What is Restlessness in Dogs?

Sometimes, your dog will pace or seem restless to get your attention.  Excitement usually accompanies this type of restless.  As a pet owner, you know what your dog’s normal behavior is like so you can spot his out of character restlessness when it occurs.  Restlessness in your dog may include pacing or circling, repeatedly adjusting his position and changes in sleep patterns.  You will want to know the cause of your dog unsettled behavior.  There are several potential reasons for restless from behavioral to medical conditions.  Some of the more common reasons include:

  • Separation anxiety (behavioral)
  • Phobias (behavioral)
  • Fleas and ticks
  • Tapeworms
  • Poisoning
  • Cushing’s Disease

While some restlessness is behavioral, it is important to rule out any medical reasons for your dog’s unsettled behavior.

Why Restlessness Occurs in Dogs

Out of the ordinary, restless behavior in your dog may indicate some levels of pain, health issues, or anxiety.  Most people can determine if the nature of the problem is behavioral or medical.

Separation Anxiety

Dogs sometimes develop overly attached bonds to their people, and when you leave your dog, he may become restless.  Separation anxiety can lead to destructive behaviors, over vocalization, or house soiling and typically manifest with the first 15 to 30 minutes after leaving your dog.    

Phobias and Fears

Phobias and fears as the cause of restless behavior are easier to spot because something usually triggers your dog’s restlessness.  Phobias are an exaggerated fear, and your dog may tuck his tail under, pant excessively, pace, or cry when his phobia is triggered.  Loud noises, such as thunder, fireworks, or gunshots usually trigger phobias.  

Fleas and Ticks

Fleas and ticks are small parasites that bite and feed on your dog’s blood and can be very uncomfortable for your dog.  If your dog has a flea infestation, he will intensely scratch and lick his skin to help relieve the itching.  Ticks, on the other hand, use their mouths to attach themselves to your dog and draw blood from him.  Ticks may carry infectious disease and further harm your dog beyond the irritation that leads to restless behaviors.

Tapeworms

Tapeworms are intestinal parasitic worms with flat heads and are common in dogs of all ages. Tapeworms are not a serious threat to your dog but may lead to intestinal blockages.  Puppies are more susceptible to the harmful effects a tapeworm as it can result in slow growth and anemia in your puppy.  The most common tapeworm in dogs is a flea tapeworm and may develop after your dog ingests fleas.  

Toxin and Poison Ingestion

There are potential toxins and poisons your dog may have an opportunity to ingest throughout his day, and some may not seem likely. A common poison for dogs that we often forget is chocolate. Consuming chocolate can lead to restless behavior, excessive panting, and agitation in your dog.  The clinical signs of chocolate poisoning can occur within the first few hours of ingestion and can last for days.  You will usually know if your dog has eaten chocolate because he leaves the evidence behind, such as candy wrappers and boxes.    

Cushing’s Disease

Cushing’s disease occurs when the endocrine glands can no longer produce the correct levels of cortisol in your dog.  Cortisol production occurs to help suppress inflammation and can trigger during moments of stress in your dog’s life.  Cushing’s is an overproduction of cortisol and can be triggered by pituitary gland (grown gland) damage, adrenal tumors, or over treating with anti-inflammatory corticosteroids.

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What to do if your Dog is Restless

If your dog’s restlessness is abnormal, you must determine if the response is behavioral or medical and you should seek a veterinarian’s advice.  You can lessen anxiety and fear over time with reinforcement-based training and should ask for help from a trainer or your vet for the best course of action.  Sedative and anti-anxiety medications can also be administered to help an adjusting pet but will not solve your dog’s behavior-related restlessness.    

If your dog is in pain or his restlessness is due to a medical condition, your veterinarian will be able to determine the cause.  If fleas or ticks are the cause of your dog’s unease, you much follow your vet’s instructions with care to get rid of the parasites.  Tapeworm treatments are very effective if your dog is diagnosed with a worm parasite and your veterinarian will prescribe a dewormer medication.  

The treatment for ingesting a toxin or poison, such as chocolate, will depend on how quickly you catch the ingestion and get your dog to the veterinarian.  At the vet, your dog may be induced to vomit to remove the chocolate from his stomach.  Absorbents, such as charcoal, may also be used to help absorb the toxins.  Many times other treatments are given to support the removal of toxins, such as interventions fluid therapy and beta-blockers to help reduce the heart rate.  

For more severe conditions, such as Cushing’s, your dog may have to undergo surgery or radiation therapy as well as use medication to help control the adrenal glands.

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Prevention of Restlessness in Dogs

Training and positive reinforcement can go a long way in preventing anxiety and fear from developing in your dog.  A loving and comfortable home is always the best environment for your dog to grow and be happy.  You can prevent medical-related restlessness caused by fleas and ticks by proper grooming techniques and learning how to spot and remove ticks.  Avoiding tall grassy areas will also prevent ticks from coming into contact with your dog.

Several common household products and plants may affect your dog’s health and make him restless. Knowing what is unsafe for you dog and keeping it away from him will help prevent potential poisoning.

As your dog ages, he may develop diseases that lead to restless behavior; however, you can prevent chemically induced physiological responses by limiting unnecessary medications.  Overuse of anti-inflammatory medications are one such drug that may lead to Cushing’s disease; therefore, you should always consult with your veterinarian before administering any medication.

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Cost of Restlessness in Dogs

Treatment cost for restless behavior will depend on the underlying cause.  For example, treatment for fleas can cost $300 whereas treatment for Cushing’s may cost $2,000.

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Restless Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Pit Bull

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Fifteen Weeks

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Unknown severity

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9 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Restlesness

he just started acting weird she just sits there looking as if she is guilty with her head down I was fixing her food and water and I sat it down and walked out of the room and asked her what was wrong and I pat her head and excited the room for at least 30 mins and walked back in she was still in the same spot food untouched so I called her name she wagged her tail as if she wants to get excited but can't I put her in my bed and she just lyes in a downward dog position at the edge of my bed and keeps readjusting her head and whimpers every few seconds

Oct. 3, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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9 Recommendations

Hello, I worry that your dog may have pulled muscle or an upset stomach. Sometimes stomach pains can cause them to sit in weird positions trying to get comfortable. Try feeding a bland diet of chicken and rice and let her rest. If she is not better in a day or two, or start having GI issues such as vomiting or diarrhea, it would be best to see your vet.

Oct. 4, 2020

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Saint Bernard

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Eight Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Noisy Breathing

Hello, My Saint Bernard has been restless, panting, and itching for the past few days. She has been scratching under her chin and chewing on some spots on her legs. I will attach a picture of a concerning spot on her leg. We have not found a veterinarian in our area yet, and would also love some advice on how to find a good one as well. Thank you very much for any help you can offer. DJ Jeske

Sept. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question - that area looks very sore, and possibly infected, from the picture. I do think that it would be a good idea to have her seen by a veterinarian, as she may need antihistamine or antibiotic therapy. One way to find a new veterinarian is to look around your house and see what is close, then go in to see what your impression is... another is to ask other people with dogs that you see walking who they take their dogs to for veterinary care. I hope that all goes well for her!

Oct. 6, 2020

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