How to Help Your Dog with Sundowners How to Help Your Dog with Sundowners SyndromeSyndrome

Sundowners syndrome–the worsening of dementia symptoms at night—is common in people with dementia and in older dogs, too. My family learned this when we took our 13-year old Labrador to the vet for behavior issues that turned out to be symptoms of canine dementia. There’s no cure for sundowning or dementia, but there are things you can do to help your dog feel more secure and less anxious. Here are the signs of sundowning in dogs and some ways to help.

What does sundowning look like in dogs?

More than half of dogs have at least one sign of canine dementia by 11 years, and the likelihood of dementia rises steadily after that. Some dogs with dementia seem fine for most of the day but as the outdoor light falls near sundown, they become confused and anxious.

Typical signs of canine dementia that may worsen late in the day include:

  • Soiling in the house
  • Repetitive barking or whining for no reason
  • Constantly licking the floor or their body
  • Acting irritable
  • Forgetting routines (for example, forgetting they’ve already eaten dinner and waiting by their bowl)
  • Panting, pacing, and other signs of anxiety
  • Getting lost in familiar areas of the house and yard
  • Sleeping less or waking often at night
  • Eating less than normal or not eating
  • Seeming unusually fearful during walks or car rides

If your dog has any of these symptoms, take him or her to the vet. The doctor can check for underlying medical causes (for instance, a newly irritable dog may have arthritis pain, not dementia). Your vet may also recommend treatments to slow or reduce dementia symptoms if they’re caught early enough.

What you can do for a dog with sundowners

Follow any recommendations your vet has for dietary changes, supplements, and medications. You can also help your dog by:

  • Maintaining a regular daily routine of playtime, exercise, meals, and medication. (You may need to adjust the routine to sync with sunset after spring and fall time changes.)
  • Giving your dog daily exercise and outside time, for fitness and for sun exposure to help regulate sleep cycles.
  • Scheduling playtime early in the day when your dog is less confused and stressed.
  • Providing toys to occupy their time and give them a bit of a challenge.
  • Being extra patient with your dog when he or she seems confused or anxious.
  • Giving your dog a regular lights-out time at night.

Other things you may want to discuss with your vet are putting a Thundershirt (a weighted garment designed to calm anxious dogs) on your pet in late afternoon and adding a melatonin supplement to your dog’s evening meal for better sleep. If your dog’s symptoms become more intense or if your dog starts snapping at people and other pets, see your vet.

Ways to keep your sundowning dog safe

Keep your doors and gates closed to prevent your dog from wandering. Make sure your dog stays hydrated, and keep tabs on their food intake. Keep small objects and hazardous chemicals out of your senior dog’s reach. Finally, be extra cautious and patient when introducing new people and pets to your dog, to reduce confusion and anxiety.

Learn more about dementia in dogs, human dementia research and best practices, and care options for people with dementia at SeniorAdvisor.com.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

23 Comments

  1. Patricia Lambert March 27, 2019 Reply

    Thank you for your article. Our dog was diagnosed with sundowners syndrome, and I am looking for information for how to help him. He’s a nine-year old dachsund mix rescued from a storm when he was a puppy. He has always been anxious when the weather would change, but now it is every night no matter the weather that he is distressed. He comes to me for assistance and will just stare in my face or aggressively try to get in my lap. In the middle of the night he seems obsessed with being outside, so I let him out and he then refuses to come back in. It’s hard to know that there’s no cure and that it will get worse. Our family loves him and we don’t want him to suffer.

  2. Susan March 27, 2019 Reply

    Im no expert but try cbd products for dogs..

  3. Bill April 6, 2019 Reply

    Our 14 year old senior dog displays similar behaviors, pacing, climbing on top of me in bed, walking around on top of me, wanting to go outside, panting, drinking water, and it goes on for ours. The one thing I have found that helps is to get him out for very long trail walks, like over an hour or more. This is possible on weekends but not during the work week. These long hikes with all the smelling he does and limbering up just seems to suit him well and “reset” his natural inclinations, and then he sleeps more soundly. Fortunately, he is otherwise healthy. We do give him Benedryl that helps also.

  4. Laura May 9, 2019 Reply

    Help! My 6/7 yo, mix terrier started a new behavior. Every night at the same time, bedtime, she starts to panic. Climbing on me, jumping on & off the bed, panting, and pacing and it goes on for hours. We’ve tried Trazodone, Gabapentin and a combo of those and still nothing. Last night we tried Sileo but I couldn’t get a full dose in between her cheek & gum so don’t know if it works or not – will try again tonight. I’m dumbfounded. The vet is stumped as well. Maybe I’ll try good old Benadryl next. I’m so sad for my girl.

