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I could hear Stetson snoring away in our bed while I watched TV. I looked over at him and there he was snoring, but also staring at me!? Holy cow! my dog sleeps with his eyes open!
I was surprised, but not that surprised because my wife also sleeps with her eyes open. That’s a discussion for another time.
Sleeping with eyes partially open is completely normal for most dogs and more common with some breeds than others. It is certainly nothing to worry about.
In today’s article, we will explain exactly why your pup sometimes sleeps with their eyes partially open.
Appearing to be asleep with their eyes open can on occasion accompany a more serious medical condition, and we will go through these conditions as well.
However, these illnesses are always accompanied by more serious and obvious symptoms, so your dog sleeping with their eyes open won’t be the first thing that you notice. Unless they have the other associated symptoms, you can sleep easy (with your pup’s eyes on you).
At the end of this article, we will look at a few other sleep conditions that are quite common among dogs, and the symptoms that you should be looking out for to diagnose them (which does not include sleeping with eyes open).
Contents & Quick Navigation
- Why Do Dogs Sleep With Their Eyes Open?
- Natural Eye Protection
- But Are They Really Sleeping?
- Waking Up Your Dog
- When To Worry
- Dog Sleeping Disorders
- The Verdict
- Save To Pinterest
- Top Picks For Our Dogs
Why Do Dogs Sleep With Their Eyes Open?
It is very common for some dogs to sleep with their eyes partially open. This is probably a natural survival mechanism developed during their time in the wild, and carried over into domestic breeds.
Partially open eyes might have been meant to fool predators into thinking that the sleeping canine was alert, and therefore encourage them to leave it alone.
It is also thought that a dog’s eyes can still send signals to the brain while they are asleep, so those partially open eyes allow them to keep an eye on their surroundings and respond quickly if something should happen.
So, yes, that is why you can’t sneak past your pup when they are ostensibly sleeping.
There are also actually a few breeds of dogs that cannot fully shut their eyes and as such always sleep with their eyes partially open.
Dogs that have been bred for short faces, such as pugs, English bulldogs, and shih tzus, often have a condition called lagophthalmos.
This prevents them from fully closing their eyes when sleeping, though they are still able to blink normally. They simply can’t control their facial muscles while sleeping, so they can’t keep their eyes closed.
This is the result of human breeding practices and is one of the many health conditions that affect these cute breeds.
They also often suffer from brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome, which results in severe breathing problems, and often suffer eye infections due to their shallow eye sockets.
While these are specific issues for these breeds of dog, for most pooches, sleeping with their eyes partially open is a result of natural evolution and doesn’t do them any harm at all.
Natural Eye Protection
You might be worried that your dog’s eyes will become dry and sore from remaining open for excessively long periods of time while sleeping. But, while that is a problem for you, it isn’t a problem for your pooch.
This is because the dogs’ eyes have a third inner eyelid, called a nictitating membrane, that sits below their normal eyelid.
This membrane slides closed when dogs close their eyes and is an extra mechanism for removing dust and debris from the eye.
As their heads are closer to the ground, dust and debris are more likely to make it into their eyes than they are human eyes.
Unlike other animals such as birds, dogs can’t control this membrane separately, and it closes and opens automatically with their other eyelids.
When they partially open their eyes while sleeping, the membrane remains in place, protecting the eyeball while still letting it pick up on enough stimuli to jolt your dog awake in the case of an emergency (or food).
But Are They Really Sleeping?
When you see your dog lazing around in their bed (or on your couch) and breathing heavily, are they really sleeping?
Humans have a sleep cycle of around 90 minutes to two hours, and we might wake up as we finish one sleep cycle and enter another.
Dogs have a sleep cycle of just 20 minutes, so they wake up when sleeping more often than you do.
So, if you see them lazing in their bed, relaxed but with their eyes open, they could just be relaxing in those few moments between sleep cycles. So they might not be sleeping at all, but rather in a highly relaxed and restive state and quickly taking in their surroundings.
If your dog’s eyes are wide open, this is probably what is going on, as dogs do not generally sleep with eyes wide open.
