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Until I reach Nicholas Dodman, Director of the Behavior Clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Dodman says, “I think you’ve struck on something.”

He explains that this behavior has sort of been recognized but under the global term of sleep disturbance, which is one-quarter of the diagnostic criteria for canine Alzheimer’s. “Did Fromer have canine Alzheimer’s?” asks Dodman. “I would say from what you’ve told me—I never examined him—almost certainly, yes. Since sundowning is a part of Alzheimer’s in people, why wouldn’t it be in dogs as well?”

Johnny Hoskins, a small-animal internal medicine consultant with a specialty in geriatrics and pediatrics, agrees. “I believe dogs go through similar changes as humans as they age.” Dr. Hoskins explains there are certain triggers in older animals when they start having behavioral–mental changes. “In your animal the trigger just happened to be when it was getting dark.”

Dodman says this is the first time he’s heard of this association with dogs and the day/ night junction. He thinks it’s helpful because it adds another layer of detail to nocturnal disturbance syndrome. “It makes it easier for people to recognize and it’s a very clear- cut sign: As light is fading, some dogs, not all dogs, because not all dogs do everything with any disease, but some dogs with canine Alzheimer’s may, when light falls, become even more confused, and upset, and that can lead to this hysterical behavior: barking, pacing, inconsolability. Sundowning. I think that’s a very nice addition to the canine Alzheimer’s syndrome, which previously was just painted as a late-night, throughout the night, problem.”

Dodman explains that vets don’t have a good handle in this area. “They know there are sleep disturbances. But what precisely are they? Vets think that means when the owner goes to sleep at night the dog wakes up and barks and paces. Sundowning makes it more subtle, and more akin to the human syndrome, and it sounds perfectly reasonable.”

Now that we have a definition and a basis for diagnosis, is there a treatment in the canine population? Dr. Hoskins cautions that since there are so many neurotransmitters in the brain, a dog owner should not expect that one single medication will handle all the behavioral-mental changes in his animal. It’s way too late for Monday morning quarterbacking with Fromer, but perhaps others who are currently caretaking an elderly dog will find that these medical suggestions (see sidebar) can make sundowning more understandable and less of a downer.



This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 21: Winter 2002

Jo Giese is an award-winning radio journalist, author, teacher, community activist, and global traveler.

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Submitted by Sharon Anderson | November 5 2013 |

One of our elderly English setters experienced this in her last months. I recognized the symptoms because my mother had dementia before her death. Our JoJo would pace around the kitchen table pretty much all night long; we could hear her claws on the tile. Leaving the kitchen light on would help. She also would walk into corners and not know how to get out. Vets should be aware of these symptoms. Bless her little soul.

Submitted by Shirley Hudleson | November 21 2013 |

One of our Cardigan Corgi's had (what I now know as) Sundowner's Disease. She was blind & deaf, in the evening she would walk around and around for hours until she was tired enough to settle down and fall asleep. It was at this point we knew we had to let her go. It was one of the saddest days of my life. We were with her at the end, telling her what a sweet girl she was and that we would see her again one day.

Submitted by Bonnie Jamison | December 20 2013 |

My 10 year old German Shepherd, Skye began showing signs of sundowners syndrome about a year ago. She would try to hide under small chairs, pace, stand at the end of dark hallways, pant and much more. As dusk became darkness, she would calm. It was sad and scary as I watched her suffer.

I was fortunate to find a natural product that has helped her and hopefully it will continue to do so.

I am so happy to begin seeing articles like this one. Our vets need to become more aware of sundowners in dogs.

Thanks to The Bark for posting this

Submitted by DNeal | December 26 2013 |

Please share what natural product seems to help Skye. My elderly Bichon has gone deaf and partially blind, and is experiencing many of the symptoms mentioned here. Restless pacing at night, a continual warbling kind of bark and constantly searching for me whenever I leave the house (or the room), especially after dark. Her bed is right beside ours, but as soon as I turn out the light she begins crying softly and gets up to pace. Not even holding her consoles her. It's driving my husband nuts. She appears otherwise healthy, according to my holistic vet.

Submitted by Patti | December 26 2013 |

Thank you for sharing your story and all you've learned. I witnessed the same confusion in my beloved 16 1/2 year old Lhasa-Poo, Chelsea, as she slipped further and further into her doggie dementia. Until now, I never realized that it was a diagnosable condition. Our poor Vet hadn't a clue as to what was causing it. Next time around I'll be better prepared.

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