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Why Is My Old Dog Whining for No Apparent Reason? 

Though it may seem like your old dog is whining for no apparent reason, pain, illness, dementia, degenerative joint and musculoskeletal conditions are possible causes for a senior dog’s crying. 

You are right to be concerned if your old dog whines more during the day or night. There are several potential causes. 

Fortunately, each problem has a solution.

Read on to find out why old dogs whine, what it means if a senior dog is whining at night, what to stop your dog from whining and when to take your beloved old friend to the vet.  

Why Do Old Dogs Whine? 

Dogs whine to communicate. A dog whines to express pain, a need or want, excitement, anxiety, a plea for attention, or to apologize. 

Here are common 6 reasons why dogs whine:

  1. Pain.
  2. A need or want.
  3. Excitement.
  4. Anxiety.  
  5. A plea for attention.
  6. To apologize or show submission. [1] [2]

Why Is My Old Dog Crying at Night? 

An injury, like torn footpad or sprained muscle, illness, degenerative joint diseases (DJD), musculoskeletal conditions, and cognitive dysfunction can cause a senior dog to cry at night.  

Here are 5 reasons why your senior dog whines at night

  1. Injury 
  2. Illness 
  3. Degenerative Joint Diseases (DJD) and Musculoskeletal Conditions 
  4. Heart Disease 
  5. Cognitive Dysfunction/Dementia 

1. Injury or Discomfort

Old Dog Injury or Discomfort

When an old dog is whining more frequently, the first thing to do is find out if it is in pain. 

Inspect your dog for injuries and treat with first aid or contact the vet for advice. If you can’t find an injury, make sure your dog is comfortable in its bed and not too cold. Observe your dog for signs of illness, degenerative joint disease, or a musculoskeletal condition. 

2. Illnesses 

Old Dog Illnesses

A whing and pacing old dog can have a painful and potentially fatal illness like pancreatitis or gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) complex. 

Pancreatitis is a condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed and painful. The condition can be fatal if the inflammation spreads to multiple organs.[3]

With GDV a dog’s stomach fills with air and the pressure blocks blood flow, sending the dog’s body into shock. The dog’s stomach, spleen, and pancreas flip and cut off more blood flow. When the pancreas lacks oxygen, it produces a hormone that can stop the dog’s heart.[4]

Call a 24-hour emergency vet if your old dog is whining and has any symptoms of either gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) complex or pancreatitis. 

Symptoms of Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) Complex in Dogs:

  • Swollen belly.
  • Pain and whining if it feels pressure on the abdomen. 
  • Restless. 
  • Retching and drooling.
  • Increased heart rate. 
  • Weak pulse.

Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Dogs:

  • A sudden loss of appetite.
  • Vomiting.
  • Weakness.
  • Abdominal pain. 
  • A hunched back.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Drooling.
  • Fever.
  • Dehydration.
  • Collapse.

A dog suffering from GDV needs emergency treatment and surgery. A delay in treatment increases the risk of death[4]. Pancreatitis can be fatal if the inflammation spreads to multiple organs.[3] 

3. Degenerative Joint Diseases and Musculoskeletal Conditions

Old Dog Degenerative Joint Diseases

An aging dog can suffer from Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD), like arthritis or osteoarthritis, musculoskeletal conditions like hip dysplasia, or a combination of these conditions. 

Signs of a DJD and Musculoskeletal Conditions in a Dog: 

  • Whines when laying down.
  • Avoids sitting or struggles to sit.
  • Lies in unusual positions.
  • Walking circles in bed before laying down.
  • Gets up moments after laying down. 
  • Stiffness and limping.
  • Struggles to get into a position to urinate or defecate.
  • Loss of muscle mass in limbs.
  • Lethargic.[5] [6]

Dogs with a DJD or a musculoskeletal condition struggle to get comfortable when laying down. This is because laying down can put painful pressure on affected joints.[7]

Signs of deteriorating DJD or musculoskeletal conditions include circling the bed to find a comfortable position, lying down for a few minutes, and then getting up to repeat the circling process.

What to Do if You Suspect Your Dog Has a DJD or Musculoskeletal Condition? 

There are generally four things you can do if you suspect your dog has a DJD or musculoskeletal condition.

1. Take your dog to the vet for a check-up. 

There is no cure, but a vet can advise you on natural and medicinal treatments and supplements that support joint health, reduce inflammation, and ease the pain. 

The vet can also recommend dietary and lifestyle modifications to delay the progression of the conditions. 

2. Introduce a weight loss diet. 

A balanced calorie-restricted diet helps an overweight dog lose weight, taking the pressure off the joints. 

