My Dog Sleeps with His Eyes Open: Should I be Worried? | Herepup
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My Dog Sleeps with His Eyes Open: Should I be Worried?

You spot your dog with his eyes open. You reach over to pat his head, but he doesn’t react to your approaching hand. As you lean in closer, you hear he’s snoring. Yep, he’s asleep, but his eye is open. How is this possible?

A Cool, if not Creepy, Ability

While it’s not a trait that’s shared with all dogs, some pooches do indeed have the capacity to sleep with open eyes. It’s something that can catch owners a bit off guard if they aren’t aware of the ability. It’s pretty fascinating to see if you’ve never seen it before, particularly because you can clearly spot the moment when the dog wakes up.

Why Can Dogs Do This Trick?

The reason dogs have this ability can be traced to their wild heritage. Early dogs used this trick as a defense mechanism so they wouldn’t be unwittingly scarfed up by larger beasts while they slept. Even though your pooch has no chance of getting devoured inside your home, the ability still as been retained.

Typically, seeing your dog sleeping with open eyes isn’t cause for alarm. However, there are exceptions to this rule of thumb. Open eyes while sleeping could be the sign of a seizure, or it could be accompanied by twitching.

Seizures Versus Twitching

The difference between seizures and twitching is a pretty wide gap. Seizures are neurological conditions that can be caused by heredity or outside factors like environment, genetics, or illness. Involuntary twitching is also neurological, but it is generally considered to be a sign that your pooch is in the midst of a good dream.

In both cases, your dog may have his eyes open. They will also have herky-jerky movements that you may have trouble differentiating if you’re not savvy enough to pick up on them. So how do you tell the difference?

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It’s All in The Eyes

One of the big ways you can differentiate whether or not your dog is having a seizure or is merely twitching is by checking out his eyes during the episode. If a dog is just twitching, his eyes will be partially closed, giving him a look of peace and relaxation. During a seizure, the dog will have a wide open yet blank stare going on.

Why Does a Dog Twitch?

Dog Sleeps with Eyes Open 2

It's been theorized that your dog will twitch when he reaches the rapid-eye-movement or REM, stage of his sleeping phase. Much like in the case of humans, it is thought that a dog dreams during this particular phase. The twitching is representative of his body reacting to movements congruent with the movements within the dream.

It has been noted that young pups and older dogs tend to experience more movement in their sleep than adult dogs. There has yet to be a reason determined as to why this is the case. It has also been noted that dogs that tend to stretch out when they sleep are more prone to twitchy behavior.

Of course, if you happen to be asleep next to a dog that goes through a twitching phase, you may know it the moment he inadvertently kicks you with a jerky paw. If this happens, or if you happen to see your dog twitching a lot, you can calmly call out his name to wake him. With that being said, it’s usually recommended that you let sleeping dogs lie.

What Goes On During a Seizure?

A seizing dog can be a frightful experience for an owner, primarily because there really isn’t anything you can do to help him out other than let the seizure run its course. This is particularly frightening because seizures can last long and look very scary.

For example, a dog may vocalize in the midst of a seizure. When this happens, you may hear him emit a howl, a moan, or even a scream. Fortunately, owners can take comfort in knowing that these sounds are involuntary and not signs of distress on the part of the pooch.

Your dog may also experience involuntary movements that are more pronounced and deliberate. Movements like thrashing, uncontrollable shaking, or violent muscle activity can all be witnessed. They also tend to last substantially longer than typical twitching movements.

You could see decided physiological changes happen to your dog during a seizure. For instance, you may hear him breathe laboriously, foam at the mouth, or lose control of their digestive system. Your pooch also may bite their tongue during the episode.

Perhaps most importantly, seizures cannot be interrupted. You simply must let the episode run its course. One thing that you can do to preserve your dog’s safety is to move objects away from where he’s seizing, so he doesn’t accidentally smash into something and gets hurt.

What to Expect in the Aftermath

When a dog wakes up after twitching, things will go back to normal pretty quickly. After all, you just essentially woke him up from a dream. Whether he remembers what he dreamt about will, of course, remain a mystery.

Seizures are decidedly different in the sense that they will be completely disoriented and dazed when they come to. They may also have difficulty walking in the moments after a seizure. Both after-effects could leave you feeling helpless.

However, the best thing you can do for your dog in the wake of a seizure is to treat him as gently as you possibly can. He will eventually get back to his old self. You just need to give him sufficient time to do so.

Watch the Eyes

They say that the eyes are the window to the soul. Since some dogs can sleep with their eyes open, their peepers can sometimes be the biggest clue whether or not they are enjoying a dream or having an uncontrollable seizure. It can be somewhat frightening to look a dog in the eye to make that call, but it can help you figure out exactly what's going on.


Laura Harris

Dr. Laura Harris is our resident dog health expert. She started to fact-check dog health-related information for HerePup during her internship and contributes since then. Her expertise is in dog nutrition, senior dog care, especially critical care medicine and internal medicine.

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