Your old dog suddenly starts barking at night. You get up to investigate. You breathe a sigh of relief: there are no intruders in the house. Your dog was well-fed before sleeping, and he doesn’t seem to be in pain, either. Everything is fine and you can’t figure out why your dog is barking every other second, seemingly without reason.
You become more and more worried about your old dog’s barking as this scenario repeats itself night after night. What’s wrong with your canine best friend?
This can be a frustrating situation, especially when barking disturbs your sleep. You can bet your pet is not happy about the situation, either. Otherwise, the barking would stop.
Why is my dog barking at night all of a sudden?
Dogs don’t bark without a reason. The reason your dog is barking at night could be behavioral, environmental, or even medical. Below you’ll find some of the most frequent reasons for night barking:
1. Separation anxiety
A loss of cognitive function can lead to geriatric separation anxiety in older dogs. This anxiety doubles during the night: your dog becomes stressed because of separation from you and starts barking in an attempt to be reunited.
How to diagnose: Symptoms include pacing, pawing, panting, following the owner, and demanding attention from the owner.
Is it serious? Geriatric separation anxiety is quite common with older dogs and not something to worry too much about unless it starts disrupting your dog’s everyday life.
How to treat: Let your dog have an old piece of your clothing during the night, or move his bed/crate closer to your bedroom. It will help your dog feel closer to you. Another solution is to make your house feel less empty by turning on a light or playing soft music or an audiobook. You can also use products with natural dog pheromones to further calm your anxious dog. The objective is to alleviate your older dog’s separation anxiety by making him feel less lonely. Read more about Senior Dog Anxiety: What Causes It, and What You Can Do to Help.
2. Old Dog Syndrome / Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD)
A slow cognitive decline causes an Alzheimer’s-like disease in old dogs known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. This senior dog condition is quite common and could be the reason behind your dog’s night barking. Dark rooms at night can make things worse by causing additional confusion.
How to diagnose: An older dog barking at night because of CCD will be disoriented, restless, irritable, lethargic, and slower to learn new tasks. He may also have a decreased desire to play.
Is it serious: The disease is progressive and does not have an effective cure. It is important to figure out ways to improve the everyday life of your furry friend and manage their anxiety.
How to treat: Nighttime barking can be managed by feeding your older dog food rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Lifestyle changes, nutritional supplements, and behavioral enrichment are also vital in managing the disease. Learn more by reading our article: Old Dog Syndrome / Dementia: 4 Ways to Help Your Dog
WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]
3. Poor night vision
Some dogs are affected by progressive retinal atrophy as they get older, which results in poor night vision and eventual blindness. Such dogs tend to bark at night due to their inability to see.
How to diagnose: An old dog experiencing poor night vision will be nervous at night, reluctant to go into dark rooms, and likely to bump into things in dim light.
Is it serious: It’s a hereditary disease with no cure, but most of the affected dogs adapt easily to the gradual blindness.
How to help your dog: If you notice vision problems, you can help by not rearranging the furniture, putting gates at stairways, and providing more lighting for dark areas. As he loses his vision, help your dog easily navigate the house by keeping its layout consistent and ensuring your dog is on a leash whenever outside (take extra care when walking a blind dog to keep him from injuring himself).
4. Urinary tract infection (UTI)
Your older dog’s barking at night could also be the result of a urinary tract infection. Urinary tract infections can cause dogs to urinate more often. Your dog might be barking because he needs to go outside to relieve himself.
How to diagnose: Symptoms of UTI include blood in urine, straining, whimpering, house soiling, and frequent licking of the genital area.
Is it serious: Although UTIs are obviously uncomfortable (even painful) for your dog, and inconvenient for everyone, they are generally not serious to begin with. However, repeated UTIs can also be caused by diabetes, kidney problems and bladder or kidney stones. If you leave the problem untreated it can become serious and affect other organs, such as the kidneys. If you think that your dog may have a bladder infection like this, get him examined by your vet right away.
How to treat: Take your dog to the vet to avoid complications. Urinary tract infections are usually cured pretty easily, but you need to get the right antibiotic prescription from your vet.
A dog barking at night for no reason could simply be doing it out of boredom. Dogs need plenty of physical exercise and playtime during the day to feel stimulated, and a lack of that leads to boredom. When your dog wakes up in the middle of the night, as most senior dogs do, they can simply get bored, which could lead to barking.
How to diagnose: If your dog is bored, he will chew, dig, pace, excessively lick, and be prone to over-excitement.
Is it serious: Boredom is an easily solved problem and not something to worry about.
How to treat: Games like hide and seek and tug-of-war are great ways to relieve your old dog’s boredom. You can also get him more puzzle toys, take him for longer walks, and increase his playtime.
6. Environmental changes
Dogs are much more sensitive to outside smells and noises and might start barking when introduced to unfamiliar stimuli. This is also likely to be the case if you recently changed his sleeping environment.
How to diagnose: Dogs barking at night in a new home is likely a result of these environmental changes.
Is it serious: Dogs adapt to changes pretty quickly, so this situation is nothing to worry about.
How to treat: Make sure your dog’s sleeping space is suited to his needs and give him time to acclimatize to any unfamiliar sounds and smells.
What else can be done about a dog suddenly barking at night for no apparent reason?
It is important to discuss the situation with your veterinarian to ensure that there is not a serious medical condition causing excessive barking. You can review our article on the top reasons and treatments for older dog barking.
If you still haven’t been able to pinpoint a reason for your older dog’s night barking and are wondering what to do about an older dog barking at night, here are some things that can help.
The old saying “A tired dog is a good dog” holds true, as regular exercise is one of the best ways to stop your dog barking at night. As long as the barking isn’t rooted in a deeper medical issue, sufficient physical and mental exercise will make your dog sleep throughout the night and put an end to the barking.
If your old dog has learned that barking will bring you running, then he could be barking for attention. The only way to end this behavior is to ignore your dog when he barks at night. That means no shouting at him, no looking at him, and no talking to him.
Let him sleep with you
If you don’t have a legitimate reason to have your dog sleep in a separate room, then you should consider letting him sleep with you. Studies show that dogs who sleep with their owners are less likely to bark or whine, meaning you can catch up on that much-needed sleep without any disturbance.
The final word
Your dog has spent a lifetime making you happy and giving you his unconditional love. Now is the time to be more understanding and patient with him than ever. While the continuous barking at night may be frustrating, there is no reason to believe it can’t be stopped. The first step is to accurately diagnose the reason with the help of your vet and take it from there. Exercise, dietary therapy, behavioral enrichment, a consistent routine, and an overall improvement in his quality of life can help your dog change this habit and stop barking at night.
Read More About Senior Dog Barking:
Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.