My Dog Wakes Up the Whole House to Pee During the Night

We’re talking between 2 and 4 a.m. She never did this before.

Photo illustration of a dog holding a leash in its mouth while an alarm clock rings
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Beast Mode,

My dog, as she has grown older, has taken on the habit of waking up the whole household to pee during the night, usually around 2 or 4 a.m. She’s a 12-year-old Jack Russell, she’s doing very well for her age and has never had any significant health issues.

When she was younger, we would make sure she peed before we all went to bed, then again first thing in the morning the next day. While we are still doing that, she now needs a couple of extra pee breaks after we go to bed, and it has had a terrible effect on our sleeping habits. We also noticed she drinks a lot more than before, and we usually have to refill her bowl multiple times a day (four or five times). It now feels like we have a newborn at home, and everyone is getting pretty tired.

What can we do to improve the situation? Is there a medical condition that could have caused this shift or is it a “getting older” thing?

—Midnight in the Garden of Good Dog Peein’

Dear Midnight in the Garden of Good Dog Peein’,

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but that isn’t true. What’s more, an old dog is more than capable of teaching you a few new things—like how to adjust your sleep schedule to accommodate the whims of her bladder. While you’ve proven to be plenty amenable, this is a situation that demands a trip to the vet.

Given your dog’s age and the fact that she is also drinking more water than she used to, you will definitely want to get her checked for diabetes, among other things. As we covered last week, people often think that taking their pet to the vet for a few vaccines and a jab of the ol’ rectal thermometer constitutes a full checkup, but that’s a bad assumption. There are plenty of ailments that require bloodwork (or other types of tests) to diagnose, and it’s important that you let your vet know about any changes in behavior, no matter how small. These nocturnal evacuations constitute a big red flag, and it’s time your old friend got a thorough examination. Besides diabetes, the doctor will want to rule out a urinary tract infection and all other possible culprits, as these can cause serious health problems down the line.

This is probably a good time for a reminder: I am not a veterinarian! Beast Mode gets asked all sorts of animal questions, and these occasionally include medical worries that should always be handled by a professional. If you suspect that your pet is ailing in any way, please take it to the vet.

Diabetes is plenty treatable in dogs, and, if that is in fact what’s ailing her, then the vet will likely prescribe, among other things, a change in diet and daily insulin shots. Considering you’ve been interrupting your sleep patterns for her already, these changes should seem like a pretty fair trade-off. (At least for you.)

If the old gal comes back with a clean bill of health, great! You should celebrate this terrific news with a trip to the park. (Related: You should celebrate all types of news, good or bad, with a fun activity. She’s a dog, and she deserves it.) You’ll still have to deal with her sudden overnight urinary sojourns, but you’ll at least be able to start managing them without worrying that something serious is going unaddressed.

First, get on as rigid a bathroom schedule as you can. (For the dog. You can pee whenever you want.) Older pups assimilate so flawlessly into our family lives that we sometimes forget they’re still creatures of habit. You said you’re still taking her out before you go to sleep, but just to be clear on what’s best practice, make sure she’s getting a urine break two hours before bed, at the latest. You should also be picking up her water dish at that time, as her late-night chug sessions are only making the problem worse.

As for that excessive thirst, your vet should know if your dog is on any medications that can cause this, but bring up this possibility just to be safe. (To repeat: this is assuming she gets an otherwise clean bill of health.)

Another thing you can do is set up a white noise machine. If your dog wakes up to a sound in the middle of the night, she might think, “Well, since I’m already up … ” and the machine can help drown out any of those distractions.

But again: Don’t assume it’s simply a side effect of aging. Your dog may be trying to tell you there’s something wrong; she’s just been waiting until you’re asleep to do so.