If your dog is suddenly becoming scared during nighttime, it can be a cause of great concern. For young puppies, being restless at night can be considered normal, since they are getting used to new routines and environments. However, for older dogs, it can be caused by an underlying medical condition that needs to be checked out.
Either way, we need to talk about all of the possible causes of nighttime fear and anxiety in both puppies and senior dogs, as well as the solutions that can help ease their restlessness during bedtime.
Why is my dog suddenly scared at night?
Night anxiety or night restlessness in dogs can be caused by a number of things. These reasons can either stem from dementia, general anxiety, or an underlying medical condition that causes pain and discomfort.
Puppies and younger dogs can experience night restlessness due to changes in their environment or routine. This is largely due to separation issues, especially for dogs who have gotten used to sleeping in their owners’ beds or with their mother.
If your puppy is suddenly put in a new dog bed or a different room for bedtime, it’s expected that they will show restless behavior. Don’t worry though, nighttime restlessness due to this reason often goes away on its own. That is if owners do not give rewards for this behavior just to get them to calm down.
Your dog cannot become ‘scared of the dark’ for no reason. If your dog, either young or old, shows anxiety or fearful behavior after the sun has set, it can be because of poor eyesight. Of course, you wouldn’t know for sure unless you take them to the vet for an eye exam.
When a dog cannot see clearly in low light, he will most likely be on high alert for stimuli that would otherwise be familiar to him in the daytime. A visit to the vet can rule out this possibility using an ophthalmoscope or neurologic examination.
Stress can cause nighttime anxiety in dogs. In turn, stress can be caused by loud noises, a stimuli-rich environment, or a big change at home. Your dog can experience stress-induced anxiety when you move houses, have new children at the house, or introduce new pets.
These situations can cause them to have trouble falling asleep. If you notice that your dog keeps pacing or changing positions, he may be too anxious to fall asleep. If and when he does fall asleep, it can be a restless sleep that can affect his energy levels the next day.
As a dog gets older, they become prone to age-related health issues such as dementia. This is called canine cognitive dysfunction and is an incurable disease, just like in humans.
Dementia in dogs can cause disturbances in their sleep pattern, anxiety, disorientation, and other behavioral changes that can be mistaken with signs of aging. A dog that is suddenly scared at night can be the first symptom of canine dementia. This fear or anxiety is often associated with forgetting where they are, general anxiety, and a combination of vision and hearing loss.
Other medical conditions
Often for older dogs, night restlessness can be caused by an underlying medical condition which can be painful. With that being said, it’s important to consult with a vet to find out if your dog is suffering from an undiagnosed illness.
Why you should relieve your dog’s nighttime fear and anxiety
A dog that is suddenly scared or restless at night needs to be treated before the behavior snowballs into a lifetime fear or phobia. Aside from that, a dog not getting enough sleep or one that has trouble falling asleep at night can cause other issues like lethargy and behavioral changes.
Furthermore, if your dog is scared at night, then he will probably let you know. Your dog’s anxiety can be the cause of your sleepless night as well, as restless dogs tend to bark, whine, or howl until they get some help from you.
How to relieve your dog’s fear at night
Consult with a veterinarian
Fear, anxiety, or restlessness at night can be caused by a serious health condition. If your dog’s nighttime problem does not resolve itself through behavioral modification or adjustment, consult with a vet to diagnose a possible health problem.
Make sure your dog gets plenty of physical exercise
A dog that has had enough exercise and playtime during the day is most likely to become sleepy and happy when it’s time to go to bed. When they’re properly worn out but not exhausted, they can fall asleep more easily and sleep through the night without disturbance.
Create a more comfortable environment
Make sure your dog’s sleeping area is as quiet and as dark as it can be. The lack of stimuli can help them fall asleep much faster and decrease the chances of them waking up in the middle of the night. A comfortable bed is also important for your pup.
Train them in their first year
As much as possible, do not let your dog sleep on your = bed with you unless you plan on letting them do so for the rest of their life. Dogs are creatures of habit, so if you let them get used to a particular routine, expect that they will freak out if you suddenly change it.
In their first year, train your dog to sleep in their own particular spot. Provide them with a nice bed or crate-train them during bedtime. A bedtime routine can become something that is very familiar to them. If you move houses or change their rooms, nighttime fear or anxiety can be lessened with a familiar bed or crate.
Do not reward inappropriate behavior
Sometimes, you will be tempted to toss your dog a treat when they won’t stop barking in the middle of the night. However, it’s important that you do not do this! Rewarding their barking or whining can develop into a habitual behavior which you do not want.
Instead, try to comfort your dog with familiar commands such as ‘stay’ or ‘sit’. This can help them ease their anxiety and perhaps distract them from the fear-inducing stimuli. Either that, or you can leave a comforting toy with them. Some dogs can sleep better with a familiar object that is near.
If all else fails
If your dog’s nighttime fear or anxiety does not go away with behavior modification or re-training, we recommend that you look into medication options with your vet. Sometimes, medications such as benzodiazepines, tricyclic antidepressants, and SSRIs are required to ease your pup’s ailment.
Nevertheless, do not give your dog medications that are not prescribed for them, as human doses are different from that of animals.
Nighttime fear or anxiety can be a sleep-depriving experience for both pet and owner. This nocturnal restlessness can be caused by pain, anxiety, or dementia among other possible reasons. Even though it usually goes away with simple behavioral training, dogs who experience this problem may need further treatment with a vet or a behavior expert.
P.S. Help a friend their scared dog by pinning this!