Anxiety in dogs at night stems from several possible causes.
Separation anxiety is a common problem for dogs at bedtime.
Music has proven beneficial for relieving anxiety in dogs at night.
Dealing with anxiety in dogs at night is exhausting. You've had a long day at work and when you go to bed, you want to get some peace and quiet. If your dog is pacing, whimpering, or scratching at the door, a restful sleep seems like only a dream. Your dog wants to drift off as well and maybe dream of catching a squirrel.
Anxiety in dogs at night may stem from several different causes. From your dog's stage in life, trauma, a change in routine, or simply separation from the one they love, the possibilities are numerous. No matter what the cause, the effect is a sleepless night. Find out what to do to help your dog and help you make your dream of a peaceful night a reality.
Causes of Anxiety in Dogs at Night
There's several possible causes of anxiety in dogs at night. Some of them relate to your dog's age, breed, past experiences, or environment. Their anxiety may also be due to a change in their owners' routines.
Dogs, like humans, go through specific life stages and certain behaviors are common during these times. It's not uncommon for puppies and senior dogs to experience anxiety at night.
If you've had young children, you know that they don't always sleep through the night. Some kids watch TV or eat too many sugary foods right before bed and this interrupts their sleep patterns. Others are afraid of the dark and separation from their parents. The same concept is true of puppies.
Rachel Kinsman, et. al. conducted a study in 2020 published in the National Library of Medicine. They analyzed sleep duration and behaviors in dogs up to 12 months of age.
"Sleep in dogs is a rarely studied but important behaviour. Changes in the pattern and duration of a dog’s sleep can reflect a dog’s wakeful experiences and how comfortable they are in their own environment."
If you bring home a puppy that has been recently parted from their littermates, they're not used to being by themselves. This separation takes some time to adjust. Not only are they alone, but they're in a completely unfamiliar environment and that takes some getting used to as well.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, dogs in their senior years have their issues to deal with. As you age, you may notice your knee popping or creaking, your back getting sore after sitting or standing in one place for too long, or taking just a little bit more time to get up from your chair or bed. These inconvenient and sometimes painful hitches happen to dogs too.
Getting old is no fun, but it's a fact of life. Some breeds like Saint Bernards, Labradors, German shepherds, golden retrievers, bulldogs, pugs, and Rottweilers are prone to conditions like arthritis, hip dysplasia, and other bone and joint issues. It's very uncomfortable to lie on a surface with little or no support, which leads to a very restless night.
If you adopt a rescue dog, you don't often know their history. Your dog may have experienced trauma related to frequent family arguments at night or a frightening event while on an evening walk. They may be afraid of abandonment when their family goes out in the evenings.
When a dog experiences a traumatizing event, it's difficult to know what else they associate with it. It could be a certain gender, an object, a place, or in this case, a particular time of day.
Change in Routine
If your dog's nighttime anxiety appears suddenly, there is likely something new that's happening. Did your daily routine or work schedule change? Are the kids staying up later because of spring break or summer vacation? Is the garbage truck coming by on a different schedule? Did you get an additional pet recently or did one move in next door?
Many seemingly small things may come up that don't affect you much because you either don't pay attention or you adapt easily. Dogs like routine and familiarity, so they take notice when even the smallest of changes occur. You may not even be aware that your neighbors got a new dog, but your pooch smells and hears them.
Your dog's uneasiness at night could be a result of separation anxiety. If your dog is sleeping in their bed away from you, it's enough to feel the separation.
Look at it from the dog's perspective: they're on the floor and aren't able to see you lying in your bed. During the day, you're walking around the house and they easily see and feel your presence. If they're frightened, you're at their disposal. This isn't the case during the night.
Dr. Wailani Sung has a doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. She is also board certified in veterinary behavioral medicine. Dr. Sung has provided consultations for the Behavior Specialty Clinic at the San Francisco SPCA.
Sung describes anxiety as the "anticipation of unknown or imagined future dangers" in a 2019 article for PetMD. This results in bodily or physiological reactions. She says that separation anxiety is the most common form of anxiety in companion dogs.
If your dog's anxiety is a result of separation, you likely see displays of the same symptoms when you leave them alone during the day. If they become restless and begin whining when you're about to leave for work, it's likely due to that feeling of impending separation.
If your dog's anxiety comes on suddenly, there's a chance that they have an undiagnosed medical condition that's causing them pain or discomfort. If this is the case, look for other signs like a change in their water or food consumption or a difference in their stool.
If you notice that your dog runs into things or stumbles around in the dark, they could have eye problems that cause night blindness.
