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Sundowners Syndrome In Dogs: Is Your Senior Dog Suffering At Night?

Written by: Dina Fantegrossi
Dina Fantegrossi is the Assistant Editor and Head Writer for HomeLife Media. Before her career in writing, Dina was a veterinary technician for more than 15 years.Read more
| Published on May 7, 2019

Does your senior dog seem confused or restless in the evening? Maybe she paces the floor or clings to your side as night approaches? These symptoms may be signs of sundowners syndrome.

The condition was first seen in patients with dementia when caregivers noticed worsening confusion and irritability after sunset. While there is no cure, you can help your dog cope with the symptoms of sundowning.

evening sundowners syndrome in dogs

What Is Sundowners Syndrome In Dogs?

More than 50% of dogs over the age of 10 experience symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD). For some, the symptoms worsen in the late afternoon or early evening. This is sundowners syndrome.

While sundowners only occurs in dogs with dementia, not every pooch with CCD struggles with these stressful nighttime symptoms. Episodes also seem to be more common during the winter months when the days are shorter.

What Are The Signs & Symptoms?

  • Confusion
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Repetitive Pacing
  • House Soiling
  • Compulsive Licking
  • Barking of Whining for No Reason
  • Irritability
  • Forgetfulness (waiting by their food dish when they’ve already eaten)
  • Getting “Lost” in the House or Yard
  • Neediness or Clingy Behavior
  • Sleeping Less or Waking Throughout the Night

signs of sundowners syndrome in dogs

What Causes Sundowners Syndrome In Dogs?

Researchers are not sure what exactly causes sundowners in humans or animals. Some believe it is caused by hormone fluctuations or disruptions in the body’s biological clock. Others suspect it is connected to changing light levels and their effect on older dogs with vision impairments.

How Is The Condition Diagnosed?

Diagnosing sundowners syndrome in dogs can be quite difficult. There is no specific medical test for the condition, and many owners mistake the signs for normal aging changes.

If you notice personality or behavior issues in your aging dog – especially in the evenings – see your veterinarian. He or she will ask a series of questions to help determine if it is truly sundowners, not a medical problem.

Related: 12 Best Dog Breath Fresheners

sundowning in dogs

What Can You Do To Help Your Dog?

If your vet confirms your dog is suffering from sundowners syndrome, he or she may recommend anti-anxiety medications or an MAO-inhibitor like selegiline to increase dopamine levels in the brain.

Certain natural supplements may also help ease the symptoms of sundowners. For example, try increasing the amount of antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids in your dog’s diet to support brain health. Healthy fruits and veggies like blueberries and spinach are rich in antioxidants while Omega-3 fatty acids are most plentiful in fish and krill oil.

Many vets also recommend melatonin for dogs, a hormonal supplement, as a natural sleep aid for sundowners syndrome in dogs. It can help your dog relax and sleep better at night.

In addition to these treatments, be sure to address any underlying medical conditions such as arthritis that may contribute to your dog’s discomfort and restlessness.

dog with sundowners syndrome

There are also several steps you can take to make things easier around the house. Try leaving a light on near your dog’s bed to reduce frightening shadows. It may also help to play soothing music or white noise to reduce distracting sounds that could disturb your pup’s sleep.

In terms of your dog’s evening schedule, be sure to stick to a reliable routine to avoid confusion. Take your dog for an evening walk or enjoy a gentle play session as a way of tiring her out and working off nervous energy.

Most importantly, be patient. Remember, your dog did not ask to develop dementia.

sundowners syndrome in dogs

Sundowners syndrome is stressful and frustrating for both you and your dog. While you cannot reverse the symptoms, you can help manage them. Your senior dog is counting on you to give her the patience and understanding she needs to continue to thrive.


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