If you notice your elderly dog won’t lie down, there’s a good chance something is wrong. Lying down comes naturally to dogs. In fact, they spend most of the day in this position, so when they refuse to lie down, it’s a big red flag.
The odds are your dog is in pain, but before we get into the most common medical reasons that could cause the pain, I want to address two other issues that could be going on.
The Two Unlikely Causes
Keep in mind if your dog is old, it’s probably not one of these two issues. However, it’s still a good idea to cover all possible reasons before making an educated guess on what’s going on.
1 – They Are Stressed
Dogs are highly emotional animals. They watch humans carefully and can sense when something is wrong. Does your dog have any reasons to be stressed? Has anyone in your family been gone for a few days? Did you and your spouse have an argument? Did you lose your temper and yell at your k9 friend?
These are all possible reasons your dog might be stressed. Some dogs refuse to relax when they are stressed, which means they won’t lie down. Try to think back and determine if your dog has any reasons to be stressed.
2 – They Aren’t Comfortable
Again, this probably isn’t the issue for an older dog, but we should briefly cover it just in case. Your dog might be refusing to lie down because they aren’t comfortable. Maybe there’s something sharp in their bed that keeps poking them, perhaps they don’t like the new hardwood floor you just installed, or perhaps the floor is too cold for them.
There could be many reasons your dog isn’t comfortable. This is common with puppies, but older dogs usually learn to find the comfortable spots inside the house and out in the garage/backyard.
Pain – The Most Likely Cause
Now that we got the two unlikely causes out of the way let’s talk about what’s most likely going on…your dog is in pain.
I know it’s something we don’t want to think about. If your dog being in pain makes you sad, that means you’re doing an excellent job as a responsible pet owner. No one should be neutral about their pet being in pain.
The quicker you can accept that your older dog is in pain, the faster you can take action to relieve the pain.
Signs of Pain to Look For
Considering we are talking specifically about an old dog, you most likely already know their signs of pain.
However, dogs instinctively try to hide their pain because if they were in the wild and made it clear to their predators they were hurting, they would be someone’s lunch!
If you’re having trouble telling if your dog is in pain, here are some signs to look for.
- Constant grooming to a specific area
- Shallow breathing
There are other apparent symptoms such as limping, but those don’t need to be discussed here because those symptoms are dead giveaways that your pup is hurting.
The 3 Most Common Culprits
Countless things could be causing pain in your dog, but if I were a betting man, I would bet that it’s one of these 3 issues:
- Hip Dysplasia
- Back and Neck Pain
Now for the bad news (or should I say worse news). The symptoms for all these causes are almost identical. This means it will be challenging to figure out what the issue is without taking your dog to the vet. If you suspect it could be one of these three things, you should take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
1 – Arthritis
Humans get arthritis as we age, so it should be no surprise to hear that dogs get arthritis as well. If your old dog won’t lie down, there’s a solid chance that they are suffering from arthritis.
In fact, studies show that 1 in 5 dogs get diagnosed with arthritis…the keyword there was “diagnosed.” This means more dogs get it, but the owners never take them to the vet to get diagnosed. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number is closer to 50%.
Arthritis can be extremely painful for a dog so it’s important to address this issue as soon as possible if you think this might be the cause.
The Treatment For Arthritis
If the vet diagnoses your dog with arthritis, the most common treatment is a Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drug (NSAID).
If the pain and swelling has reached a severe point, your vet may also give your dog a cortisol shot to speed up the pain relief process.
In the meantime, your dog will need to go through a lifestyle change. If you want your older pup to have a quality life for the next few years, diet and exercise will be crucial.
2 – Hip Dysplasia
As a pet owner, you’ve probably heard of hip dysplasia before. There’s nothing you did to cause this, it’s inherited through a number of genes, but dogs don’t always show signs of having it right away.
In fact, your dog may not even show the signs until they are in their elderly years. As we said earlier in this article, dogs are great at hiding their pain. As they get older the pain from hip dysplasia will increase, and that’s when the signs become apparent.
“What is Hip Dysplasia?”
In simple terms, it’s an improperly formed hip joint. The hip joint in dogs is a ball and socket joint (just like the shoulders and knees in humans). When a dog suffers from hip dysplasia, it’s a malformation of either the ball or the socket (or both).
Instead of the femur gliding smoothly when walking or running, it causes the femur to rub and grind in the socket. Over time this will cause severe damage, and your dog will stand up slowly, lose muscle mass in their back thighs, and not want to lie down because of the pain when standing back up.
Treatment for Hip Dysplasia
Just like arthritis, the most common treatment will probably be NSAIDS. Your vet may also recommend Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements which can help supply the building blocks needed to generate joint cartilage.
Diet and exercise become extremely important for dogs with hip dysplasia. The more fat your dog carries around, the more painful the hip dysplasia will be. You want to make sure you are keeping their weight in check by not overfeeding them. You also want to try to build back some of the lost muscle by having them take part in low impact exercise such as going for a walk.
Your vet should have diet and exercise recommendations for your dog. It’s your job to actually follow through.
3 – Back and Neck Pain
This is a really tricky one to diagnose because there can be many reasons for back and neck pain. Since our dogs are unable to express the exact symptoms, it’s hard to come up with a 100% accurate diagnosis without the use of medical machines such as x-rays.
Limping isn’t as common with neck/back pain as it is in arthritis and hip dysplasia, so if you notice your dog is in pain and isn’t limping, the pain could be isolated to the neck or back.
This type of pain may prevent a dog from lying down due to the pressure it places on the neck/spine.
When a dog has back pain, they will typically arch their back. When they have neck pain, you will notice their head held low.
Treatment of Back and Neck Pain
Because there are so many different causes of neck and back pain, it’s hard to provide a “one size fits all” treatment plan. Just like the other two treatments plans, NSAIDs should be involved. This won’t cure the underlying problem, but it will at least provide temporary relief for your furry friend.
Some conditions require surgery, but not all. The two most common reasons your dog would need treatment include spinal cord compression and tumors. Hopefully that isn’t the case for your dog!
The Next Steps For Your Elderly Dog
If you’re confident that pain is the reason your dog isn’t lying down, the responsible thing to do is take them to the vet ASAP.
Use the information you learned in this article to let your vet know you’ve ruled out stress and discomfort, and that you think the cause is either arthritis, hip dysplasia, or back/neck pain. It could be something else, but usually, when old dogs won’t lie down, it’s one of those three issues.