A lot of things can arise for dogs as they age. At the vet's office, we often hear things like: "My dog kept pacing at night. She can't get comfortable." Or, "My old dog is restless at night." Today, we are going to talk about a few of the most common reasons why an old dog may pace at night.
There are a lot of reasons why an old dog might wake up and pace in the middle of the night. Let's discuss them below. Each of them had early signs that looking back was a sure giveaway.
1- Doggy dementia
One of the first signs we often see with doggy dementia is waking up in the middle of the night. For doggy dementia dogs, their 'time clocks' are off. These older dogs seem restless to many as they will pace and seemingly do loops around the house. For my older westie, Frodo Baggins, he would wake up and 'walk loops' throughout the house. Around the same time, we would see things that seemed like senior moments. One time after I had just walked him, I came back out and found him staring in a corner by the front door. Seemingly confused. To learn more about what doggy dementia looks like and things that help, check out our podcast episodes.
2- Chronic Pain
Dogs do not have good ways of telling us that they are experiencing pain. Most people expect them to yelp or be dramatic. But the truth is that even the most dramatic dogs have difficulty expressing and communicating chronic pain. It's not because they don't feel pain, it's just because they have different ways of expressing it that are way more subtle than one would expect. Things such as arthritis, dental disease, or chronic disease can cause chronic pain in older dogs. Discussing bloodwork and appropriate doggy pain medication for your dog with your vet is a great place to start if you suspect this.
The onset of disease can cause dogs to not feel quite right at night. An old dog can become restless and pace at night when something feels off. One fall, my geriatric Maltese Bon Bon who had heart disease started waking up at night and pacing. When we counted her sleeping respiratory rate it was on the high end of normal. And so we brought her in to take X-rays and found that she was slowly beginning to develop congestive heart failure. (To learn about sleeping respiratory rate, check out my video here.) We were glad we paid attention because we were able to start her on medication pretty easily to help support her. There are many other diseases that can cause discomforts like cancer, joint pain, dental disease, and more.
What to do if your old dog is pacing at night?
Though we went through a few common reasons for an old dog to be restless and pacing at night, there are still many more. If your old dog is pacing at night, it's time for a vet visit. Even if they are acting normal otherwise. You want to make sure that there is no medical concern causing your old dog to be restless and pace. Your vet can recommend diagnostics and examine your dog to help you figure out the best next step.
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