Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Dr. Gary Thompson

Physical, mental issues might explain dog's behavior

Dear Dr. Thompson: My 87 year-old aunt has a 12 year-old toy poodle that whines all night long to go outside. The dog is healthy, eats well, urinates during the day and sleeps a lot throughout the day. I'm worried about my aunt getting up and having to take the dog outside during the night. Would a mild tranquilizer or sleeping pill for her poodle keep the dog quiet all night or do you have any suggestions? 

There may be a couple of considerations for your aunt’s situation that I would suggest you explore before considering sedation for her dog. The first step would be to make sure there is not a medical reason that he needs to go outside so frequently.

His age and breed predispose him to a number of conditions that could result in increased urinations. If he has a disease that directly impacts his thirst such as diabetes, often the first symptom noticed is an increased frequency in urinations. I often hear from people that have a diabetic pet is that he drinks well, unaware that the large amount is abnormal.

He also is prone to a couple of urinary system diseases like kidney failure or bladder stones that can trigger an increased urgency to go outside. If kidney function has deteriorated, he will have lost his ability to normally concentrate his urine and the amount of urine produced goes up significantly. Often in the winter, people do not monitor the amount of their pet’s urine, since they are inside and not walking them as much. Your aunt may not be out with him on a regular basis and the only outward symptom would be asking to go out more frequently. Simple blood tests are often all that is needed to determine is if kidney disease or diabetes may be an underlying source of the trouble.

Bladder stones are common in the breed, and many times dogs will have an increased urgency to urinate from the irritation of the stones in the bladder. Blood in the urine is a common finding. Microscopic evaluation of the urine and an ultrasound or x-ray will find most stones.

If he does not have a systemic reason for the increased frequency of urinations at night, mental changes should be considered as well. At his age a loss of mental acuity similar to dementia in people is a common condition. One of the early signs is a disruption in his normal schedule. Many times affected dogs will sleep all day and be up at night. What you may be seeing is this flip-flop of sleep-wake cycles. There are other subtle signs that will accompany the loss of mental function like repetitive behaviors, avoidance of social contact and loss of housetraining as well. Unfortunately, end-stage cognitive disorders are not easily reversed.

Ultimately, sedation in this scenario is likely not appropriate because most often there is an underlying physical or mental disorder that is the source of the new behavior. I would strongly suggest her veterinarian evaluate him to try and determine  the next step.

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