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5 Signs of Sundowner’s Syndrome in Dogs and How to Slow the Progression

If you have a dog who is suddenly acting out of sorts, pacing at night, crying and whining, he/she may have what’s known as Sundowner’s Syndrome.

Senior dogs, like people, can develop cognitive dysfunction as they age. There’s no cure, but there are ways to potentially slow the progression.

How to Know When It’s NOT Sundowner’s Syndrome

The signs of Sundowner’s Syndrome are listed in this post are general and could point to any number of conditions in senior dogs.

Ageing dogs can experience many of the same ailments that people do including:

Reduced Vision

Cataracts, glaucoma, and neural sclerosis are conditions that cause varying degrees of vision loss in dogs. Glaucoma, for example, is particularly painful and may be the cause of agitation or anxiety in dogs.

Anxiety in Dogs

Even dogs who’ve never shown signs of anxiety before can develop fears as they age. New surroundings, an upset routine, unusual noises (even something as innocuous as the beep of an appliance) can cause dogs to behave in strange ways.

Chronic or Acute Pain

Aging dogs are more at risk of developing painful conditions like osteoarthritis. The same walk to the park that they’ve always done might suddenly be too much. Everyday wear and tear of the muscles and joints could be enough to cause crying, whining, lack of appetite, etc.

It’s important not to assume your dog has Sundowner’s Syndrome based only on the list below. Have a licensed veterinarian rule out underlying conditions that can be treated.

The following are some signs of Sundowner’s Syndrome that could be affecting your dog.

Sign 1: Confusion in Dogs

You know your dog better than anybody else. Cognitive dysfunction in dogs tends to cause some confusion during the day, but when the sun goes down a whole new phenomena develops.

People have reported episodes of Sundowner’s Syndrome where the dog whines and cries all night, pants heavily, paces the floor, remains restless and spend the night poking his/her owners.

Sign 2: Dog is Suddenly Afraid of Everything

Fear in dogs can occur for all kinds of reasons. It’s not necessarily a sign of cognitive dysfunction or sundowner’s syndrome.

If a new animal has recently been introduced into the home, the dog is in a kennel or in an unfamiliar environment, the dog may be experiencing simple anxiety.

Sundowner’s syndrome in dogs is a progressive disease.

Fear in dogs might not actually look like fear. Watch for:

  • Tail tucked between legs
  • A lot of yawning
  • Hair (hackles) raised across the back or neck.
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Whale eye
  • Lip licking
  • Sudden, intense itching where he/she wasn’t previously itchy

Sign 3: Nighttime Distress

A lot of symptoms like using the bathroom in the house, bumping into walls, getting stuck in corners, and suddenly losing interest in previously fun things can happen day or night.

These could be signs of cognitive dysfunction in dogs, but they could also point to things like vision loss or pain.

Sundowner’s syndrome in dogs refers to the activities and behaviours that happen in the night when everyone has gone to bed.

The gradual loss of cognitive function is terrifying. The dog doesn’t know what’s happening. All he/she knows is that it’s dark and he can’t recognize familiar things, may not recognize the room where his/her owner’s sleep, etc.

As a result of this disorientation, the dog will become very scared and may pace, whine, howl, or cry.

Sign 4: Aggression and Irritability

It could be said that all of the signs noted above are directly related to the fear and confusion a dog with dementia feels. People with Alzheimer’s Disease and other types of dementia often suffer the same symptoms.

Anger and hostility can also show itself in the wee hours of the evening. Your otherwise happy dog may suddenly bark, snarl, or growl.

Other animals in the house should be kept apart from the dog with dementia for safety reasons.

Sign 5: Destruction of Property

Fear and agitation can lead to obsessive chewing and destruction of shoes, books, wallets, etc. This process might even remind you of the puppy stage when your dog had to be crated temporarily to avoid chaos in the house.

At Home Treatment for Sundowner Syndrome in Dogs

Night Crating

Night crating is something you want to do with caution. If you’re able, bring the crate into your bedroom at night. Have your dog spend a few hours with a simple toy or a blanket and then use those items in the crate rather than switching them up for something else. Don’t overload the crate, just keep it simple and comfortable.

If your dog won’t go in the crate, try keeping your dog in your bedroom with the door closed. Leave the crate door open as an invitation.

It’s very likely that your dog is still going to pace and whine, but without free roam of the house, he/she may settle into the crate for his/her own safety.


People want quality dog foods that are relatively inexpensive and easy to buy.  The pet food industry is listening and, as a result, is releasing new brands formulated with antioxidants and free from additives and fillers.

These days there are many great products on the market that veterinarians highly recommend. If your dog has special dietary needs, you may need to work with the veterinarian to come up with a good diet that includes antioxidants. Otherwise, you can try the following dry food diets and supplements.

Remember that they don’t work overnight and they may work better in some dogs over others. There’s no scientific proof that these products will ease or prevent Sundowner Syndrome.

Shop for Premium Food Formulated for Senior Dogs

Look for products that are formulated for senior or geriatric dogs. These products are designed to provide dogs with supplements to aid in joint function, mental acuity, and – in some cases – limit calorie intake for slower metabolisms.

Fromm Senior Dog Food

Wellness Complete Health Senior Dog


There are two different types of exercise that dogs with dementia can benefit from:

Puzzles/Food Puzzles

Puzzles like the one in the image below are designed to make your dog think. He/she is forced to use the natural gifts and senses to find the food.

Physical Exercise

Dogs with dementia often don’t want to do the things they normally did. Playing ball, going for a run in the park, swimming, etc. However, the more you can get your dog to do the better. Exercise helps keep the mind young longer.


At the end of the day, we want our dogs to have a great quality of life. Whether your dog has Sundowner’s Syndrome or some other illness that is affecting him or her, remember that there are still a lot of things you can do to keep your dog happy.

Exercise, patience, supplements, and follow-up visits with the veterinarian are all highly recommended treatments for Sundowner’s Syndrome in dogs.

I wish you luck and ask that you contact me at: with tales of your dog’s triumphs.

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