Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

old dogs

Loving the Older Dog

| 58 Comments

old dogsThose first gray hairs on that beloved muzzle always seem impossible. “Not so soon. Please, not so soon.” But now “puppy” is said with a rueful smile as the fur is lovingly ruffled. You notice that your dog is sleeping more and more deeply. He races around a bit less, barking is less intense and stops sooner. Sunny spots become sought after and you may now hear soft snoring as you go about your day.

Loving your older dog is a journey of acceptance and denial, cherishing and pulling away, fear of the future and embracing the moment. In today’s world, where we get our meat in plastic wrappers and most epidemic disease has been tamed, we can live our entire lives pretty removed from death – except with our pets. We cannot avoid the grim reaper there, and it is the rather horrible bargain we make in exchange for the daily affection, company and fun we so very much enjoy. It is all worth it, but it is all hard as well.

The first step in living with and loving your older dog is acceptance. Aging is a natural process and it is happening and will be happening with your friend.

Next comes adjustment – by which I mean adjusting both his lifestyle and your expectations. He may no longer be up for that five-mile hike. He will want to, he may tell you “yes, great idea!” for a long time, but if he is terribly sore the next day or if he really slows down toward the end, it’s time to regroup.

At first, premedicating him with an anti-inflammatory from the vet may be enough, later – going slower and not as far will be necessary. Your life together is no longer about him keeping up with you; the tides have turned and now you have to measure his physical needs and abilities against your desires. We all want things to stay the same forever, but wanting – at some point – is no longer enough.

He will start to sleep harder until some day he sleeps the sleep of the old dog. That deep sleep that is hard to awaken him from. If you get through his old age without being scared that his sleep was one step too far, then you are a lucky person.

He (and she) may start to snore more, and farting may become part of the daily routine, if it is not already.

This is all just part of watching a being we love pass through every stage of life. It is an honor to accompany a loved one from youth to old age and then finally to death. A tough honor, but an honor nonetheless. One we are blessed with if we manage to get them through life safely, without disease or accident taking them from us sooner.

And it is a journey each of us will react to in our own ways. You may find yourself distancing from your older dog some days as his age is hard to bear and other times curling up with him in the sun, feeling his breathing as he sleeps with your hand gently resting on his chest as it has so many times before.

It is truly bitter-sweet.

By Sarah Wilson, MySmartPuppy.com

58 Comments

  1. Beautifully written, and oh so true. I have a 13 year old husky with osteoarthritis. She entered our lives when she was 6 weeks old and she has been the light of my life ever since! She’s helped me through some hard times, and we love her so very much. I’ve been struggling with the fact that she is aging right before my eyes. She used to love to go exploring and now she can hardly go 1 block without a limp. I am sad most days, but I try and snap out of it because I know she can sense my fear and sadness and that doesn’t honor her wonderful life. She is my heart and I will miss her terribly. Thank you for writing exactly what I am feeling, it really does help. ???

    • {{{ }}} Give your beautiful friend a pat for me. We dog lovers understand your feelings exactly. Sarah

    • Oh yes they just know. Just continue loving. My 24 yo about to be 15 yo border collie mix is snoring, sleeping so much more and changing habits is killing me. She has kept me safe n sane so many times. Cannot imagine life wo her but will do my best to make the last of her life as great as she has made mine

  2. Thanks, Sara, for posting this. We have two old dogs right now at 13 and 14 years old. Their quality of life is of paramont importance to us, but it is a bitter sweet time. For the mean time we have adjusted the flexibility in our lives around their needs. I am sad for those who do the best they can, but just can’t be as flexable for their pups as we can. If you post more helpful hints for older dogs, it would be nice for us and others, I’m sure.

    • Hi Michelle – Oh, that is one of the tough things about a pair of dogs-they age at the same rate. My sympathies. My girl, Pip, is now 11 and the time is coming where I will need to make such adjustments for her. It will be, as you say, a bittersweet time. Pats to them both. – Sarah

  3. I have the best dogs in the world, as all of you do. We just said goodbye to our 11-year-old Golden retriever who had cancer. Boomer is a 13.5-year-old Shihpoo. His health remains vigorous and he still trots around the house like a rooster, bossing everyone around. But that old dog sleep is getting hard to bear. We have, at times thought he had passed away, and have had to shake him awake. I’m so grateful for your article, because now I know this is normal. Last night Fred was letting the dogs out and couldn’t wake Boomer up. He finally got him to head for the door, but he laid down and fell back to sleep half way there. Fred was quite alarmed. Sigh. Our 2 Havanese are ages 10 and 9. There will be a lot of goodbyes coming up. Thank you again for your compassion.

