Greyhounds make excellent pets, and Soldier is a good example. He is a quiet, good-natured dog, spending most of his time lounging around at home. When he goes for walks, he’s happy to walk in a relaxed way on the leash. He’s an easy animal to look after, and he has also enjoyed good health for most of his life. As he’s got older, he has become a little slow to get get up in the morning: his ageing joints are becoming arthritic. He is now on once daily pain relieving medication, and this has helped him to be comfortable.
He has always been a well-behaved dog, sleeping soundly all night in the large porch adjoining the kitchen, in a big comfortable bed with plenty of soft bedding. Recently, however, he started to wake up in the night, at around four in the morning, and barking repeatedly until he woke the whole household up. Maria had to rush down to him to try to shush him. She let him go outside, but he didn’t seem to want to do this: he didn’t have a full bladder . She talked to him for a while, and then helped him settle back into his bed. But half an hour later, he’d start barking again. It was annoying for everyone, and it wasn’t easy to find a reason for the change in his behaviour.
Maria wondered if he was just becoming senile, so she came to me to ask for help. Did he need to have sleeping tablets to help him settle through the night? I could tell from Maria’s expression that she was suffering from sleep deprivation herself: everyone needs a good night’s sleep and Maria’s much-loved dog had been stopping her from getting this for several weeks now. She was worried about Soldier, but as well as that, she really needed to feel rested again herself.
When I checked Soldier over, he seemed to be a typical fit and healthy Greyhound. Maria told me that he had a good appetite, eating a premium quality kibble made from chicken and rice. His thirst was normal, with no changes recently. He had a healthy heart, no sign of any physical illness, and he was lean and muscular, like most of his breed. So why was he barking like this, all of a sudden?
I asked Maria to tell me more about his daily lifestyle. She explained that he is taken for a twice daily walk, first thing in the morning and during the evening. He spends his days idling around the house and garden, and in the evening, he sits beside the family as they watch television. He is put to bed around midnight, when everyone else retires to their rooms. He had always slept in the porch, and there had been no change in his routine.
I asked when he had started to bark; she reckoned it was around the beginning of February. When I questioned her further on this, she added: “It was around the time when the mornings were getting very chilly, a few weeks before we had the snow”.
I asked about his sleeping area: the porch had large glass windows, which made it warm in summer, but sometimes quite chilly in cold weather. The central heating boiler was there, so in the day time, it was warm, but the heating was turned off when the household was asleep, so it was likely that his sleeping area might get a bit chilly in the early hours. This was never something that had bothered Soldier before, but I began to wonder about him. Greyhounds have very little body fat compared to some breeds (such as Labradors or Spaniels), and they also have a fine, short coat. Could Soldier simply be getting cold at night?
I suggested that Maria could add a tweak to Soldier’s night time routine. It was a difficult area to place a heater in, as there were no electric sockets but it would be easy to get a cosy coat for Soldier: just as humans wear pyjamas to keep warm at night, why shouldn’t a dog? He didn’t need a fancy doggy jersey: a simple greyhound coat should suffice. We decided that this would be the first step to try to help him settle more contentedly at night.
The effect of this single change was rapid and dramatic: that night, for the first time in many weeks, Solder slept right through, till eight in the morning. Maria phoned the practice to tell me: she was ecstatically happy because for the first time in weeks, she too had been able to sleep right through the night.
At first I thought that this could have been a coincidence, and I half expected that after a couple of days, Maria would be back on the phone, telling me that his barking had started up again, as bad as ever. As it was, I didn’t hear from her for a full week. At this stage, my curiosity got the better of me, and I called her to find out what was going on. To my delight, it seemed that the pyjamas were continuing to do the trick: there had been no more night time barking.
Two weeks ago, there was a big challenge, with the snow blizzards. Would Soldier start barking again? I heard nothing from Maria, but once the thaw had started, I called her again. How had Soldier coped with the extra-chilly weather?
Maria was delighted to give me an update. “Oh Soldier is still sleeping soundly. These days, as well as his pyjamas, we bring him into the kitchen at night when it’s really cold. We are going to do everything to make sure that he never gets cold at night again. Soldier needs his sleep too much – and so do his human companions!”