One of the coziest sights is a dog curled up in his dog bed, or comfy on the couch, fast asleep. But what about when your dog can’t get comfortable lying down?
It’s normal for dogs to circle before they lie down—that’s an inborn behavior courtesy of canine ancestors who needed to tamp down a “nest” or check for danger before sleep. But if you notice your dog struggling to get comfortable, assuming an unusual position, or getting up and down frequently, it could be a sign of something amiss—from easy-fix issues to serious health problems. Here are the most common reasons dogs have difficulty lying down and getting comfortable, the symptoms to observe, and what you can do to help:
Dogs with joint pain or canine osteoarthritis often experience discomfort that can worsen when they are lying down, or that can make the process of lying down difficult.
Your dog might have joint pain if:
- The amount of time he spends circling before lying down increases noticeably
- He attempts to lie down many times before settling into a spot
- He is stiff after lying down
- He has begun groaning as he lies down
If your dog is exhibiting pain symptoms or an aversion to lying down, take him to the veterinarian for a checkup to determine the cause, and to establish a treatment and pain management plan if needed.
Older dogs are at risk of developing joint pain and arthritis, and large breed dogs and obese dogs are at greater risk of joint pain as they age than other dogs. To prevent or delay the onset of joint problems, avoid stressing your dog’s joints and bones with excessive exercise when he is still young and growing. It also helps to make sure your dog always has a soft dog bed where he can lie down. A dog bed protects his joints and pressure points from the hard floor, and insulates him from a cold floor that can worsen his arthritis pain. If your dog is older, an orthopedic dog bed is his best option because it is specifically designed to support joints and to relieve pressure points.
Dogs with anxiety disorders, such as separation anxiety or specific fears and phobias, have difficulty lying down to rest. If your dog is terrified of thunder, the issue is thankfully as short-lived as the storm. But if he has chronic anxiety or separation anxiety, he may:
- Pace and act restless
- Lie down on his dog bed and rise repeatedly
- Chew his dog bed, scratch, or engage in other destructive behavior
- Engage in nuisance barking or other compulsive behaviors
- Shake when lying down
Talk with your veterinarian about your dog’s symptoms to clarify the type and severity of your dog’s anxiety. In cases of low-level anxiety, targeted behavioral training can help, while in more extreme cases a combination of prescription medication and training may be necessary.
The health benefits of having a dog are well known, including lowering your blood pressure and reducing your own anxiety. Simply being near your dog improves your wellness. And the benefits go both ways. Though it’s important for a dog with separation anxiety to learn to spend time alone, take your dog for long walks and give him plenty of snuggles when you are home, too. Invite him up onto your bed or couch. And if you observe a ‘no dogs on the furniture’ rule in your home, consider an exception for your anxious friend: An attractive furniture protector not only safeguards your sofa, but can actually help the dog feel more comfortable and secure, enhancing the bond you share while reducing your dog’s stress and yours.
Like people, older dogs can experience some cognitive decline and, in some cases, dementia. One of the earliest symptoms of dementia in dogs is restlessness and shifting sleep cycles. If your dog has dementia:
- His sleep schedule may change and his periods of sleep may shorten
- He may get up and down all night rather than sleeping peacefully when the house is quiet
- He may seem confused about daily routines or get lost in familiar places
- He may get “stuck” in corners or small spaces—not physically, but because he is unaware of how to exit the space
- He may wait at the “hinge side” of even familiar doors
If you’ve noticed sleep changes in your older dog, schedule a visit to the veterinarian. Medications exist to manage and even reduce some of these symptoms.
It’s also valuable to establish a routine for your dog from mealtimes through bedtime. A daily schedule is comforting to dogs and helps them adjust more easily to the disorienting problems of age. Crate training your dog early in life also prevents problems with pacing and wandering the house at night that can arise with age.
Serious Medical Issues
A dog who suddenly can’t or won’t lie down, has labored breathing when lying down, or assumes the “praying position” of lying down with his bum in the air, may be experiencing pain or discomfort due to a serious medical condition: pancreatitis, bloat, or heart disease, for example. Contact your veterinarian right away if you suspect your dog has one of these conditions.
Pancreatitis occurs when digestive enzymes produced in the pancreas are “activated” too early, sometimes even escaping the digestive tract.
Symptoms of pancreatitis include:
- The “praying position”—the dog lies with his head and front legs down and his bum in the air to relieve uncomfortable pressure on the pancreas
- Nausea or vomiting
- Decreased appetite
Any dog can get pancreatitis; there is no breed or age predisposition. The condition can be chronic (long-term) or acute (occurring in a sudden attack). Acute pancreatitis can be mild or severe.
When mild pancreatitis is treated quickly with a special diet, IV fluids, and medications, the outlook is good. Severe acute pancreatitis requires intensive care, and the outlook depends on the degree of severity. With the right treatment, most dogs recover well from pancreatitis.
Bloat is among the most serious explanations for a dog who is struggling to get comfortable. The clinical name for the condition is gastric dilatation-volvulus syndrome (GDV). When a dog gets bloat, his stomach dilates and twists, a dangerous situation that can cause severe abdominal pain. Symptoms of bloat include:
- The inability to get comfortable sitting or lying down
- A distended or enlarged stomach
- Looking at stomach
- Anxiety, restlessness, and pacing
- Vomiting up any new food or water, or dry heaving
- Excessive drooling
- Pale gums
Large and giant breed dogs with deep chests are at greatest risk; these breeds include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Irish Setters, St. Bernards, Gordon Setters, Newfoundlands, Weimaraners, German Shepherds, and Great Danes. To minimize the risk of bloat, feed your dog twice every day, rather than feeding him one large meal, and don’t let him play or exercise vigorously right after a meal.
A dog with bloat is in danger of collapse and possible death. Bloat is a medical emergency and doesn’t go away on its own—the condition requires surgery as soon as possible to correct.
Heart disease can make a dog’s breathing difficult and labored, and breathing may be most difficult while lying down. Dogs with severe heart disease may even attempt to go to sleep while standing up or sitting. You can reduce your dog’s risk of heart disease if you keep him on a heartworm preventative and help him maintain a healthy weight. Heart disease can often be managed well with medications, certain diets, and appropriate exercise.
It’s possible your dog can’t get comfortable lying down because of a minor issue like an upset stomach or a muscle strain from an exuberant game of fetch. In these instances, his discomfort should be minimal and short-lived.
If he has ongoing discomfort or if his pain seems severe, he requires professional medical attention. With help from your veterinarian, and a soft place to lie down at home, your best friend should be curling up more comfortably in no time.