  5. Marilyn joan May 14, 2019 Reply

    My 13 years old chihuahua has all the symptoms of sundowners … she was always an anxious dog but now is so much worse and absolutely nothing helps. I’ve been getting no sleep for nites on end and during the day she will not let me out of her sight. No medications have worked no shirts or containing her next will be the CBD oil but I don’t have faith it will help either … I’m at my wits end. Any new suggestions wud be greatly appreciated

    • Jessica June 25, 2019 Reply

      We have the same issues. We tried CBD oil last night. It made it worse. I don’t know what to do. I am at a lose, and with 2 hours of sleep.

  6. Carole June 17, 2019 Reply

    Laura, in my humble opinion it sounds like doggie dementia and if your vet has no idea as to what may be going on I would change vets. Doggie dementia is common in older,dogs as they are living longer and acquire dementia just like old humans. Google dogs with dementia and educate yourself. It can’t be cured but there are meds to please. Also either change vets or get a second opinion. Blessing to you. This is a heartbreaking disease.

  7. Peggy Lamb June 27, 2019 Reply

    Where can U buy CBD products for dogs?

    • Jenai Mayo October 12, 2019 Reply

      We use a high quality therapeutic grade pet CBD.
      I helps our boxer with her anxious feelings

  8. Debbis June 30, 2019 Reply

    Talking to a friend two days ago, I learned their dog has sundowners. Their vet recommended adding fish oil, high in omega-3 to the dogs diet. The dog didn’t like the oil added to food, so they regularly boil salmon to feed her. The dogs behavior has greatly improved. At least for early onset of disease, a diet change may be benificial. Talk to your vet for ideas.

  9. Trudy Ramsey August 30, 2019 Reply

    Trudy
    My little Missy, a Papillon will be 16 on Oct 6, 2019. She weighs 7 lbs. She started acting funny about two weeks ago. She is blind in both eyes now from glockcomma so i carry her everywhere. She sleeps with me and i have a calif. King waterbed. Any move she makes i wake up because i dont want her to fall off as it sits off the floor 3 ft. She started wining and panting moving from the head to foot and of course i thought maybe she needed to go out, so we kept going out and that wasn’t it. Now this only happens at night .My friend told me about Sundowners which i knew about because my dad had it in the hosp. This is heartbreaking. My little Missy also has seizure, her meds she takes every 12 hrs usually makes her sleepy but has no effect on this Sundowners. Poor baby.

  10. Chey September 10, 2019 Reply

    We have a 16 yr. old Shih tzu that we rescued when he was about 2. He has always had separation anxiety but at around age 10 he really got afraid of traveling with us, which was something he used to love to do. I took him to the vet when he started pacing and panting at night last March 2018. We’ve had him on prozac and xanax which helped quite a bit, but for only a few months. He now hates being in the house, mostly if we aren’t home or at night. I hate having to put him in the garage at night, but it’s too the point where he is suffering inside.
    I feel that his life has diminished to the point where he needs help getting to the rainbow bridge. And that will break my heart to do. But, he needs peace. I know he’s had a happy, comfortable life with us and he has brought much happiness to us too. I will miss my Joey so very much 🙁

  11. Lori September 11, 2019 Reply

    Having to put my dog Ringo down today after battling Sundowners dementia for several months. He has a bad heart, on meds for, seizures, on cbd oil for, but nothing helps the dementia. Daytime he is pretty normal but nights he is up all night long, no sleep for either of us. Dr. Says nothing he can do at this stage. Essential lavender oil, omega 3s,cbd, benedryl, nothing. I feel awful to put my little guy down. He is only 12 yo but we cant go on and my other dog is affected by his craziness at night. Just sharing.

  12. Barb Wegner September 22, 2019 Reply

    My heart is breaking… our 15 1/2 year old dachshund has all the symptoms of this. Now after reading about this I see it has been coming on for a while. I will take him to the vet tomorrow and see what they recommend.

  13. Lori Leighton September 26, 2019 Reply

    Hello, My pug Lambert is 12 years old mostly blind, and has no teeth. His cognitive decline has been progressively slow for about a year…now he has all the full blown symptoms of dementia. At night he whines and whimpers, is anxious and acts confused. He wanders around the house getting stuck in a corner…It seems like he is asleep when he whines and barks out…he is not alert. I have tried CBD and so many other things…My latest bedtime concoction of meds has been Trazadone 50mg, xanax 5mg, and a half benedryl tablet. Well, it isn’t really working. He is still up in night for several hours going on many hours. By the time the morning comes he sleeps…
    In the day time he is much better and likes to go outside in the sun, he likes to eat, but sleeps most of the day.
    I have begun to dread the night because I am totally sleep deprived trying to care for him. The latest thing I have done is bought him Purina Bright Mind food as recommended by the vet…For those our there with a pooch going through this…I feel for yay! This end has been unexpected and pain to my heart. This burden of the night is heavy for me and Lambert.