Waking Up Your Dog
If your dog is sleeping with their eyes open, you still need to be very careful about waking them up.
Waking a dog (like waking a human) from a deep sleep can shock them and lead them to sense danger. This can cause them to respond with uncharacteristic aggression.
Also, if they were dreaming about chasing a rabbit, they might accidentally clamp their teeth down on your arm, thinking you are that delicious game. And you can’t blame them for their disorientation.
If you need to wake your dog, call them calmly until they come around to the familiar sound of your voice, and keep at a safe distance.
When To Worry
There are a few circumstances in which your dog appearing to sleep with open eyes can be the result of a medical condition rather than just a natural state. However, these conditions are also accompanied by a variety of other symptoms that will let you know that something is wrong.
Dogs can suffer from narcolepsy, which is the same condition as humans suffer when you aren’t able to properly regulate your sleep and so fall asleep at the wrong time. Fortunately, dogs don’t drive cars or operate heavy machinery, so when they suddenly fall asleep, it is more disconcerting than dangerous.
It just means they suddenly slip between waking and sleeping states, without any control, even when they are doing something active such as running or playing.
This sudden switch into sleep mode can look like a seizure, as they will suddenly stop and be on the floor. They will often have their eyes open as a result of the rapid switch between states. Their bodies might also twitch, but this is probably the result of a dream rather than anything dangerous.
Narcolepsy in dogs is usually a hereditary condition, most common in Doberman pinschers, but also common among poodles, dachshunds, and our beloved Labradors retrievers.
There is no cure for narcolepsy in dogs, though some medications are available that can reduce the frequency of attacks.
Most dog owners will prefer to adapt their environment to suit their dog’s condition, covering sharp corners and closing off staircases, minimizing the danger of pups hurting themselves if they suddenly fall over when falling asleep, and taking extra care when on the street.
Epilepsy is another familiar human condition that also happens to dogs.
Dogs with epilepsy have regular seizures, which can either be big or small. Having a seizure will probably cause them to lie down on the floor with eyes unfocused.
They will also be unresponsive to your voice, which can make it seem like they are sleeping but with their eyes open.
Again, some breeds are more prone to epilepsy than others, including Labradors retrievers and golden retrievers as well as Belgian tervurens, Shetland sheepdogs, Bernese mountain dogs, English springer spaniels, and others.
There are a variety of medications available to treat epilepsy in dogs, which can greatly minimize the likelihood and frequency of seizures.
In addition to this, parents of epileptic dogs will “baby-proof” their homes to minimize the likelihood of their pup hurting themselves during a seizure.
For other medical conditions common among Labradors, check out our complete guide.
Dog Sleeping Disorders
While sleeping with eyes partially open isn’t usually a sign of any particular sleeping problem or disorder in dogs, dogs do suffer from a variety of sleeping disorders.
A healthy dog should be sleeping between 12 and 14 hours a day, split between long sleep periods and short naps. But, when they aren’t getting that sleep, or their sleep is not of good quality for some reason, they can develop a variety of sleep disorders.
If you are wondering why dogs sleep so much, read this.
Aside from narcolepsy (already discussed above), common sleep disorders among dogs include the following.
Insomnia In Dogs
Insomnia is the inability to sleep, despite the brain and body desperately needing to rest. When it occurs in dogs, it is usually a sign of another health condition that is preventing them from sleeping.
This could be joint pain, which makes lying down uncomfortable, a urinary tract infection, which makes everything uncomfortable, or even a bad case of fleas.
Anxiety, stress, and pent up energy resulting from insufficient exercise and mental stimulation can also throw them off-kilter and mean they aren’t getting enough sleep.
If they fail to get enough good quality sleep for a long period of time, it can result in a number of complications such as cognitive dysfunction and brain degeneration.
The treatment is usually to discover the underlying cause of the problem and treat that. So it might be putting them on medication for joint pain and changing their bed to something more comfortable for their joints, or it could be giving them more exercise and making sure they spend less time alone.