    • That IS deep sleep. If your vet reports all is normal than it’s his sleep. But I’d definitely get him a vet check if he hasn’t had one for a while.

  4. Thanks for this article Sarah. Have been searching the inet for the “good” answer, as to why my bff (Polish Lowland Sheepdog, Linus), is sleeping soo much? And, is his newly formed habit of snoring gently, a further worry for me? Linus is 12 1/5yo, completely blind, had an ear removed when he was two (so almost deaf) and had a TPL0 operation last year. I am much encouraged that it is a normal part of aging. Have an appt with vet on Thurs to check for anything else

    • Hi Joanne – Glad this was helpful. That snoring can be a part of things stiffening a bit with age combined with the deeper sleep. Glad you’re checking on all your concerns with your vet but I take such snoring as another normal thing for many dogs. Now, you got a Polish Lowland Sheepdog 15 years ago? That was an unusual choice; what drew you to the breed?

      • Hi Sarah,
        I found the breed in a dog book and thought he would be the perfect first dog. We had a bearded collie when I was growing up when we lived on a farm and they are very similar. Was only one litter born in New Zealand at the time. His Dad came over from Poland and his Mum from Australia, so I am very lucky. I have since been to Poland and visited his Dad’s breeder, an amazing trip ?

  5. Beautifully written and it echos my feelings. My Buddy is thirteen, he became deaf after a teeth cleaning and really scared me when he wouldn’t wake up. I could tell he was breathing but it took a while and a really hard shake to wake him. I love the way you phrased it as the old dog sleep. I have read that this is more common in deaf dogs. At least now I feel better knowing it is a common occurrence and not something bad.

    • Hi Margie – My best to you and your loved, Buddy. Never heard of deafness after teeth cleaning, how shocking! Love him a bit extra for me today. Best – Sarah

  6. Wow, great posts…I have a 4 pound bundle of independence and love that is going through theses life changes too. Rocky my chihuahua is 10 yrs…in a short span of a few months, he is deaf, sleeps with unresponsiveness; and I’m a guy that can’t imagine my life without my buddy …good to hear…but bittersweet . His sister passed in 2016 ;(
    Best to you all !

    • Hi Paul – So sorry for your loss. With luck, your Chi will live many more years. 10 is “middle-aged” for the breed so I am rooting for you both.

  7. I am experiencing this very situation with my 15 year old basset. He has been a wonderful companion. About a year ago we had to put down his sister, and he has somehow maintained, even though we know he has been mourning her loss. Now he appears to be slipping away ever so gradually. First the hearing, then the vision and now the back legs, but he still lets you know he loves us by gently rising up and putting his front paws on our legs and wagging his tail, even though he can’t maintain that position for very long.
    I really like your definition and parallel of “deep sleep.” I can only hope that the “deep sleep” does prevail some day, as it is very hard to contemplate making another human decision.

  8. Stumbled upon this beautiful article when I googled about deep sleep in old dogs. My 12 yo mini poodle is healthy but she’s been sleeping in my bed on her back and not waking up when I move. She did not lose her hearing yet. However I can tell that her energy level is a lot lower than 6 months ago. She can barely sit straight for 5 min she has to put her chin down on the floor.

