Night Waking in Elderly Dog

Dementia can be Treated


We are having a big problem with our Pekapoo. He is 15 1/2 and seems to be hyperactive at night due to Sundowning Syndrome where he very restless. He is going out 3-4 times per night. We have him in a calming vest, have given him Rescue Remedy and a Kong with peanut butter. Nothing is working and his agitation is increasing. We do not want to get him on tranquilizers.


Dr. Nichol:

You must have taken mighty good care of your Pekapoo for him to have reached such an advanced age. It is likely that he is suffering from dementia of cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS).  The symptoms of this degenerative brain disorder are quite similar to Alzheimer’s disease of humans. The brain pathology is almost identical.

I’m sorry to share this bad news but I am glad you wrote; CDS is grossly underdiagnosed. Many pet parents believe the worsening confusion, house soiling, restlessness, aimless pacing, and loss of obedience skills indicate normal aging. Opportunities for early treatment are being missed. In fact, 68% of dogs over age 14 have CDS.

The reversal of your Pekapoo’s day-night sleep cycle is a common sign. Many affected dogs become highly anxious in the evening and into the night, becoming exhausted by morning. A tranquilizer would not treat the underlying problem. Melatonin, given 1-2 hours prior to bedtime can help reset the internal clock. An antianxiety medication like trazodone (cq) or clonazepam (cq) could reduce your dog’s debilitating agitation and improve everybody’s quality of life.

Your veterinarian can also prescribe a special diet, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatories.  Additional supplements can protect an aging dog’s remaining functional neurons. We treat every case as an individual. Many affected dogs improve or remain stable for several months, others don’t respond to treatment at all. It’s tragic to see a beloved pet lose his personality and finally his self. CDS, like Alzheimer’s, is always terminal. There is no cure.

Thunder Shirts (calming vest) and Rescue Remedy have not performed well in these cases. If your dog will extract food from a Kong or other food toy I would certainly encourage you to continue with this method of challenging his brain. There are also interactive food puzzles that you can enjoy with your dog. Make every day count.


Dr. Jeff Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). Questions on pet behavioral or physical concerns? For answers, Like my Facebook page at or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.