Sundowners Syndrome in Dogs and How to Help!

More than 50% of dogs over the age of ten experience some form of canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD). Dogs may exhibit signs and symptoms of a condition called Sundowner’s Syndrome, that is also found in some elderly adults.  It is believed that Sundowner’s  may be related to fatigue, hormone fluctuations, disruptions in the body’s biological clock, or altered vision with changing light levels.
In dogs Sundowner Syndrome can lead to confusion, restlessness, agitation, repetitive pacing, barking for no apparent reason, irritability, or “neediness”, causing otherwise independent dogs to become more dependent on their people in the evenings. The episodes tend to be more common during the winter months when days are shorter.

Diagnosing Sundowner Syndrome can be challenging, however, veterinarians have discovered that diagnosing and treating underlying medical conditions (such as arthritis pain) can sometimes help decrease the severity of  the cognitive symptoms in older dogs.

If you suspect  your dog is suffering from Sundowner Syndrome, veterinarians and behaviorists recommend  the following:

  • Have your dog examined to address any untreated medical conditions that could be making the sun downing behavior worse.
  • Increase the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants in your dog’s diet. Your veterinarian can make recommendations for dietary changes or supplementation.
  • Start your dog on melatonin, a hormonal supplement that can help reset your dog’s internal clock and help regulate sleep patterns.
  • Consider supplements to reduce your dog’s anxiety.  I prefer herbal supplements, flower essences or essential oils since they do not simply mask symptoms or cause drowsiness as prescription anti-anxiety medication can do.
  • Keep the lights on where your dog sleeps to eliminate frightening shadows or dark, scary corners.
  • Create an evening routine for your dog and stick with it so s/he knows exactly what to expect each night. Consistency and stability can bring comfort.
  • Help burn off nervous energy with an afternoon walk or other form of exercise that your dog enjoys.
  • Massage your dog in the evenings to help your dog feel more relaxed and less anxious. This will also improve your dog’s circulation and may be helpful for conditions such as arthritis.
  • Leave music playing overnight to mask any sounds that may make your dog feel nervous or afraid. Calming music for dogs is easy to find online.
  • Most importantly, be patient and compassionate. Dogs easily pick up on our frustrations, and you want to reassure your dog that s/he is still a very loved and important member of your family.