    She’s been with me since I was 14, I went overseas for 5-6 years and she still sticks with no one but me when I am home. I can’t be home all the time but I really don’t want to receive the news of her leaving someday over the phone. She is fine at home with my family but I know she loves me the most and gets most love from me too. I feel really irresponsible now. 🙁

    • It is hard when we feel torn between conflicting things but, one of the joys of dogs, is they don’t keep a list of our flaws. As far as your beloved dog is concerned this is life and this is how life is for all people and dogs. She’s not bitterly stewing on your being away, she is just overjoyed when you are home. Spend quality time when you can; she clearly knows she is loved. When the time comes to let her go – don’t make her wait in discomfort so you can see her one more time. Love her enough to put her comfort ahead of yours. It’s very hard but that is what love does. You two sound very close; you both have been lucky. – Sarah

  9. so difficult to decide when to put down our 4 legged angels..I have a 16+ yr old maltipoo..She sleeps so hard, I have to check she’s still breathing..At times, she seems to flinch if she gets touched or jostled..Many times for no apparent reason, she trembles..other times, she has a tiny spring in her step..Im trying to decide if its “time”..She is mostly blind w/cataracts, cannot hear much but still enjoys eating, sleeping and going potty…Any suggestions as to when to say goodbye? I dont want her to suffer but as long as she eats, drinks, potties (albiet often on the floor), do I just wait?

    • Hi Lynn – That “flinch” can be surprise, She just doesn’t know you’re there anymore. “I dont want her to suffer but as long as she eats, drinks, potties (albiet often on the floor), do I just wait?” Well said and yes, as long she isn’t suffering and your not either, then it’s not time yet. And a maltipoo could have time yet. 16+ isn’t “that” old for some of the small dogs,

  10. Lovely article which I came across searching reassurance about my 18 jack russell terrier. I am terrified of losing her having lost her companion 2 years ago at 16. They are my best dogs and I’ve had them since they were 3 months old. My life has and still is arranged around the dogs and never for a moment has there been any regrets. Love them to bits and I want to find every possible way of keeping her with me for as long as possible. I worry about her constantly as she sleeps so much and looks so frail. Her appetite is still fantastic and she still loves a walk.

  11. Thank you for the beautifully written article, and thank you to all those who shared their stories. My lab mix Odie is about 11 (he was a rescue so I’m not 100% sure of his age), but he’s been my heart and my best friend for the past nine years. The past few months I’ve noticed his sleep has deepened, his hearing is going, his walking has slowed, he hacks a couple of times each day, and he no longer gets up every time I come home (I go to him and THEN he rouses from his day of rest). I know our time is limited and my heart is breaking, but I am going to be with him every step of the way until the end. I’m not going on any trips or leaving him for even one night. I can’t because I want every possible moment with him I can get. Sounds nutty to some people, but he’s a good boy and he deserves the best. Thanks again, you really helped normalize this time for me.

    • Hugs to you both. {{{ }}}

    • I feel the same about my 15.5 year old black and white cocker. She sleeps most of the day, but is still perky during her awake hours. I have not gone away for over two years because J would do nothing but worry about her. Two friends this year left their old dogs, who were both doing fine, and on the second day of vacation they received phone calls that their dogs died. Both dogs were at their usual dog sitters’ houses.

      • Hi Barbara – that’s terrible; I’m so sorry for both those families. It isn’t, however, usual unless the dogs are very old and have some underlying illness brewing.

  12. My brother and I have dachshunda from didferent litters but just a year apart. I have the older one, Boomer and he has the younger, Muttley.
    Needless to say, they have been very much a part of our families’ lives.
    Now at 14 and 13 respectively, and one with cancer, we feel that their lives are slowly slipping away from us. Recently, both were hospitalized on different ailments.
    I just want to share the difficulty we have accepting that our kids are losing their hearing, sight and have long deep sleep and most especially not their usual selves.
    “The only fault we find in dogs is that they have very short lives.” I find this so true and so unfair but I accept since we’ve had the best tome of our lives with them.
    Thank you for aharong this article with us

  13. My 12 yr old chocolate lab Lucy now has the ‘old dog sleep’.
    Just this evening she was slow to wake up when I approached and talked to her. Very slow and I thought she had passed away. But she came to – as I spoke gently and stroked her furry neck. Lucy made it through mast cell tumors, arthritis, and plenty of dog stuff. She has been with me for 11.5 yrs and I will be with her til the end.

  14. Lovely words. I have an almost 15 yr old Shih Tzu named Elvis who hears and sees fine, but he has arthritis, I think some dementia, and recently started that deep sleeping. It is unsettling. Not sure when he’s in that zone if I should awaken him or not.

