Sleepwalking older dog. Is this a thing?
February 11, 2023 4:11 PM   Subscribe

Looking for experiences and advice from those with old dogs who have had difficulty sleeping. trying to figure out the extent to which we need to get used to this long-term, or if there are common causes (or remedies) for this.

Our 15yr-old Rat-Terrieresque mutt has been waking up at night confused and perturbed. Recently this led to him falling out of bed, struggling down the hall, and falling down the stairs. after a trip to the vet and exam and some painkillers he seems to be almost entirely back to his usual self during the daytime. But at nighttime he's waking up, standing up on or walking around the bed, snuggling in close, but continues to be restless. Part of me wonders if he's in pain at night because the painkiller have worn off, but it's hard to tell Because Nighttime, and he was doing this occasionally before The Fall. But i don't necessarily see indications of pain from him when this is happening. He's wandering around, confused-looking.

We have another vet appointment coming up in a couple weeks, where I'll ask for their professional guidance. But I thought it'd be helpful to hear what others may have gone through in this area.

posted by jerome powell buys his sweatbands in bulk only to Pets & Animals (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is by not meant to be definitive in any way but: dogs can get Parkinson's disease, and acting out dreams among the elderly without a prior history of it warrants a neurological work up as a possible early sign of developing that disease. You could ask your vet about this. (But, there are many other reasons this can happen including sleep apnea).
posted by ojocaliente at 4:35 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]

In addition to Parkinson's, dogs can also experience other forms of cognitive dysfunction/decline where they're ok during the day, but their symptoms worsen in the evening.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:07 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]

Our late sweet dog had some bad sundowning when she was dementing — that was the main sign. There were several medications we tried. Eventually she was on both gabapentin (for arthritis pain) and trazodone (for sleepies) and even that wasn’t quite enough towards the end. But there’s a lot of options.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:58 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]

My ancient dog had this for the last year or so of his life. Playing some "relaxing music for dogs" on YouTube helped to settle him down, and I put a toddler guard on the bed to stop him from falling off. I also used a baby gate to keep him from falling down the stairs.

Gabapentin helped a LOT. Getting the timing of it right was a little tricky.

Sending you and the pup lots of love, it can be really challenging for everyone.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 6:24 PM on February 11

Echoing that this can be a sign of dementia. Medications helped my sweet Rosie. She didn’t want to snuggle in the bed anymore but a heating pad (made for pets) kept her warm and seemed to help her sleep in the last few months.
posted by pearlybob at 4:00 AM on February 12

Best answer: It might help you to read about sundowning syndrome, which is common in older dogs (as well as humans). It’s when a dog gets older and becomes more active at night. It’s related to aging and dementia. He’s not sleepwalking, most likely. I’m dealing with this with my rat terrier mix.

It’s gotten to the point where I can’t have my pup sleep with my anymore, even though he’s slept with me his whole life. I gate him away from the bedroom area and he sleeps in old and some new places (the bathroom rug for one). He can’t hear or see very well and startled easily. He had behaviors similar to your pup before I made the tough decision not to let him sleep with me.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:19 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My late elder (16y) dog experienced nighttime waking and confusion due to a tumor on the pancreas which disrupted her blood sugar regulation. She was essentially going hypoglycemic in the interval between dinner and breakfast. Breaking up her meals to feed more often (and closer to bedtime) was helpful, as well as medication prescribed by my vet (including gaba, for pain). Ultimately, though, it was just her time, as the continued deprivation of glucose to her brain diminished her quality of life to a point that was unsustainable. Good luck to you and your pup; may your last years together be full of love.
posted by radiogreentea at 5:06 PM on February 12

Our 15-ish year old pom-peke is restless at night too. She gets gabapentin three times a day*, the last two in the evening and before bed to sort of double the dose. It works most of the time- but not always- to keep her asleep until dawn. She was also prescribed an evening walk and now eats two smaller dinners, one later in the evening, so that she isn't waking up in the night hungry.

It's still not great- we have sort of resigned ourselves to being woken between the hours of 5-7, sometimes multiple times. We bought a ramp for the bed and taught her to use it so that at least she's not launching herself off the bed like she was before. She frequently doesn't want to eat her dinner even though it's the exact same thing she had for breakfast and ate happily.

Good luck to you and your pup. It's hard when they are confused and upset.

*for pain- she has some spine issues, and also for sedative effects.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:29 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]

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