Dogs are more like humans than many expect. Something that surprises many people,
including even experienced canine owners, is that man’s best friend can also suffer from sleep
disorders just like we do.
From tossing and turning throughout the night to sleep walking, our animals are just as likely to
experience problems sleeping as we do, and while they may seem to spend a great deal of time
sleeping, the truth is that a lack of good quality sleep can have a detrimental effect on both
behavior and overall health and well-being.
What sort of sleep disorders can a dog suffer from?
There are a few different sleep disorders that can affect our dogs. Three of the most common
REM behavior disorder
This sleep disorder most closely resembles sleepwalking since dogs with REM behavior
disorder tend to physically act out while they are asleep. This could mean that they lash out with
their claws or teeth, shake violently, run around or attack inanimate objects.
Fortunately, you can wake your dog up from one of these episodes, if you do so carefully and
without putting yourself in harm’s way. Your dog will probably be disoriented and confused for a
minute or two but should return to normal quickly.
Narcolepsy is most often seen in puppies and young dogs and can be dangerous depending on
what your dog is doing when they fall asleep. However, it should be managed as effectively as
possible to prevent it from having a significantly detrimental effect on your canine’s quality of
A dog with narcolepsy will fall asleep suddenly, collapsing on their side. Muscles relax,
and eyelids twitch, appearing to be in a deep REM cycle of sleep. If you clap your hands or make a loud noise, a dog with narcolepsy will awake suddenly. Most episodes
of narcolepsy follow intense excitement or a period of physical activity.
Insomnia is fairly rare in dogs. It is often a side effect of an underlying health problem. Exactly
what this is depends on what is keeping your dog awake at night. For example, if itching
and scratching prevents sleep, the underlying cause needs to be identified and corrected. Alternatively, pain that is keeping an animal awake, can be due to arthritis, another joint-related problem or even dental problems and this should be addressed immediately.
How to treat sleep disorders in dogs
In order to be able to treat a sleep disorder, you first need to understand why it has developed.
The treatments for the sleep disorders listed above vary depending on which one your dog has.
Treatment for REM behavior disorders
Treatment for REM behavior disorder is usually provided in the form of a medication called
clonazepam which helps to reduce physical activity during sleep. Other possible medications
that may be prescribed might include anti-anxiety drugs and anticonvulsants.
Treatment for narcolepsy
There is no definitive cure for narcolepsy in animals, but it can be managed using a combination
of behavioral therapies, such as keeping your canine as calm as possible at all times and being
watchful of the signs of an episode – something that you will be able to do with time and
practice. If your pet’s narcolepsy episodes are frequent and/or disruptive, then your vet may
recommend that you consider oral medications such as antidepressants or hyperactivity drugs
that will help combat the sleepiness that often accompanies narcolepsy.
Treatment for insomnia
As you have probably guessed, to treat your dog’s insomnia, we will need to determine what is
causing it in the first place and focus on treating this. For example, by treating a bladder
infection your dog might stop waking up several times a night to urinate. Once the underlying
cause is identified, prompt treatment could help both you and your furbaby get a good night’s
If you have concerns about your dog’s sleep patterns and would like professional advice,
our expert veterinary team would be delighted to help. Call our office today to learn more