  14. Felicia October 1, 2019 Reply

    I’m in the same boat with my poor girl. She is probably 11, and has a very, very long history of OCD and anxiety issues. Plus, she has horrible arthritis in her elbows, hips and spine. She’s on fluoxetine, gabapentin, thyroxine, galliprant, and proin. I started CBD oil about a week ago, no change so far. She is up all night, pacing, panting, hopping up on the bed (which is on the ground so she doesn’t have to really jump to get up) and pawing at me or licking me, looking very panicked. It is like she is in constant thunder-storm mode, at night. During the day, you would think there is nothing wrong with her. We walk 2 miles in the morning, then she is on her own, with a dog door, while we are at work during the day. On the weekends she just chills out and hangs out, during the day. Nighttime is still a nightmare. This has been going on for more than two months, I’ve been waiting for something to help, but nothing seems to. It is hard on all of us, and I’m thinking her quality of life is starting to deteriorate.

  15. Terrina Dickerson October 17, 2019 Reply

    Hi my baby Oreo is 10 yrs. Old. She has all the symptoms of (dementia) sundowner syndrome
    Been researching it on line because it’s very hard to function on 2 to 3 hours sleep aday. A lot of articles say trazadone will help them relax and not feel so afraid, anxious and restless. Its given by weight. Hope this helps.

  16. deb gianesin October 25, 2019 Reply

    wow looks like i finally see what is wrong with my boston. He was having seizures got on meds for that and has helped. But now we are walking around on bed I make him lay down he sleeps for a little bit but back up. This goes on for a couple hours and it just started a few days ago he has never done this before and his age is 11. I have kids but now they r grown and Buggs is my boy. thanks for this site helped so much

  17. Can Marti November 6, 2019 Reply

    Same here. 14 year old lab mix. Liver disease dementia also. Up all night wines water out in goes on till around 6 a.m. . Have tried everything. Melatonin natural calmer tryptophan mix Rescue Remedy xcetera. Couldn’t take it anymore last night after several days of no sleep. Her whining gave my fourteen-year-old Dalmatian a seizure at 3 a.m. . Gave her a shot half a cc of acepromazine. She slept. 24 hours later still sleeping. Took her out to the bathroom this evening. She is sleeping so relaxed and on her side and so at peace. I’m a retired vet tech so I had the acepromazine and normally you’re not going to get it in injection form but you can get tablets and melt them in warm water and syringe the mouth. Get these from your vet. It is the only absolute thing that worked. I worried this will be hard on her failing liver but might be worth the peace. Also put night light in her bed area in laundry room. As a last resort I will get a kiddie pool and put a bed in it and for her in the family room in the bed and me on the couch where I can reach and pet. It is worth the probably small time she has left. She does wet the bed at night. So this might be a good solution. Please everyone try the acepromazine.

  18. Regina December 3, 2019 Reply

    My lhasapoo will be 14 in may 2020 and the last few months i have noticed that at night around 7 alot of these symptoms start occurring. Shes loosing weight and she seems to stare off into space alot and when u call for her she acts like she doesnt hear u. she will go outside on her lease and come in and want to go right back outside. She has been wanting up around 2 and 3 at night to go potty. She has a kennel she sleeps in and seems real comfy in it but reading this article i firmly believe she has this… i will be taking her to the vet to confirm but Im so devistated knowing my baby girl is going thru this and theres nothing i can do to change it.

  19. Kenneth December 5, 2019 Reply

    Donovan
    A beautiful 12 yo Irish Setter, sweetest boy ever… loves life but developed Sundowners like all the rest of the stories… vet was on it with 3 mg of Melatonin, Trazadone, and Acepromazine ( which I used for the 4th of July…plus high end CBD.. when it started he went into full panic mode of panting horribly and pacing accepting no help from me at all.. confused and scared with his beautiful eyes just staring at me for help…I think the Melatonin and Trazadone ate at least calming him down some.. still restless and no sleep for either of us… I have a heart condition and this is pushing me to the edge because I cannot bring him any peace !
    There is mental suffering and pain, just as there is physical.. so my issue is trying to decide whether it’s his time… his back legs are getting weaker and weaker… I don’t want to wait until everything starts failing and I see nothing but fear in his eyes, then have to call the vet to set him free, or do it now knowing things are getting worse all the time, at least he would not be in a situation where he becomes frightened … it would break my Heart ❤️
    My thoughts go out to all
    Of you out there going through this horrible disease… thank you all for sharing, it has brought me some Peace 🙏

  20. Kathy Tomosaski January 3, 2020 Reply

    Our Sadie is a beagle/terrier mix. She turned 15 in November & is pretty much blind & deaf but still gets around great. Last summer she started acting weird & when outside would walk around & around the house (we have a big yard & she hasn’t wandered off so it’s good exercise for her). All day she’s good but as soon as it starts to get dark she wants to go in and out constantly. She’s up 4-5 times in the middle of the night & goes to the bathroom inside if we don’t let her out. Both my husband & I are exhausted. Where can I get some of this acepromazine? She can still go up & down steps, get up on the couch & bed with a stool, & has a good appetite, so we hate to put her down. She’s been such a gentle soul, this is so unlike her! It’s breaking our hearts.

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