I have written here before about sundowning in dogs. There is no doubt about it, sundowning is hard to cope with for any caretaker, whether your loved one is a human or a dog.
Over the past month or so, Jet’s symptoms of sundowning have worsened slightly. This has led to us trying a number of different routines to try and soothe him.
Our aim in soothing Jet is to provide comfort and familiarity. This helps to counteract the confusion and disorientation that happen frequently in dementia patients when the sun goes down.
Previously, we had established a few routines to help Jet to cope with these age-related cognitive changes. As his symptoms have changed, however, we have tried to make changes to his routine that offer more security.
So, today I want to share some things that you can do to help your sundowning dog.
4 Methods of Soothing Sundowning in Dogs
1. Read to Your Sundowning Dog
Dogs with dementia (canine cognitive dysfunction) experience confusion and disorientation. One way to help to create a feeling of familiarity for your pup is to read to them. The sound of a familiar voice can do wonders in reducing anxiety and connecting your dog to the “real” world.
We find that reading to Jet at bedtime helps him to settle into bed and fall asleep. He much prefers physical books to e-books (that’s my boy!) and we are currently reading The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh.
2. Provide Your Sundowning Dog with Physical Comfort
For some senior dogs, physical comfort can be particularly reassuring when they are in the midst of an “episode”. Something as simple as sitting next to them on their bed, moving them to your bed or reaching down and stroking them can help to create more awareness of the moment and distinguish reality from fantasy.
Be sure not to bother your dog if they’re sleeping or settled, and if your dog lets you know that they don’t need physical comfort, be sure to back away. Lastly, please don’t hug your dog, 95% of dogs don’t care for it.
When Jet needs physical comfort in the afternoons or evenings, I will sit on his bed beside him. This always seems to settle him and he will lay his head on my lap and go to sleep.
3. Consider Your Proximity to Your Dog
Now, this is a somewhat tricky tip because dogs with dementia do not do well with change, specifically furniture being moved. With that said, if, like us, you have your dog’s bed six feet or so from your own bed, consider bringing it closer to you.
Stability is crucial when coping with sundowning in dogs, but it’s also important to weigh the potential benefits of bringing your dog within closer proximity to you. This can be helpful if your sundowning dog adopts nocturnal waking habits and requires reassurance during this time. Simply reaching down and petting your dog can quickly provide them the comfort they need without creating too much disruption to your own schedule.
When Jet is having a particularly difficult day, I will move his bed beside me. His incontinence makes it impractical to move him to our bed overnight, but moving him beside me allows me to offer him reassurance throughout the night.
4. Scent is a Powerful Tool
Scent is a powerful tool for invoking memory in animals of all kinds. When your dog experiences symptoms of sundowning, keep this in mind. Provide familiar toys, blankets, or pieces of your clothing to create a comforting and soothing scent.
Molly Mutt actually sells a stuffable pillow that can be filled with your clothing or blankets and velcroed to your dog’s existing bed. I love this idea because it provides elevation of the head (particularly helpful for dogs with heart disease) and it provides comforting scent.
Incontinence means frequent blanket washing for Jet, but we always keep his favorite toys and pillows at his “top end” to prevent soiling and provide comfort.
Have more tips on how to soothe sundowning in dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction? Leave a comment below and share what works for you!