    I’m going on vacation for 7 days and am worried about leaving him alone. He has a cat companion though and a sitter who will come 3x/day. I imagine he’ll just sleep a lot. Has a doggie door to the backyard at least.

  15. Thank you. I needed this tonight. Our Golden Retriever, aptly named Hope, has been with us for 13 years.

    Last summer she had a surgery to remove a lump that had blown up but it was non-cancerous and thankfully, though she looked a bit like Frankendog, her long, blond fur covered up the horrific scar.

    But more lumps remain.

    Her breathing heavier, she pants more and though we are moving from FL to a cooler climate, I hope it’s not too late to help her.

    As her eyes dim and her hearing is shot, I think of all those days I did not pet her enough, or pushed away her paw while I was typing. I wish… I could have them back.

    That hard sleep… though she does still awake. As my son said a few days ago, “We’ve had her for 1/2 my life…” and then he struggles to contain his tears too as the realization that we are on the backside watching her slip.

    The payment for all the years of love we got from her is this… so worth it but gosh, so damn hard.

    • She was dearly loved and lovingly cared for; no dog can ask for more. None of us love perfectly; there are always regrets but I doubt she would fault you if she could. She loves you with her whole being without judgement. Hope you have her a while longer. {{{ }}}

  16. I was wondering what happened to my 10 years old GSD (not sure her real age as she was rescued). She is with me for 8 years. She can eat well, go for short walk but come to night, i realised she always on deep sleep. No matter how hard i closed my door, she never stir a bit. This only happened recently and i so afraid i will lose my best friend soon. I told her if she decides to leave me, please leave without sufferings.

    • Hi Adelene – Maybe it’s old-dog sleeping, maybe it’s hearing loss but neither is linked to necessarily passing soon. I’ve had dogs sleep that deep sleep for years. – Sarah

  17. Ivory is 12 this last march
    Love of my life I notice things she demands more attention she recently had to be put on antibiotics for bacteria in stomach. I was so scared. Then relief then panic attacks. I love her so much I just realized that beautiful life isn’t mine forever I notice her much more. She is so my life I just dont ever want her to hurt HARD to get that she is ageing. My puppy had her as a rescue at 4weeks hand feed her pitbulls life span 12years I need to stop reading it only makes me understand every day from here on is a gift I with her most the time unless my husbands here but she is my best friend. Life is so hard kust glad to have someone else to talk . To thank you teresa.

    • It IS hard and millions of people understand exactly what you mean when you say she’s “my best friend”. Enjoy her every day knowing that you may have her for a few more years or you may not. True for all of us and all our friends…two- and four-legged ones.

  18. My 16 year old baby beagle throws up a lot and no longer wants to eat dog food. I boil chicken for him and supplement it with applesauce, cottage cheese or plain yogurt, bone broth and sometimes green beans. I worry he’s not getting a good diet.

    • Hi Patti –

      At his age, eating and keeping it down is the big thing. Sounds like you are doing a wonderful job helping him with that. If you have concerns, talk to his vet, but from my perspective – you’re doing great.

  19. My 17 year old Maltipoo sleeps deep. She doesn’t hear very well so doesn’t wake when I come home and I always check for breathing. I figure that one reason she sleeps deep is poor hearing.
    She’s lively as a 5 year old though in the morning.

    • Those Maltese and toy poodles can have long, happy lives. Sounds like your little sweetheart is doing just that. 🙂

  20. Beautifully written, and exactly as it is.

  21. Beckett is 12 and a half. He’s a red dark golden. He’s always been a little stinky. The perfect stinky. He started having cluster seizures at 2, status epilepticus at 3, fell into a ravine during a hike at 4 and required rescue, nearly got carried out to sea at 5, ran away and fell asleep in a farmer’s garage at 6, too many adventures to count 7-10, had mast cell surgery at 10, liver masses and exploratory surgery with conflicting pathology reports at 11, and 72 hours of cluster seizures with little hope of continued neurological function. He sleeps deeply. He loves deeper. He falls sometimes, but his epilepsy meds always gave him questionable balance. He jumps in the car everyday to go to work, sometimes he needs a boost. It’s okay. He’d give me a boost if I needed one and he could. He plays and vocalizes like a pup at the river. He wears a life jacket to swim. He’s worn it since he was 6 or 7. He’s aged so much faster and so much slower than other dogs. He’s my best friend. The deep sleep is terrifying for me but seems to feel welcoming to him. It’s hard to rouse him at times. Sometimes he has accidents in the house. He’s had them for about five years. It’s okay. I have hands and paper towels to clean them up. Knowing he is on the final leg of his journey is the scariest thing I’ve ever faced, but we will do it together. That’s what best friends are for.