Take your dog to the vet if you notice these or other new symptoms along with the anxiety at night. Be proactive about their issues before the condition worsens.
Symptoms of Anxiety at Night
If your dog has anxiety at night, try to notice changes in their behavior. When their normal bedtime approaches, look for these common signs:
Whining, whimpering, barking, panting
Chewing, scratching, or other destructive behavior
Trying to escape
Urination or bowel movements after successful potty training
Displaying just one of these symptoms likely indicates a behavioral issue that requires medical attention.
Remedies for Anxiety at Night
Relieving your dog's anxiety takes a bit of trial and error. If you don't know the exact cause, you may not be able to relieve their specific fears right away. Try the least invasive method first and then go from there.
Calming Dog Bed and Blanket
No matter what the reason is for your dog's anxiety, try to make their nighttime environment as comfortable as possible. This includes their bed. It's not recommended for your dog to sleep with you in your bed as this creates more of an attachment. Giving them a separate bed supports their independence.
The Calming Cuddle Bed Plus contains memory foam, which is great for a senior dog that has arthritis or other hip and joint issues. That extra support and softness make a huge difference for a dog that's in pain.
If your dog likes to burrow, provide a calming blanket as well. They have a more den-like experience under the blanket and it's versatile. Take the blanket with them for other times when anxiety is an issue.
Speaking of den-like, an anti-anxiety dog crate gives this feeling as well. If your dog roams around during the night, pacing and restless, they may need more of an enclosure to make them feel safe. Never force your dog into the crate though, or you end up creating a negative experience. Make it comfortable and inviting.
If you don't have an enclosed crate, a wire cage with a blanket draped over it works. If you don't have either of these things, put them in a smaller room or use a gate to limit their access to the rest of the house.
If the bed, blanket, or crate is not enough to provide security, your dog may need something more form-fitting. A calming wrap like a ThunderShirt fits snuggly around their body, producing endorphins that create a sense of well-being.
Fit them with the vest or wrap while they're calm before their bedtime. If you try to put it on them while they're scared, it creates even more anxiety. You also want to monitor them for a while they're wearing it to make sure there aren't any breathing issues or other adverse reactions.
You've heard that "music calms the savage beast," but it also calms an anxious one. Music produces emotional responses from people and dogs alike.
Lori R. Kogen and colleagues were researchers in the Clinical Sciences Department of Colorado State University. They published a study in 2012 in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior studying the behavioral effects of auditory stimulation on kenneled dogs.
They investigated the impact of music on the activity level, vocalization, and body shaking of 117 kenneled dogs. Their results suggest that "classical music leads to kenneled dogs spending more time sleeping and less time vocalizing than when exposed to other music types or no music."
They also found that heavy metal music, compared to other types of music, increased body shaking, which is a sign of nervousness. Given the instrumentation and upbeat tempo of heavy metal, this is not surprising.
Even when picking out classical music, choose something soft and slow. For instance, The Flight of the Bumblebee is not as relaxing as one of Chopin's nocturnes. When choosing your dog's playlist, just be sure not to mix up your Mendelsohn and Metallica.
An adequate amount of exercise is important for the overall health of your dog. If your dog isn't getting enough of a workout during the day, the effects carry over to their nighttime routine.
Jill Zwarensteyn is the editor for Sleep Advisor and a certified sleep science coach. She says that "not getting enough physical activity during the day could cause a dog to feel restless at night. Therefore, you should allow your pup adequate time for daytime exercise, particularly if you notice they are restless at night."
Besides giving your dog an extra workout, an end-of-the-day walk allows them to take one last potty break before bed. Needing to relieve themselves is another cause for restlessness at night.
Supplements or Medication
If all of these outside influences aren't doing the job, your dog may need something that works from the inside. Calming supplements take different forms from CBD or hemp oil, to calming collars and other aromatics, to calming chews. Many contain natural ingredients or pheromones that send messages to the brain, telling the dog to relax.
When these natural remedies are not effective or if your dog has severe anxiety to the point of panic, your vet may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication. This is expensive and is not a "cure." Continue to work with your dog on behavior modifications in addition to this and hopefully, they get to the point that they no longer need the medication.
Sweet Dreams for You and Your Dog
When your dog has anxiety at night, it's frustrating for both you and your dog. You may never know the reason it started, but it's not impossible to relieve their symptoms. Use the tips you're given here and keep an eye on your dog for any changes.
Never punish your dog for showing anxiety. It's not their fault and they're hoping it goes away just as much as you are. Work with your dog to make their nighttime routine as calm and peaceful as possible so your dog goes off to doggy dreamland and perhaps catch that elusive squirrel while you catch some much-needed zzzs.
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