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Why Your Senior Dog Is Pacing and Won't Lie Down

As our dogs get older, they start to show changes in their appearance, health, and behavior. Some of these changes, like graying muzzles, are to be expected.

But what if your elderly dog is restless, pacing, and won’t lie down? Is this normal? We did some digging and found out what causes this puzzling behavior and what you can do to help.

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Why Is Your Senior Dog Pacing?

Your senior dog may begin pacing for a variety of reasons. Most commonly, dogs will circle or pace before they lie down and get cozy in their favorite napping spot. This is totally normal and nothing to worry about!But when your senior dog is pacing without letup, the cause is likely more serious.

Stress & Anxiety

Just like humans, dogs can be affected by stress and anxiety. Oftentimes, when we’re stressed out, we feel restless and can’t settle down. The same is true of our pups. Anxiety may be at the root of the problem if they’re repetitively pacing.Take note of the context though. Does your stressed-out pup pace when there’s a thunderstorm or when they’re waiting for a beloved family member to come home?
senior dog looking up

Answers to questions like these can help you determine if stress and anxiety are the reasons your senior dog is pacing.

A Painful Injury

Typically, if your dog is pacing due to an injury, you will have noticed other symptoms like panting, limping, yelping, or a wound. When our pups get injured they can become restless, and have a hard time getting comfortable.

Vestibular Disease (Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome)

Dog mom Pamela experienced this condition with her 14-year-old black lab mix, Pepper.

“One day she was walking off kilter. We called her and she started walking towards us but then veered off track and ended up in another room. She seemed just as puzzled as we were so we knew it wasn’t intentional.”

On another occasion, Pamela took Pepper to an open area where she could run free. To her surprise, her senior dog began wandering in large circles, always to the left and she had trouble returning to Pamela. So she took Pepper to her veterinarian to be evaluated.

And sure enough, Pepper had Vestibular DiseaseThe Vestibular System is responsible for maintaining balance. But unfortunately, it can go haywire if there’s an ear infection or some sort of trauma. On occasion, the disease can strike without any reason at all. And, all too often, it occurs in senior dogs.

senior dog sitting in grass

Your veterinarian can do a full examination to determine if this is the reason your dog is pacing. Most dogs completely recover within a few weeks. But if there\'s no improvement, your vet will want to check for underlying problems.

In Pepper’s case, her Vestibular disease happened around the time she began showing signs of Cognitive Dysfunction.

Cognitive Dysfunction (Dementia).

Unfortunately, pacing and circling are telltale signs of Cognitive Dysfunction in elderly dogs. One study estimates that between 14% and 35% of the pet dog population suffers from Cognitive Dysfunction. When this is the case, you’ll also notice symptoms like:
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Unusual vocalization
  • Incontinence

Over time, Pamela’s dog Pepper began pacing back and forth around the home, especially at night time. As her symptoms increased and she became more confused, Pamela decided to move her to a separate room at night.

She was fearful that in a confused state Pepper would hurt herself or get into trouble with full access to the home.“It was very much like watching an elderly person with dementia. It really broke our hearts!”

senior golden retriever dog

Just like in humans, dogs’ brains change over time. As these changes occur, the parts of the brain responsible for coordination, balance, and comprehension don’t function properly like they did when your dog was younger.

Sadly, the results can be devastating. Seeing your sweet senior pup gradually decline and suffer is a painful experience.

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What You Can Do To Help

The cause of your dog’s pacing will determine the best way to help their symptoms. First, visit your veterinarian to get their expert input. They’ll ask you specific questions about your dog’s symptoms to better understand what’s happening.

In some instances, they may choose to run diagnostic tests such as X-rays, CT scans, and blood tests.

If your senior dog is pacing due to anxiety or cognitive dysfunction, your veterinarian may decide to prescribe medication. They can also recommend lifestyle changes to help the situation.

For example, if your dog is pacing due to cognition issues, your vet may suggest regular exercise and activities that encourage mental stimulation. They may also recommend that you stick to a consistent routine for your pup, avoid rearranging your furniture, and minimize clutter if your dog is disoriented. Be proactive and block off things like steps and staircases to prevent falls.

And, of course, lots of calm reassurance can help your pup get through these difficult times.

senior dog held by its owner

Omega-3 Fish Oil for Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Unfortunately, Canine Cognitive Dysfunction is progressive and can’t be reversed. But the situation isn’t hopeless!

Pamela’s dog, Pepper, lived to be 16 years old. Pamela shared that if she had to do it all over again, she would have started addressing Pepper’s brain health when she was younger.

“Now I know that fatty acids are good for brain health. If I had to do it over again, I’d be more aware of providing brain fuel for her at an earlier age.

She shares, “It wouldn’t have stopped her from aging, but we might have had a few more months of cognitive awareness with her.”

Omega-3 fish oil is widely used to support brain health. Dogs can’t produce omega-3 fatty acids on their own, so they must get this nutrient from their food or natural supplements.

Benefits of Omega 3 fish oil

Omega-3 has great anti-inflammatory properties. Since chronic inflammation can affect brain function and cognitive abilities, this fatty acid is a must-have for your dog’s nutrition.

It’s also effective across all life stages. Whether your fur family is a puppy, an adult, or a senior dog, the addition of omega-3 can be beneficial. A scientific study was performed on 142 senior dogs who showed symptoms of cognitive decline. All of these dogs struggled with disorientation, abnormal sleep patterns, altered interactions with family, and incontinence. They were given fish oil and, within 60 days, they all showed improvement. When choosing an omega-3 supplement for your dog, look for a product that is responsibly sourced and dosed according to your dog’s weight. We prefer fish oil that’s sourced from small, cold-water fish like anchovies found in the South Pacific.

You’ll also want to be mindful of whether your omega-3 comes in pill, powder, or oil form. Dogs can be picky eaters. And senior dogs don’t always eat on a consistent basis. If you were to add oil to their meal, it could potentially sit out for too long and become rancid (and smelly).

The fish oil here comes in a powder-filled capsule. You can give it to your dog whole if they’ll tolerate it. Or you can sprinkle its contents onto your dog’s food.

The Tail End

Watching our dogs get older is tough. There are so many changes you and your four-legged family will have to adjust to. If your elderly dog is pacing and won’t lie down, visit your veterinarian and tell them of any other symptoms you’ve noticed. They can help you determine the reason for this new behavior. And if the cause is cognitive dysfunction, it’s not too late to start your sweet pup on omega-3 fish oil.
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