    • That is beautifully written, Jess. Thank you for sharing Beckett with us all. He is clearly loved and has loved and that is a life well lived.

  22. Just wanted to say thank you for writing this. Our two dogs, Sophie and Winston, seem to have just started aging suddenly. Like I woke up one morning this year and they went from my puppies to suddenly aging. They are 12 and 11 now. Just more lumps and bumps being treated, or sore muscles from jumping around too much in excitement and needing help with stairs… or getting tired sooner on walks…and now Sophie is sleeping deeper….snoring more….and I guess dreaming harder! They are still running around and acting like puppies between all this….but I just suddenly see their age more and it’s definitely making me sad at the thought they would ever not be here. Hard to imagine. They have been with us since we got married…buying our first home…to first baby…to being playmates for my now elementary aged children. They are my having a hard-day comfort… weekend nap partners… therapists…chore companions…and playmates all wrapped up in a fluffy always loving package. Not sure how I’ll make it without them…or even did before! Anyway, thank you for the lovely read. I’ll try to keep it in my mind over these coming years.

    • Hi Abigael – It is so odd (and hard) when we wake up to see that aging process suddenly there – as if it were overnight. I am glad this article is helpful to you. I’m going through this time period, too. {{{ }}}

  23. Thank you for for writing such a beautiful poignant piece. I was search the internet looking for info about aging dogs and sleep so deep they are difficult to rouse. It was conforting and heart breaking all at once reading this is a normal process as they age. I have the sweetest little pug who loves me with his whole heart. It’s so hard to watch him start to age so suddenly and impossible to think of life without this sweet little guy following me everywhere. I feel honored to walk with him through this stage in his life. I will try to enjoy the encreased snuggle time and every moment I have with him, though it breaks my heart to see him slowing down so much.

  24. I have a 12 1/2 year old papillon who is the love of my life. Every minute I look at him I love him more and at the same time dread the future. He has always struggled with back issues and bladder stones (4 surgeries!) and most recently an emergency surgery for a lens luxation in April. It is since then that I notice how deeply he sleeps, how I can walk into the house and he doesn’t even hear me, how I can step over him while he sleeps and then he wakes up looking dazed until he fixes in on my face. And yes, he is snoring too. It is so cute but also a reminder that he is senior. So thanks for your article which clarified for me that this is normal old age progression. I guess nothing to do but keep doing what we all do – love them to pieces and let them know how greatful we are to have them in our lives.

  25. I have a 17 year old Maltipoo. She sleeps deeply, hard of hearing and recently losing sight. There are times – usually morning- when she acts like she’s much younger–frisky. She’s gotten a little senile but she’s not in pain and I enjoy every minute with her.

  26. lots of lovely stories and insights,my molly is approaching 14,blind for 7rs and now obviously going deaf,i no longer get the heroes welcome when I return home,its not until I,m in close proximity she senses I,m there,her sleeping pattern is all over the place,we are usually up in the wee small hours for molly to go out for a pee,to eat,or simply to play!..i accept this as part of the twilight years…through bleary eyes at times!

  27. Thank you for your article. Like others who have posted before me, I too am watching my beloved little girls age. I’m also a senior citizen, so we’re limping through this all together. That deep sleep you’ve described started happening a year ago. Especially with my little girl Chloe. Several times I thought I lost her. I have already made plans for their and my final destination. I pray daily that I will outlive them, but then my heart contracts when I think of my life without them. I am so grateful that they are mine and I will be their’s forever.

    • I know that feeling as do many other readers here. You have a huge tribe of people who get it and who wish you and your little ones the best for as long as possible. ((( )))

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