There could be a slew of physical reasons why your pet is experiencing REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, or Night Terrors. You want to go to a vet and first get a neurological examination (to make sure the episodes aren’t from say, seizures), blood work (could the episodes be due to kidney issues, diabetes?), X-rays (is there a tightness in his chest that is causing this discomfort that translates into his sleep?), and the farthest end of the spectrum you can ask for a Neurologist and getting an MRI, where you can get into whether or not there is a tumor, benign or malignant that is causing the behavior.
In some cases, you may never find a physical reason, and our dogs can’t talk to us to let us know of a psychological reason. But we can at least rule out the other possibilities and test to see if the animal is a candidate for pharmaceuticals that can ease the symptoms. After you have taken your pet to the vet, there are three steps you should take in treating Night Terrors:
1. Holistic Approach:Before anything, take the holistic approach. Valerian root, lavender, melatonin, are a good start. These all-natural supplements have a soothing and sleep inducing effect that can help your pet sleep undisturbed through out the night. Exercising can help. Go beyond your normal walks. The extra exercise can tucker out your animal that he will sleep better. Products like the Thundershirt and Pet Acoustics are wonderful in reducing anxiety and related behavior. If those don’t work you may want to try a behavioral training approach.
2. Veterinary Behavioral Specialist: If holistic approaches don’t work, speak with a Veterinary Behavioral Specialist. He or she would likely talk to you about techniques that involve having regimented times where Danger is kept by himself during the day to foster a spirit of independence. Or doing mock departures from your household where you grab your keys, turn off the TV, put on your shoes, but you don't actually leave the house. The goal is for Danger to become used to the idea of being alone. That ability to learn to be by himself, and eventually not sleep in the bed, etc. may help mitigate the anxiety-driven sleep behavior.
3. Pharmaceuticals: Pharmaceuticals should always be the last approach tried. If after all of these other methods don’t work, and all of the tests have come back normal, then you can look to medications to treat the symptoms themselves. At the very least, the tests will tell us if, indeed, the dog is a candidate for psychotropic medications many of which of metabolized through the liver.
Sleep Behavior Disorder in humans in treated with the same medications as an epileptic. The same is true for dogs. Seizure medications, like Potassium Bromide, or Phenolbarbital, could be used. The goal is to keep Danger mildly sedated when he sleeps so that he doesn’t break through his sleep and act out. However, just like in commercials for prescription medications for humans and their list of side effects for humans, there are the same concerns for dogs. You don’t want to tread into medications lightly. But, I have seen dogs on meds for 10 plus years, and they have been just fine and have lead very fulfilling lives. And their owners are finally been able to sleep through the night. Good luck to you and your pooch! Follow Dr. Courtney Campbell on Twitter for all of your pet needs @DrCourtneyDVM.