3. Lower your dog’s bed. 

Help your dog avoid climbing or jumping by lowering its bed. Make sure that the bedding is comfortable and helps keep your dog warm. The cold can aggravate the pain in arthritic joints.  

4. Keep your dog moving. 

A DJD diagnosis doesn’t mean an end to physical activity for your dog. Speak to your vet about your dog’s abilities and limitations. In most cases, gentle walks help a senior dog’s joints stay mobile, stimulate its mind and help it feel calm and content. 

Swimming can also benefit a dog with arthritis or hip dysplasia.  

4. Heart Disease

An Old Dog Heart Disease

Dogs can suffer from heart disease. And like people, it often shows up with age. 

Heart disease affects the heart valve or the heart muscle[8]. It can cause a dog to struggle to breathe when lying down, causing it to whine anxiously. 

Subtle Symptoms of Heart Disease in a Dog: 

  • Sleeping more during the day.
  • Eating less.
  • Showing little interest in previously loved activities.

Overt Symptoms of Heart Disease in a Dog: 

  • A persistent cough.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Exercise intolerance.
  • Fainting or collapse (particularly after exercise).

What to Do if You Suspect Your Dog Has Heart Disease? 

Speak to your vet if your senior dog has any of these subtle or overt symptoms of heart disease. The vet can test, diagnose and advise you on managing your dog’s heart condition with dieting, exercise, and medication. 

5. Cognitive Dysfunction/Dementia in Dogs

Dementia in Old Dog

Increased whining at night accompanied by restless pacing in an aging dog can be a sign of dementia. Dementia is a term used for conditions that cause cognitive function decline or dysfunction. 

Symptoms of Cognitive Dysfunction/Dementia

Vets use the acronym DISHA to describe the following signs of cognitive dysfunction: 

  • Disorientation: Getting lost in familiar places and not recognizing familiar people 
  • Interactions: A change in the interactions between the dog and other pets and owner. Increasingly clingy or irritable. 
  • Sleep-wake cycle changes: Sleeping more during the day and staying awake more at night 
  • House soiling: House-trained dogs urinating and defecating indoors.  
  • Activity levels: A decrease in play and an increase in restlessness and repetitive behaviors like licking. 

Additional signs of cognitive decline include heightened anxiety, a decline in memory and learning,[9] staring blankly, pacing, and frequently waking at night.[10]

What to Do if You Suspect Your Dog Is Suffering From Cognitive Dysfunction or Dementia? 

Take your dog to a vet for a check-up. Ask the vet about supplements and dietary changes that help slow down the progression of cognitive decline. 

The vet can also prescribe medication for a dog that has become increasingly anxious and doesn’t sleep well.[11] 

How to Stop an Old Dog from Whining at Night 

The first step to stopping an old dog from whining at night is to find out what it is trying to communicate. Feeling cold, uncomfortable, ill, in pain, or simply needing another late-night potty break can cause a dog to whine at night. 

Here are three steps for dealing with an old dog that is crying at night: 

1. Potty break

Take your older dog out for an extra potty break – A old dog can simply need to urinate more often. While you’re outside with your dog, look for signs of injury or illness. Call an emergency vet if your dog has diarrhea, a swollen belly, excessive drooling, or vomiting.  

2. Blissfully Comfy Bed 

Old Dog in Comfy Bed 

Make sure your old pooch is warm and comfortable in bed This eliminates the possibility of it whining because of the cold. Take note if your dog struggles to get into bed or get comfortable – it can be a sign of arthritis, osteoarthritis, or hip dysplasia. 

3. When to Take Your Dog to the Vet 

Make a vet appointment if your dog continues to whine, despite not appearing ill, injured, or cold. The vet can test your dog for joint problems, heart problems, and cognitive decline. Depending on the problem, the vet can prescribe lifestyle modifications, supplements, and natural or medicinal treatments to help your dog enjoy its days and sleep well at night.  

Related: Dog Crying in Sleep: 5 Reasons Why & How to Stop It


What Does It Mean When Old Dog Is Whining and Pacing?

An old dog that is whing and pacing can be suffering from dementia or a potentially fatal illness like pancreatitis or gastric dilatation-volvulus complex. Call an emergency vet if your dog has a swollen and painful belly, a sudden loss of appetite, vomiting, drooling or hunching its back.  

About Monique Warner

Monique is an avid dog lover who grew up with dogs, cats, and budgies as pets. She has worked as a pet sitter and dog walker. With her passion for dogs and pets alike, she writes articles with the intention of helping pet owners solve their biggest struggles.

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