suzanne Hetts, certified animal behaviorist in Denver and co-author of the award-winning “Raising A Behaviorally Healthy Puppy.”
Hetts, who works from home, reports that her 9-year-old Dalmatian is quite content to nap on her couch or on her bed near her desk, while her 1-year-old Irish setter is zooming around the back yard frenetically harassing birds and squirrels all day.
Besides breed and age differences, pets are very adaptive in their sleep.
“Dogs are meant to be night hunters, so they get up and move around at night (we just aren’t awake to see it). Like human beings, pets will sleep more if given the opportunity, but they don’t have to sleep that long,” Coren says.
“For example, a working dog, a herder, may sleep only 10 hours per day, whereas the same dog if put in an urban setting might sleep 16. Dogs follow the pulse of humanity.”
Even weather can change a dog’s sleep, as pets will tend to sleep more on cloudy days than sunny ones, and snuggle up more on cold days than warm ones. Just like for humans, not all sleep is the same for pets.
Very often says Coren, the dog is really napping, not in the deepest stages of sleep. Generally speaking, predators (our dogs) sleep more than prey animals (squirrels and mice), and they tend to sleep deeper.
“Our domesticated pet predators will have bouts of deep sleep, but a lot of the sleep is ‘vigilant sleep’ where the pet is very easily aroused. You walk by, the doorbell rings and dog barks in the distance and your dog’s eyes pop open and they’re ready to respond,” says Coren.
At our Almost Heaven Ranch, Quixote will ignore the chatter of chipmunks and stay in the grasp of the sandman. But if he hears the UPS or FedEx truck coming down the driveway, or the doorbell rings, his eyes pop open and rockets ignite on his feet.
“General illness, medications, hypothyroidism, depression and senility can cause dogs to sleep more than normal,” says Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and author of “The Dog Who Loved Too Much.”
Coren says he’s typically only worried about a dog sleeping too much if its sleep becomes so deep that it’s not aroused by normal alarm activities like the doorbell, which is rare. Coren cautions that with older dogs, such failure may be a hearing issue.
If a dog isn’t sleeping enough or has very restless sleep, Dodman says your veterinarian may need to rule out medications (stimulants), anxiety, painful conditions and cognitive disorders (like doggy Alzheimer’s). Lachman adds that metabolic conditions such as hyperthyroid and Cushing’s disease, and chaotic households, sibling dog fighting, an abusing toddler and allergies that cause a lot of itching can interfere with sleep.
To make older pets more comfortable as they sleep, Hetts suggests beds with built-in heaters, eggshell foam, orthopedic mats, sheepskin rugs, even air mattresses for pets. Cooling pads are also available for pets in hot and humid climates.
Dodman reminds us that for dogs with a urinary problem or geriatric bladders (boy, do we graying humans know what that’s all about!), an extra middle-of-the-night trip outside may save “accidents” in the house.
As far as alarms (no pun intended) that you should take your pet to the vet for a sleep-related problems, Bichsel sums it up best:
“Anytime your pet is deviating from its usual behavior, it may be an indication of problem.
“If your cat or dog seems to be sleeping more or less than usual and is lethargic, acts sad or depressed or hyper or aggressive when awake, or its weight changes, you should contact your veterinarian.”
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