Many people love sleeping next to their dogs, and if not, you have still probably observed your pup snoozing at some point. But if you’ve never seen your dog sleeps with eyes open before, it can be disconcerting. Is it something pet owners need to be worried about? Let’s look at what’s normal and what’s not.
Why your dog sleeps with eyes open
Does sleeping with eyes open means something is wrong with your dog or that they feel unsafe?
Here’s what you need to know.
Good vision is just as important to dogs as it’s to humans, and for dogs in the wild, it often means better chances of survival.
Humans have eyelashes, eyelids, and a blinking reflex to shield our eyeballs from dirt and debris, keep our eyes hydrated and protect our vision. Dogs have even more layers of protection for their eyes, actually, they have three sets of eyelids.
The third eyelid is in the corner of the eye and is also called the nictitating membrane. It’s a pinkish color and shields your dog’s eyes and keeps them moist when they sleep. When your dog wakes up the nictitating membrane goes back into the corner of their eyes.
Often when you see your dog sleeping with their eyes open what you’re really seeing is their nictitating membrane. This is nothing to be concerned about unless it doesn’t return to the corner of the eye upon waking, which could be a sign of nerve damage or eye injury.
Have you ever noticed your dog twitch, growl, or bark in their sleep?
It’s the cutest thing ever and makes you wonder what they’re dreaming about. Are they chasing rabbits? Lusting after a cold cut? Thinking of you? Dogs do in fact have dreams just like humans.
Dreams occur in the deepest stage of sleep, when dogs would be the most vulnerable to predators in the wild. Your dog’s eyes may remain partially open while they’re in the dream stage of sleep because it helps keep them aware of their surroundings and protects them from predators.
Not all dogs do this though, as it’s no longer an evolutionary necessity for domesticated pets. Whether your dog sleeps with eyes partially open or not during the dream stage, you have nothing to worry about because either way is perfectly normal.
One reason why your dog may be sleeping with their eyes open that’s cause for concern is a seizure. It’s normal for dogs to twitch and make noises when they’re dreaming, but it could also be symptomatic of a seizure.
The difference is that during a seizure your dog may snap their jaw or chatter their teeth, make noises of distress, or open their eyes completely but still not look like they’re awake.
If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms, say their name quietly but loud enough to wake them up. If it’s not a seizure most dogs will awaken briefly and then drift back off to sleep. If it’s a seizure your dog won’t be able to stop convulsing or won’t respond at all.
But don’t be alarmed every time your dog makes noises and movements during sleep. It’s much more likely that your good boy is simply dreaming about running a squirrel up a tree rather than having a seizure.
What to do when your dog has a seizure
- If your dog is having a seizure the most important thing to remember is to stay calm. There’s little you can do except to monitor them, make sure they’re safe, and let it pass.
- It’s best not to move your dog, but if they’re knocking against something or are in danger of falling off a couch or other surface during a seizure, you should move them to the floor and away from any walls or furniture so they can’t hurt themselves.
- A popular and harmful rumor is that you should stick your hand in your dog’s mouth during a seizure to be sure they won’t swallow their tongue. Don’t do this, as the tongue-swallowing thing is a myth, and sticking your hand in your dog’s mouth will only obstruct breathing and distress them more and may even cause them to bite.
- If you can, try to record the seizure on your phone or have someone else in the house do so. That way if you need to contact your vet you can better describe or show them your dog’s behavior.
- Again, try to stay as calm as possible, and don’t yell or do anything to further distress your dog during a seizure. Simply sit quietly or talk to them in low, soothing tones while gently petting to let them know you’re there.
As scary as it may seem, a seizure is considered a medical emergency when it lasts for more than 5 minutes (most pass in a matter of seconds or a couple minutes) or if your dog has more than one seizure in a 24-hour period. In either case, you should contact or take your dog in to the vet immediately.
After any seizure, even a non-threatening one, you still may want to contact your vet’s office to try to determine the cause of the seizure and prevent future ones.
Seizures can be caused by anything from low blood sugar to tumors or nerve damage, so prevention could be as simple as changing the timing of meals or starting a medication.
Whether it’s caused by biological or evolutionary reasons, it’s almost always perfectly normal for dogs to sleep with their eyes open, with one exception. If your dog’s eyes are open and they display other signs of a seizure such as chomping their jaws, it’s important to contact your vet immediately.
Now go cuddle up with your adorable open-eyed snuggle buddy!