You know those nights where you toss and turn for hours but just can’t sleep? Frustrating, aren’t they? Everybody struggles to sleep occasionally, but did you know that this can be a problem for dogs as well? You may have noticed your dog rolling over and over to get comfy, laying there wide awake, or even pacing about when they should be snoozing. Just like us, there are plenty of reasons why your dog may not be sleeping; and, just like us, it can become a long-term problem. Today we will be discussing some of the reasons why your dog may not be sleeping, and how you can help them get their forty winks.
Disturbances (especially tonight!)
Bumps in the night can affect dogs just as much as us. Remember, dogs have much better hearing than us; so if you’re kept awake by the next-door neighbours or a prowling cat outside, think how much worse it could be for your pet. They may even be hearing things you can’t hear! If your dog appears to fall asleep fine, but keeps waking up, you may want to investigate noise. Is the TV too loud, is the washing machine too close by, or perhaps you are talking too much?
For obvious sources of noise you can control, remember to keep the volume down while it’s doggy naptime. If there are noises you can’t control, or can’t even hear, you may have to think about where your dog sleeps. Is there a quieter part of the house, or a room with thick soundproof windows? You may want to consider adding extra soundproofing if it’s really bad. Disturbances don’t just extend to the auditory. Some very sensitive pups may not like sleeping next to strong smells, such as rubbish bins or chemicals. Spend some time thinking about your pet’s sleeping arrangement and if you’d be happy nodding off there.
Probably the easiest cause of sleeplessness to identify, and to potentially solve. Having an uncomfortable sleeping area can put your dog off going to bed normally. If you notice that your dog moves around a lot to get comfortable or doesn’t even use their bed at all, they may not be entirely happy with it. It could be the bed isn’t large or soft enough for them to stretch out in, or perhaps it’s in the wrong place. Some dogs prefer to sleep alone in quieter parts of the house; others might like to know you’re still in the room. Experiment with where you put your dog’s bed and you may see improvements.
Moving on to more serious causes of sleepless nights, chronic pain is often a factor, especially in older dogs. Chronic pain can be due to a myriad of different causes; common ones include stiffness due to arthritis, gastrointestinal upset, pregnancy issues, skin disease, toileting problems or even cancer. Younger dogs have chronic pain as well, so don’t assume it’s just an old age issue.
Dogs with chronic pain will often show signs during waking hours as well, which can be a big clue. Look out for slow movement, a hunched-over appearance, vocalisation or sudden aggression when being touched. If you suspect your dog is in pain, you should definitely visit your vet. They can help diagnose the cause of the pain and offer treatment. This will likely involve treatments for specific diseases as well as pain relief medication; these should hopefully alleviate the chronic pain and help your elderly pooch sleep soundly again.
Sleep apnoea is a common problem in humans. It’s a problem where you don’t breathe properly whilst asleep, and then your body remembers that it needs to breathe and takes a quick gasp, which can often lead to us waking up. A similar issue can happen in dogs. It can happen to any dog and any breed, but certain ones are more prone to this issue. Signs include loud snoring or gasping whilst sleeping, no breathing followed by a gasp, and waking up because of this. An overweight dog is at a higher risk of sleep disturbance as their lungs struggle to inflate properly, and airways can be blocked.
You should also be suspicious if you have a brachycephalic breed that snores loudly. Brachycephalic dogs are those with abnormally short faces because of poor breeding – they include boxers, French bulldogs, pugs and bulldogs. Because of their short faces, their airways are compressed and narrow, with too much extra soft tissue. This means their airways are often obstructed, especially when exercising or laying down, which can cause breathing difficulties. This could be the reason your pug or Frenchie keeps waking up.
For brachycephalic dogs, obese dogs and those that have other forms of obstructive breathing issues, surgery can often fix the issue, but weight loss is important too. Discuss the options with your vet if breathing difficulties might be the cause of lack of sleep in your dog.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
A rather unusual cause of sleeplessness that may occur in older dogs is canine cognitive dysfunction. CCD is very similar to Alzheimer’s or dementia in humans, where there is age-related mental decline. This leads to altered behaviour, such as forgetting training or tricks, toileting accidents, confusion, aggression, and indeed sleeplessness. These signs are often initially subtle, and it can be hard to know if they are due to ‘normal ageing’ or true CCD.
Unfortunately, there is no treatment for CCD. But there are things we can do to help slow the process and to make your old dog’s life more comfortable. One thing you can do is to keep stimulating their mind as much as possible. This is similar to how Sudoku is used to slow brain ageing, puzzle feeding, games and exercise. Certain foods with omega-3 may also help. Finally, your vet can prescribe drugs such as propentofylline or selegiline that can slow the progression of CCD.
Behavioural problems that affect dogs of any age can lead to sleepless nights too. These problems may be linked to the other causes of sleeplessness listed above, or may be independent. We all know stress, anxiety, fear or abrupt changes in life can cause us to lay wide-awake at night, and similar situations can happen to dogs as well. If you’ve noticed your dog staying awake too long, consider if there have been any recent traumas, changes or difficulties in their life; these may be causing restlessness. Puppies, in particular, can suffer from sleeplessness after being taken away from their mothers and into a new home. Most will adjust to the new situation eventually, but it can develop to a long-term issue. Finally, some dogs just are too full of beans to get to sleep on time!
Very energetic dogs may just not be tired despite it being bedtime. If you think your dog may have this issue, consider some brief intense exercise a few hours before bed. For all the other behavioural issues, trying to stop the cause is the number one priority; if this cannot be done, you may want to consider behavioural training or the use of calming pheromones around bedtime (note that these may also help if your dog’s sleeplessness is caused by another previously mentioned issue).
Drug Side-Effects and Closing Thoughts
Finally, if your dog is on medication and has suddenly started being restless, the drugs could be the culprit! Drugs like steroids are known to cause restlessness at night – check the information given with your medicine, and ask your vet if you have any concerns. They may recommend changing the dose or moving to a different drug.
Sometimes sleep eludes us all, and it can be so frustrating to lay awake all night. Hopefully after this article you may have a better understanding of why your dog suffers from this as well, and maybe what steps you can take to improve their sleeping patterns. Sweet dreams!