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Why will my dog not sleep at night?

Author: VioVet
Published: Sunday 20th January 2013
Updated: Wednesday 23rd October 2019

I have a 12 year old male Labrador who has started to dig the carpet at night. It seems to be a compulsive habit, which started about 6 months ago and is getting worse. I can hear him at various times in the night and it goes on for several minutes at a time. Have tried leaving light on - no effect. I feel he needs some sort of sleeping pill for nightly use. My dog is very fit for his age and not overweight. A bit creaky but this is minimised by Previcox supplied by you. Any suggestions please?

Our reply:

Some old dogs act as if they feel anxious at night. This often manifests as pacing about and possibly vocalising, but it can show in other ways. I suspect your dog feels unsettled in some way, but for no good reason. It is just spontaneous. Dogs like this will often rest peacefully at times during the day, sleeping soundly, but can't do it so well at night. Your dog sounds atypical, but if this sort of picture fits with his behaviour, then I would tend to categorise it in that way.

Treatment in my experience is a bit hit and miss. Some dogs respond well to medication which fails to work for other dogs. Possibly this is because the underlying causes vary from one dog to another. My suggestion would be first to think of anything you can do as part of your daily routine to make things better. Some dogs like sleeping in an enclosed area, with a bed which they might turn and scrape and pile up, but at least it saves the carpet. Others benefit from a longer walk at night, then being fed just before going to bed. It might be worth experimenting with some things like this.

Possible medical treatments would include Aktivait, which is designed for older dogs to maintain more normal behaviour and brain function. Alternatives would be Zylkene and Adaptil, which are designed to have a calming effect on dogs of any age. All of these products (and more) are non-prescription and are on the website. There are also some prescription medicines which your vet would need to prescribe. Sedatives such as ACP can be tried, but tend to cause unwanted general drowsiness and fail to work long-term. Human tranqulilisers such as Xanax do work for some dogs, but have no effect on others. You would need to talk to your own vet about these things, but they are on the website.