If you often observe your dog while it is asleep, there are chances that you would have seen it moving its leg, nose, and head, looking as if it is chasing something. It is normal for you to get bothered and maybe worried since you do not understand what is happening with such a dog. However, such expressions are called twitching; it is a normal behavior dogs display during sleep.
There is no candid reason why dogs twitch when they sleep, there is a theory that when a dog sleeps, its brain stem sends signals that relax the muscles and prevents the dog from twitching. However, the brain stem is undeveloped in puppies and less efficient in old dogs, so they twitch more.
The involuntary movement a dog does while it sleeps is called twitching; it only occurs while the dog sleeps and does not last for a long time. It commonly occurs in the head, tail, or legs.
Why Does My Dog Twitch In His Sleep?
Just as humans often dream when asleep, dogs dream too. While sleeping, we sometimes display involuntary movements and sometimes even talk, responding to what we see in our dreams. Dogs and many other animals also experience this during their sleep.
On average, dogs sleep for about 50% of the hours daily, i.e., 12 hours daily. While they are asleep, they dream at certain intervals. For instance, while asleep, a large dog breed would have a dream every 45 minutes, while the dream lasts for 4 minutes. Smaller dogs dream every 10 minutes, and the dream could last for about 30 seconds.
According to findings, the brain stem sends signals to relax a dog’s muscles while asleep. During their sleep, they often twitch, but the rate at which they do differs. Older dogs and puppies often twitch more compared to middle-aged dogs.
So, we could say the brain stem is more active and fully developed in middle-aged dogs; that is why they twitch less compared to puppies and older dogs. The brain stem could be less developed in puppies and probably weak in older dogs.
Sleep often occurs in three different phases, which are non-rapid eye movement (NERM), rapid eye movement (REM), and short-wave sleep (SWS). You would have probably heard of the REM more; this is the stage when most dreams occur and your dog twitches.
This occurs when you notice your dog’s eyes moving around under its closed eyelids, while it is also prone to some involuntary movement and muscles twitches. If humans are woken during REM, the person would likely confirm he was dreaming during that process.
However, it is not always advised that you touch the dog to keep it awake during REM in dogs. If you do, the dog might likely attack you. During the REM stage of a dream, the amount of twitching your dog experiences would be dependent on how active or weak the dogs’ brain stem is.
Other things that could make a dog twitch more are the dog’s sleeping position and stimulations from outside, such as fireworks and thunderstorms. They could cause a dog to feel less relaxed and keep it partially awake during sleep, resulting in twitching. For instance, a dog sleeping in a curled position would twitch less than a dog sleeping in a stretched-out position.
Are Dogs Having Nightmares When They Twitch?
Unlike humans, whenever we twitch during our sleep, and someone wakes us up suddenly, we can narrate and explain our dreams to the person. Sometimes, it could be a nightmare or just a dream. However, it is not the same for our dogs since they cannot talk.
If we see them twitching while they are asleep, we may wonder if the dog is having a nightmare or something else. We really cannot tell what our dog is dreaming of. However, according to research, a dog would likely dream based on its daily experiences, just like we humans do too.
For instance, if your dog is faced with some form of anxiety throughout the day, there are chances it will have a nightmare while asleep. Based on this, you might be able to tell if your dog is having a nightmare while twitching. There are some signs to watch for in dogs to know if they have a nightmare while asleep.
Signs of distress, coupled with some whimpers and barks while your dog is asleep, could mean your dog is having a nightmare. It is not advisable to wake a dog that appears to be in distress during its sleep.
Could My Dog Be Having A Seizure If They Twitch While Sleeping?
Dog seizures are caused by a neurological disorder associated with the central nervous system of the dog, especially the outer layer of the brain (the cerebral cortex). Although seizures can happen to a dog at any time of the day, it occurs mostly when asleep.
The most common cause of seizures in dogs is idiopathic epilepsy, and experts cannot identify the cause of the seizure, hence the reason for the word idiopathic. Most times, dogs that experience this inherit it from their parents, but the exact cause of idiopathic epilepsy remains unknown.
Other causes of seizures in dogs when sleeping are brain tumors, kidney failure, toxins, liver disease, brain trauma, metabolic disorders, and neoplastic growths, amongst others. So if you think your dog is having a seizure while it naps, you should take it to a veterinary doctor immediately.
There is a question of if a dog twitching during its sleep is having a seizure; this is not always the case. There are things that will make you know your dog is having a seizure if it twitches when sleeping. Some things that make you know your dog is twitching due to a dream are that the twitch lasts for about 30 seconds, and you can easily wake the dog up.
Signs that show your dog is having a seizure while sleeping include; violent movements, the seizure lasts for several minutes, the limbs of the dog goes limp, its head is pulled back, it drools during, and after the seizure, it pants heavily, the dog is disoriented after the seizure, and it either poops or pees.
More like this: Why Does My Dog Bark When I Leave? And Tips to Help Stop It
What To Do When Your Dog Has A Seizure While Sleeping
The first thing to do when you notice that your dog has a seizure while it sleeps is to note the seizure duration and the after-effects. If it lasts for a few seconds and there are no after-effects, the dog twitched. However, if it lasts for minutes and the dog acts strange afterward, it is a seizure.
You need to contact the veterinary doctor for an appointment, to evaluate the dog’s health, determine the cause of the seizure and treatment. Seizures that last for more than five minutes are very severe and indicate something is wrong with the dog; you need to seek veterinary treatment immediately.
Another thing you should do when your dog has a seizure is to record the seizure with a camera or your phone. This will help the veterinary doctor accurately identify the type of seizure and diagnose the cause. After your dog wakes up, the best thing you can do is comfort and calm it down because it is disoriented.
There is a saying that “let sleeping dogs lie”; you should have this at the back of your mind if your dog is twitching or having a seizure when sleeping. Since it is an involuntary action, it is hard to predict what the dog can do; if you try to wake the dog up by shaking or touching it, it can bite you. If you need to wake the dog up, do it vocally and from a distance.
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Shawn Manaher is a serial entrepreneur but when he isn’t working, he loves dogs. He’s owned different pets over the years, and always gives a part of his heart to each pet.