How To Help Older Dogs Sleep Through The Night?

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Throughout life, people and animals both go through phases where they have difficulty sleeping. That seems to become worse as we age and have trouble becoming comfortable at night.

Issues sleeping through the night not only will affect your dog negatively, but will eventually start to bother you and your family as well.

Keep reading to find out why your old companion isn’t sleeping well and how you can help.

By Allison Salonko.

Allison is a Veterinary Technician in the state of Indiana. She graduated from International Business College and Vet Tech Institute of Indianapolis with a degree in Animal Science and Technology in 2011.

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Why Isn’t Your Old Dog Sleeping Through The Night?

There can be many reasons for why your old bud is waking up often during the night.

Dogs can have restless sleep due to cognitive dysfunction, pain, an underlying medical condition or anxiety.

What Is Cognitive Dysfunction In Older Dogs?

Just like people, dogs can lose clear brain function as they age.

These symptoms can manifest in ways like confusion and a disrupted sleep schedule. Because there is no sure fire test for doggy dementia or cognitive dysfunction, it can be truly difficult to accurately diagnose.

Many times owners will describe one or several of the following symptoms:

  • Pacing
  • Disorientation/confusion
  • Restlessness
  • Reversed day/night sleep/wake patterns
  • Poor adaptability to new routines
  • Hiding, getting themselves stuck in closets, rooms or corners

In some cases, a dog develops night time seizures and you are catching the tail end of the episode.

Usually the event is short lived and the owners wake up to the confused and disoriented phase of the seizure.

These can often appear like a cognitive dysfunction but will usually be lacking other easily diagnosable symptoms.

Does Your Dog Just Need To Go To The Restroom?

Many older dogs will be woken up by the urge to use the bathroom.

It’s unfortunate that they have to wake you up for this task to be completed, but at least they’re trying to tell you.

In some senior dogs, there are medical conditions or medications that will cause the desire to urinate or defecate more.

While it is really frustrating to be woken up every night by your dog needing to go potty, it could be alerting you to something you were not aware of.

If you notice that this is a new habit then schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out other issues.

It is possible that your dog could be suffering from a urinary tract infection or perhaps something more is going on.

Other medical conditions that can be a cause for increased trips outside for potty are:

  • Neurological impairments
  • Kidney disease
  • Hormone imbalances (Cushing’s disease or diabetes)
  • Gastrointestinal issues

Does Your Dog Wake Up All Night Because They Are Painful?

Pain is certainly a leading cause in the reasons why so many geriatric dogs have trouble sleeping through the night.

They may even seem fine during the day and get around without issues, but at night, their legs, hips and back are stiff and painful, making sleep difficult.

Some symptoms of discomfort are:

  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Restlessness
  • Vocalizations like whining or crying out

If you suspect that your dog is suffering from pain and discomfort at night, talk with your veterinarian about something they can prescribe to help.

Usually the Dr will suggest having them start a joint supplement to help slow further joint damage but they will also add a daily anti-inflammatory to reduce the pain and inflammation throughout.

Always talk with your veterinarian.

Do not give your dog any unfamiliar medications or human drugs without asking first.

Is Anxiety Keeping Your Dog Up At Night?

Our canine companions are unfortunately prone to having anxiety like their people.

It is possible for them to have enough anxiety that it keeps them up at night, especially if they are sensitive to normal noises and lights from outside that may occur while everyone is sleeping.

Some of these dogs are very reactive and will start barking and wake up the whole neighborhood if they hear the sound of one raccoon outside in a trashcan.

While this may not seem like anxiety, it certainly is.

These dogs have such a high anxiety response to the idea of another animal or person being around their home that they feel the urge to vocalize about it for several minutes.

If you are wanting to help your dog with it’s nighttime anxiety, there are a few simple and drug free options that you can try before turning to meds or supplements.

  • Establish a bedtime routine (remember, older pets do better with routine!)
  • Potty right before bed!
  • Comfortable orthopedic bed
  • Night light
  • Soothing sounds if your dog likes to wake up to every noise
  • Short walk before bed

Having an orthopedic dog bed will go a long way for our geriatric companions.

Finding one that is safely heated is even better! Heat is great for sore and achy joints while the orthopedic bed relieves pressure on those old bones.

Always remember to take them out before going to bed. This may not prevent them from waking you up every time, but it never hurts!

A Bedtime Routine Is Crucial

These dogs that are losing cognitive function really do best when they have a daily schedule that they can predict and follow. It’s most likely that you will sometimes have to deviate from this routine but that is just life.

Night lights are truly great if you have a dog that has been struggling with their vision.

If you notice they are having a hard time navigating the room when it’s dark, try adding a night light.

If you have one of those dogs that barks and reacts to every little noise at night then don’t hesitate to play sounds that will help drown out those outdoor sounds that get your guy going.

Personally, the wave noises are nice and pleasant and help me and my husband sleep as well.

Do You Need To Give The Dog Something To Help Them Sleep?

In some cases, your veterinarian will opt to give your dog a pharmaceutical or nutraceutical medication or supplement to help your dog sleep through the night.

Many Drs don’t like to jump straight to using these because they want to eliminate dependency issues in the future.

Common medications that are given to help dogs sleep are anti-anxiety meds like Valium or Xanax and even drugs like trazodone have become more frequently prescribed.

Using pheromone collars or diffusers can also be a helpful addition to the home routine.

Companies like Ceva have created their own pheromone product called Adaptil.

These collars, sprays and diffusers have been found to have a calming effect and reduce general anxiety.

Melatonin is another supplement that can be given to help create a normal sleep schedule.

If you pair this with a regular routine, it should work very well for you and your dog.

Some owners have taken to trying CBD treats to help their dog with arthritic pain and restless nights.

CBD products are not FDA regulated so many veterinarians recommend using these are the owners discretion.

Why Your Older Dog Isn’t Sleeping Through The Night

Now that we understand the reasons behind why geriatric dogs struggle to sleep at night, we can be more informed on how to address, potentially treat and handle these inevitable life issues.

While watching our dog grow old hurts, keeping them happy and healthy even as a senior is what’s important for them.

Photo by Justaf Abduh.