What Causes Cat and Dog Insomnia?

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When it's time for some shut-eye, you're probably eager to snuggle up with your cat or dog (or both!) and fall fast asleep. That is, until they start to fidget for hours. What's going on? Do dogs get insomnia? Is your cat not sleeping for a reason? Let's explore sleeping concerns among our canine and feline friends, including what causes these issues and solutions for helping them get a restful night's sleep.

Can Cats and Dogs Have Insomnia?

The short answer is yes. Both cats and dogs can have issues falling and staying asleep, much like humans.

Abnormal sleep patterns have been detected in domesticated animals, including cats and dogs, according to the Sleep and Health Journal. Domesticated dogs can also experience narcolepsy, or a dysfunction of the brain's ability to control the sleep-wake cycle. Narcolepsy can be an underlying cause of insomnia in dogs. In a video from the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behaviour, you can see puppies gradually lose muscle tone in the limbs, start to sway and droop their eyelids during unexpected bouts of daytime sleepiness.

What Are Common Causes of Pet Insomnia?

For humans, not getting an adequate amount of sleep can be linked to stress, work schedules, poor sleep habits, overeating before bedtime, medications, health issues, age and so much more, per the Mayo Clinic. Much like humans, sleep disorders in our pets may get triggered by medical problems, such as heart issues, cognitive dysfunction or a brain tumor. Additionally, sometimes pets that are itchy and uncomfortable due to allergies can have difficulty sleeping. The same is true for animals that are having difficulty holding their bladder through the night.

In some cases, what may be perceived as insomnia may actually simply be difficulty adapting to changes in your pet's environment or natural fluctuations in daily life. For example, when seasons transition and Americans adjust to daylight savings time, dogs sometimes have trouble catching up with the new shift in the day and night cycle. Changes in routine including the pet's feeding, potty break and walk schedules may lead to sleepless nights, according to Pet Health Network.

When it comes to cats, it's important to first understand what's normal. Cats are crepuscular animals, meaning they are naturally hard-wired to be most active between dusk and dawn. This is derived from instincts you can see in their larger relatives, which is a natural drive to hunt at night. You can help manage this by slowly shifting their sleep-wake cycles to match your own. For example, although it may break your heart to wake them from their afternoon nap, by doing so and encouraging a little play time they will be more inclined to rest more in the evening. Additionally, consider using the timing of meals to help your cause. Cats are more likely to get extended rest after a hearty meal, so consider using this to your advantage through the use of timed feeding bowls that appeal to their hunting instincts or carefully planned meals that match when you may be getting ready for a snooze yourself.

While nighttime activity can be very normal in cats, aging may also bring on new sleep behaviours. Specifically, you might notice your cat waking up more during the night, or mixing up their days and nights, explains the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). This type of insomnia is often triggered by changes in the cat's hearing or sight as they get older. A little extra play in the afternoon can tire the pet, helping them sleep better at night. 

Some breeds are more prone to sleep disorders than others. Pets with short snouts (like Persian cats and Bulldogs) may experience insomnia related to sleep apnea, or a pause in breathing during sleep. This leads to excessive daytime drowsiness due to the poor quality of sleep at night.

How Can I Help My Pet Sleep Better?

It can be stressful if you and your pet aren't getting good rest. Thankfully, there are ways to manage insomnia in pets. The Pet Wellness Clinics says the best way to treat insomnia is to work with your veterinarian to diagnose the underlying condition causing your pet to miss out on a good night's sleep. Soothing an itchy skin condition, curing an undetectable bladder infection or mitigating the pain from arthritis will naturally allow your pet to get more restful sleep. Before starting any new supplements, home remedies or medications, you should talk with your veterinarian about your concerns. They will offer you guidance on having your pet evaluated and making sure any supplements/home therapies are safe for your pet.

Dog insomnia is real, and it's possible your cat is experiencing it too. We've learned that this condition closely mirrors what humans experience and can be best corrected by identifying the root cause of the sleepless nights. By paying close attention to any changes in your pet's behaviours, you'll get to the source of this health condition and help both you and the pet get back to quiet nights together.

Contributor Bio

Angela Tague

Angela Tague


Angela Tague is a pet mom and writer living in the Midwest. When she's not making a mess in the kitchen, exploring nature trails with her dog, or attending a yoga workshop, she's writing full-time for multiple lifestyle and technology brands. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn @AngelaTague.



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