Q: A few months ago our dog Cody started pacing, mostly at night. My husband says that he’s just geriatric, but 10 doesn’t seem too old for a Schnauzer. Our last one lived to be 16 and he never did this. It’s getting so that it’s interrupting our sleep. What’s going on?
A: We humans have historically taken dogs into our households because they sleep when we sleep and wake us only when there’s a threat. Unfortunately, old age and other issues can lead to uncomfortable nighttime behaviors like pacing.
Here are a few possibilities for pacing behavior that can apply to both dogs and cats:
▪ Cognitive dysfunction. Dogs and cats both can experience cognitive dysfunction, a process characterized by dementia-like symptoms. This occurs typically as a result of old-age changes to the brain and often leads to pacing behavior, particularly at night. This can happen as a result of the dementia leading to alterations in the sleep wake cycle or to the anxiety related to mental confusion. Blindness or loss of hearing can seriously exacerbate this condition.
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▪ Other changes in mental activity. Any disease that leads to alterations in brain function can potentially induce changes that also appear dementia-like. These conditions may include seizure disorders, certain liver diseases, brain tumors, infections that affect the brain, and toxic exposure.
▪ Anxiety in general. Regardless of age, some pets will pace when anxious. Sudden or severe stress in their environment, most commonly related to storms or loud noises (like fireworks), can lead to pacing behavior.
▪ Pain or distress. Pets who experience pain (especially sudden pain), may engage in pacing behavior. Acute back pain and bloat are examples of painful conditions that may cause a pet to pace or behave restlessly. Difficulty breathing is another possibility.
▪ Compulsive behavior. Though it’s considered rare, dogs and cats will sometimes engage in repetitive behaviors we call “compulsive.” Pacing is included among the repetitive behaviors veterinarians observe most commonly in pets.
Except for cognitive dysfunction, which occurs most frequently at night, pacing is not necessarily a nighttime activity. Consider that you might be noticing this behavior most often at night because that’s when you’re home and trying to sleep.
What should you do? A full physical with a neurological examination, an eye exam and comprehensive lab work is a must. If everything checks out, geriatric changes are most likely –– even at 10. As with people, all dogs’ brains age at different rates.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.