Vargas: Insomnia in pets can cause stress

By Mitsie Vargas, Ledger correspondent

Have you ever shared your home with a pet insomniac? It might be hard to believe but some pets have difficulty getting a full night’s sleep, just like humans. Some pets pace all night or wake up to go out to potty five times during the night. This is definitively abnormal pet behavior. Although insomnia is not a disease, it might be a symptom of an underlying disease. In any case, it is detrimental to the health of the animals and causes cumulative stress to the pet owners.

In a recent lecture at the TCVM World Congress, Dr. Ron Koh spoke about this frequently ignored condition and I intend to share some of his findings with pet owners. First of all, the definition of insomnia varies, but most agree that it is a difficulty to fall asleep or to stay asleep for long. Why is this a relevant issue? Many pets that suffer from this condition end up euthanized because the owners cannot get any decent sleep either. Even the most well-intentioned pet owner will suspect that the quality of life of a dog that won’t sleep through the night is poor.

The causes of insomnia are varied and include:

– Anxiety which could be caused by thunder or separation from owner or people. In some elderly pets losing the eyesight or hearing could cause them to be insecure and anxious.

– Stressful situations like adjusting to a new home or a new pet or baby in the household.

– Underlying diseases like a brain tumor, organ failure (heart, kidney, liver), hyperthyroidism or cognitive dysfunction (senility).

What can you do to help your insomniac pet? First of all, a good physical exam is necessary to assess the health of your pet. Your veterinarian will need to send a senior blood panel out to a laboratory to rule out thyroid issues, look for cancer markers and signs of organ disease. Once a disease process is identified, treating it more likely will restore a good quality sleep. If all diagnostics are normal, then a behavioral analysis is needed. If dealing with cognitive dysfunction or anxiety, then your veterinarian will probably prescribe anxiolytics and other calming drugs.

I recommend walking your dog for a half-hour to 45 minutes every evening so that you can help them get rid of their excess energy. Feeding a better quality food and restricting the water past 8 p.m. might also help cut down on the potty trips.

The holistic approach to insomnia include supplementing with the sleep restoring melatonin and L-theanine. There are many over-the-counter calming supplements that include these. Among them are composure treats and Solliquin. Many pet owners try pheromone sprays and collars, aromatherapy using lavender essential oils and calming music. The herbal formula Shen Calmer is another supplement that has helped many dogs to calm down. Acupuncture at the anxiety points is also an effective way to treat. In most cases an integrative approach combination medicines with supplements and acupuncture is the winning formula to restoring sleep.

— Dr. Mitsie Vargas is at Orchid Springs Animal Hospital in Winter Haven. She can be reached at drv@osahvets.com.