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Senior Dog Pacing But Won’t Lie Down or Rest: What Is Going On?

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senior dog looking restless and anxious indoors

This article was updated on April 30th, 2023

By the time you have a senior dog, you generally know them pretty well. So a change in their behavior or personality is something you’re likely to notice quickly. It’s not uncommon that a senior pet owner will contact me about their dog who is becoming restless when they never were before. This is something that most owners will find concerning, and they’ll want to address right away.

Restlessness in seniors can have a range of causes, so let’s take a closer look at what could be going on if your dog is restless or pacing, and won’t lie down or even rest. Once we’ve figured out the trigger, we can work on getting our dogs more comfortable, ensuring they can settle and relax like before.

A quick word about pacing in dogs

Pacing and restlessness can be an unsettling thing to watch. Rather than snooze on the sofa or their doggy bed, your dog is suddenly on edge. They may lie down for a few seconds, only to get back up and start walking about again. They might seem tired, but they’re struggling to stay still.

On top of pacing, you may notice additional signs such as whining, barking and looking to us for reassurance.

What are the top causes of pacing in senior dogs? (when they just won’t rest)

Pacing and restlessness are not caused by one specific thing and it can be tricky to pinpoint the reason why it is happening. Some of the most common causes in our golden oldies would include:

1. A source of discomfort

Sadly, as a dog ages, it is not uncommon for them to start developing medical issues. A number of these medical problems can cause chronic pain; including arthritis and dental disease. Dogs are quite good at hiding pain. A dog with a stiff leg won’t stop walking, they’ll try their best to keep going. Similarly, a dog with toothache is rarely going to stop eating.

WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]

X-ray film of dog lateral view with red highlights in leg bones

The constant ache makes it hard for your furry companion to settle and relax. Each time they feel a twinge, they may stand up or pace, to take their mind off it.

A general vet check is a sensible idea and, as a rule of thumb, seniors should be examined at least twice a year. Your vet can perform a thorough physical exam, to try and pinpoint any source of discomfort. Treatment may then include e.g. a dental cleaning, or perhaps some long term pain relief. Learn more about arthritis in senior dogs.

2. Anxiety due to a phobia, such as fireworks or a storm

Did you know, new phobias are not uncommon in older dogs, who can feel more vulnerable as their senses diminish? If your dog starts pacing and becomes restless, pause to listen. If you hear local wildlife, a noisy storm or fireworks, it may be that these are causing your dog to feel unsettled.

It helps to try and shut out these noises, with thick curtains and music from the radio or noise from the TV. Some nervous dogs will also benefit from calming products such as an Adaptil collar or plug-in, as well as calming supplements that are given in their food each day.

A vet opinion is wise if the anxiety is worsening or is not something you feel like your dog is coping well with. Some individuals may need stronger, prescription medicine. Learn more about anxiety in senior dogs.

3. Canine dementia

The signs of canine dementia can be vague and hard to pinpoint. They also vary from patient to patient. Some of the more frequently seen signs include being clingy, a personality change and restlessness, particularly at night.

A beautiful golden retriever with early signs of dementia

Some dogs will also become more anxious and can forget training they used to know. This can include house training, meaning indoor accidents are not uncommon.

If you think your dog has developed dementia, book them in for a vet check. This way, your vet can rule out other potential causes of their signs, such as toxin build up from liver or kidney disease. While we cannot cure canine dementia, your vet will discuss management strategies including brain training games and keeping routines in your dog’s life as much as possible. There are also medications, such as Propentofylline, which can be prescribed. Learn more about dementia in dogs and how to help your dog.

4. Generalised anxiety

Some dogs are genetically more prone to anxiety. This is particularly true of certain breeds, including the Cocker Spaniel, Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Bichon Frise. A dog who is anxious when young, can develop a worsening of their anxiety when older.

chichuahua who appears to be shaking with anxiety

Anxiety can manifest in a range of ways, including restlessness, destructive behavior and constant barking.

Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.

Frustratingly, anxiety is not an easy problem to address. It’s wise to book an appointment with a vet or canine behaviourist, to discuss strategies. This will usually include keeping a set routine, not leaving your dog alone for too long, keeping your pooch mentally stimulated, providing lots of exercise and potentially some medical therapy too. Learn more about anxiety in senior dogs.

5. Boredom or a lack of exercise

Even the most confident and well-balanced dog can become restless and worried when they’re not given enough to do. Working dogs in particular, like Collies, Terriers and Spaniels, struggle when not stimulated enough.

While older dogs may not be as active as they used to be, they still need consistent exercise. This is not only good to keep their joints supple and to prevent weight gain, it also helps keep their mind ticking over. On top of exercise, we want to provide lots of mental stimulation in the form of mini training sessions, brain games, chews and food puzzles.

dog is looking for delicious dried treats in intellectual game

What are the signs and symptoms associated with pacing in senior dogs?

Restlessness is something you’ll likely ‘sense’ from your dog. Their anxiety may put you on edge too, as they fail to relax and settle down.

As well as pacing and moving about more, we may also see:

• Increased panting and breathing rate

• Difficulty sleeping and staying asleep

• Agitation and vocalization

• Destructive behaviour

• Acting clingy or needy

• Refusal to eat treats or engage in play

Treatment options for senior dogs that refuse to rest while panting

How we treat a restless dog will depend on the cause of their signs. It is crucial we determine why a dog is restless, otherwise, treating the issue can prove a very difficult task indeed.

For example, if a dog is restless because they’re anxious about fireworks over head, bringing them out for a long night-time walk is likely to make things much worse. However, a long walk may be just the ticket for a bored and restless Springer Spaniel who has not had any exercise that day.

Home remedies to calm senior dogs that refuse to rest when panting

While several of the causes of restlessness are best addressed by a vet, there are things we can do from home which should help. For example:

• Providing regular exercise and mental stimulation. It is all too common for owners to forget about this as a dog ages, but this sort of thing is just as important for elderly canines. View our recommendations for the best toys for senior dogs.

• Quality nutrition and hydration. Senior dogs should be fed a senior diet, that meets all of their nutritional needs. We also want to ensure they’re being fed the right amount, so they’re not over weight. Being over weight can contribute to joint pain and panting. Learn more about nutrition and senior dogs.

• Comfortable sleeping area and environment. Just like you and I, dogs need a cozy and relaxing place to fall asleep. Ideally, they want a padded bed and a darkened room that is not too noisy. If there are younger pets in the home, consider keeping them away at bed time.

• Bonding and socialization. All dogs crave human companionship and this can become even more important for them in their older age. Even if this is just a cuddle on the sofa or a short grooming session, your dog will thank you for it.

dog geting a kiss from owner

When is it ideal to visit the vet for diagnosis and treatment?

If you’ve noticed your senior dog is suddenly restless, this could be a sign of a medical issue, anxiety or canine dementia. Schedule a vet appointment for a physical exam, and to discuss what has been going on.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can pacing be a sign of pain in senior dogs?

Absolutely, pacing is one of the most common signs that a senior is struggling in some way. Other signs can include stiff movement, a reluctance to exercise like before, muscle wastage and excessive joint licking.

Is it normal for senior dogs to be restless and agitated?

No, this is not normal and does indicate that there is an issue. If you’ve noticed restlessness in your canine companion, it is best to raise this issue with their vet, and have them in for a check up.


  • Dr. Linda Simon, Veterinarian

    Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS) has 10 years of experience as a veterinarian. She is a veterinary surgeon with a special interest in geriatric patient care, dermatology and endocrinology. She is a member of the British Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. She graduated top of her class from UCD School of Veterinary Medicine in Dublin in 2013. Linda has also worked as a locum vet in a range of clinics, including 24 hour emergency clinics and busy charity clinics.

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