Sleep Apnea In Dogs
Sleep apnea is another sleep condition you might know about from humans. It is when the airways collapse for 10 to 20 seconds at a time while the dog is sleeping, leaving them unable to breathe. The need for air will wake them up. As this happens consistently, it severely impacts their sleep cycle.
This is most common in obese dogs, or flat-nosed breeds such as English bulldogs and pugs.
The main symptoms are loud and annoying snoring, and a feeling of sluggishness during the day.
Obese dogs will be put on a regimen to lose weight in order to deal with the problem, while flat-nosed dogs may need surgery.
REM Behavior Disorder
While it is common for your dog to occasionally have a vivid dream that causes them to twitch and growl in their sleep, this should not be something that happens all night or every night.
When dogs have these physically active dreams excessively during sleep, it is called REM behavior disorder.
This is a problem, as their activity levels can increase and become a danger. They may even begin walking in their sleep, risking running into walls or other objects in their confusion.
There are medications that can help limit this kind of sleep activity, but again, this is often caused by anxiety and stress, so it will also be necessary to deal with the underlying problem causing the sleep issue.
What Does It Mean When A Dog Sleeps With Their Eyes Open?
It is actually quite common for dogs to sleep with their eyes partially open. It is thought to be a self-defense mechanism, which allows them to keep an eye on their surroundings while sleeping and also to appear alert to predators.
However, there are also some breeds of dogs that can’t fully close their eyes when sleeping. This is common among breeds with flat faces, such as pugs. They aren’t able to properly control their facial muscles while sleeping, so they can’t keep their eyes fully closed.
Is My Dog Having A Seizure While Sleeping?
It is quite uncommon for dogs to have seizures while they are sleeping. Seizures are more likely to occur while they are awake, especially shortly after waking up.
Dogs do often twitch, move, and growl in their sleep, which can appear a little bit like a seizure. But it is just their brain activating their muscles in response to a dream. You probably twitch in your sleep as well.
Is It Bad To Wake A Dog Having A Nightmare?
It is not a good idea to wake a dog, especially if they have a nightmare. Waking a dog can be disorienting for them, which can make them fearful, and so may cause them to respond aggressively.
If they are having a vivid nightmare, they might also find it challenging to distinguish between dream and reality for a few seconds, so they might bite you, thinking you are something from their dream.
It is best to let them wake naturally and comfort them afterward if necessary. It is likely that, just like humans, dogs won’t often remember their dreams.
Why Is My Dog Having Trouble Sleeping?
Just like with humans, there are a variety of reasons why your dog might be having trouble sleeping. It could be something physical such as joint pain or stomach pain, or something mental such as depression or anxiety.
The best thing you can do is keep a complete record of your dog’s sleep patterns and what they are doing when they would normally be sleeping, and speak to your vet for a diagnosis and solution.
What Supplements Aid A Dog’s Sleep?
Both melatonin and omega 3 are thought to help regulate sleep cycles in dogs and work against conditions such as insomnia and excessive sleep activity and movement.
While it can be disconcerting to see your dog sleeping with their eyes a little bit open, it is in fact very common and normal for dogs and nothing to worry about.
It is either a natural result of their facial muscle development, or they are engaging their natural instincts for self-preservation and keeping an eye on what is happening in their surroundings.
It is not a sign of anything harmful and doesn’t hurt them. They won’t even wake up with dry eyes thanks to a convenient inner eyelid that keeps them protected.
In some rare cases, seeming to sleep with their eyes open can be associated with more serious conditions such as narcolepsy or epilepsy.
But these conditions are always accompanied by an array of other symptoms, more obvious and more disconcerting than the open eyes when seemingly in a state of sleep.
If sleeping with eyes ajar is the only symptom you are seeing, you aren’t overlooking one of these more serious issues.
Dogs do suffer from a number of sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea.
Just like in humans, these can be serious if left untreated. So look out for the symptoms of disturbed sleep and speak to your vet about the best approach for treatment.
Have you ever dealt with a pooch with sleep conditions or one that can’t seem to full close their eyes while snoozing?
Share your thoughts and experiences with the community in the comments section below.
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