There are few things better in life than snuggling up in bed at the end of a long day with your best dog friend. Many of us prefer to sleep with our dog, and if not, you’ve still probably observed him snoozing at some point.
It can be worrying to notice that dogs sometimes sleep with their eyes fully or partially open. Why do they do this? Is it something pet owners need to be concerned about?
Here’s what it means when your dog sleeps with his eyes open and whether you can or should do anything about it.
What Does It Mean When Your Dog Sleeps With His Eyes Open?
1. Natural Protection
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 called the nictitating membrane. It’s a pinkish color and shields your dog’s eyes and keeps them moist when he sleeps.
Humans have a nictitating membrane too, although it isn’t as large as a dog’s and isn’t evolutionarily necessary. The nictitating membrane isn’t attached to any muscles and isn’t controllable on its own, and instead just closes whenever the other two sets of eyelids close.
When your dog wakes up the nictitating membrane goes back into the corner of his eyes. Often when you see your dog sleeping with his eyes open what you’re really seeing is his 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 and could be causing your dog pain.
Have you ever noticed your dog twitch, growl, or bark in his sleep? It’s the cutest thing ever, and makes you wonder what he’s dreaming about. Is he 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 he’s in the dream stage of sleep because it helps keep him aware of his surroundings and protects him from predators. Not all dogs do this, as it’s no longer an evolutionary necessity for domesticated pets.
Whether your dog sleeps with his 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 his eyes open that is cause for concern is a seizure. There are a few ways to tell whether your dog is just having a dream or is seizing. 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 his jaw, make noises of distress, or open his eyes completely but still not look like he’s awake. If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms, say his name quietly but loud enough to wake him 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.
If It’s Indeed a Seizure, What Should I Do?
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 him, make sure he’s safe and let it pass.
It’s best not to move him, but if your dog is knocking against something or is in danger of falling off a couch or other surface during a seizure you should move him to the floor and away from any walls or furniture so he can’t hurt himself.
A popular and harmful rumor is that you should stick your hand in your dog’s mouth during a seizure to be sure he won’t swallow his tongue. Do not 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 him more and may even cause him to bite.
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 him in low, soothing tones while gently petting to let him know you’re there. 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 him your dog’s behavior.
As scary as it may seem, a seizure is only cause for concern if it lasts for more than five 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 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.
As you see, it’s almost always perfectly normal and healthy for your dog to sleep with his eyes open. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong with him or that he feels unsafe. If your dog’s eyes are open and he displays other signs of a seizure, monitor him and contact your vet.
Now go cuddle up with your adorable open-eyed snuggle buddy!
Li-ran believes that dogs can teach us more than we could ever teach them. He considers himself a holistic pet parent and enjoys spending his time in the kitchen cooking homemade meals for his dog, Richie.