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Some senior dogs struggle with anxiety during the night. Here are some ways to help.

Why Does My Senior Dog Have Anxiety at Night?

When evening arrives and everyone settles down for a good night's sleep, you want to hear the sounds of peaceful slumber, not the sounds of your dog restlessly whining, barking, pacing, or panting. Not only does your dog's restlessness disrupt your sleep, but it's also not helping your dog get the sleep he needs, either. If your dog is getting older, you might begin to notice these behaviors increasing in frequency. What is causing your senior dog anxiety at night? And how can you calm him and improve the situation?

Some senior dogs struggle with anxiety during the night. Here are some ways to help.

Why your dog might be anxious or restless

There could be several reasons why your senior dog is restless at night, and he could have a combination of these factors.

  • Pain. As your dog ages, he may begin to exhibit a few physical ailments. If your senior pet suffers from physical discomfort or just the normal aches and pains of aging, it may be more challenging for him to relax at night. Any aid you can give your dog to help with these problems may minimize his nocturnal restlessness. While it may not be possible to alleviate all the effects of aging, your veterinarian is the best source of advice for your dog's specific troubles.
  • Body Temperature. Your dog might not be able to regulate his body temperature as effectively as he once could, and he gets cold during the night.
  • Memory troubles. Sometimes as dogs age, they develop an issue called cognitive dysfunction. With cognitive dysfunction, a dog may develop difficulties with memory and may seem confused or fearful—more so in new situations. These issues can lead to anxiety at night. Perhaps your dog wakes up and isn't sure where he is, or isn't sure where you are, which may cause nocturnal barking, whining, panting, pacing, etc. Cognitive dysfunction may also make a dog feel like day and night are “switched," leading to additional restlessness when he would typically be asleep.1 Depending on the severity of the issue, your dog's veterinarian might be able to recommend medication to help with these symptoms.

How to calm a restless dog at night

You have several options to help your pet stay calm during the night. Besides visiting your vet to rule out or treat any physical or cognitive problems that might be the cause of your pet's midnight restlessness, you can try some simple things to help calm your dog at night.

  • Exercise. It's no secret that regular exercise can help us feel good, and this is true for your dog too. It's also no secret that you probably sleep better if you've exercised during the day rather than at night, and this applies to your dog as well. While the exercise requirements for a senior dog might differ from a young dog, older pets still need safe, regular exercise.
  • Playtime. Exercise your dog's mind too! This could involve some fun toys or engagement with other humans or canines.
  • Routine. As your dog ages, you may need to make some adjustments to your dog's routine for meals, bedtime, and going outside, but the important thing is to stick to a routine once it's established.
  • Nightlight. If your pet seems unhappy at night, adding a small nightlight near his sleeping area may help him feel less anxious. This is especially true if he has cognitive dysfunction and wakes up confused about his surroundings. The light will help him see and remember where he is.
  • Music. Some dog owners find the white noise of quiet music can help de-stress their pet.2
  • Bed. A soft, quality bed can go a long way toward keeping a senior dog comfortable all night long. Be sure to add in a blanket or two, or try a heated dog bed.
  • Location. Some dogs are very attached to their human family. If your dog feels anxious at night, your presence, voice, scent, and touch may help calm him. Depending on your situation and routine, consider moving your dog closer to you for comfort.

Anxiety at night is not fun for you or your dog. With a few simple adjustments (and a conversation with your vet), you and your senior dog will be sleeping better soon.

  1. ASPCA. “Behavior Problems in Older Dogs," https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/behavior-problems-older-dogs.
  2. Madson, Cathy. Preventive Vet. “How to Use Music to Calm Your Anxious Dog," 27 February 2020, https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/how-to-use-music-to-calm-anxious-dogs.
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