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Why do dogs sleep with eyes open and is it normal?

dogs sleep with eyes open
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's not unusual for pet parents to find that their dogs sleep with their eyes open; after all, dogs sometimes do some strange things when they're sleeping including twitching, or even doing running movements in their sleep!

While it's common to see dogs take up various sleep positions - some stranger looking than others - what does it mean when you see that your dog's eyes have remained open during a snooze? 

If your dog sleeps with their eyes open, or does some strange movements in their sleep, what might cause it? Is it normal for them to sleep with their eyes open, or is it a sign that your dog is sick? This article will explore common reasons why a dog may keep their eyes open during sleep and when you should be concerned if you see your dog sleeping with his or her eyes open. 

Can dogs sleep with their eyes open? 

Some dogs sleep with one or both eyes half-open, and their eyes can blink or twitch during the dream phase of sleep. However, dogs also have the ability to sleep with their eyes fully open, as if they were wide awake. 

This ability is shared by some other species, including rabbits, dolphins, snakes, and many birds. You might think it's strange that dogs can sleep with their eyes open, but some animals can even sleep while they're moving. For example, some birds can sleep while flying, and dolphins and sharks can sleep while they're swimming! Talk about multi-tasking! 

For some dogs, though, it's just a matter of anatomy. Breeds with prominent eyes like French Bulldogs and Pugs can sometimes sleep with their eyes half-open because their eyelids don't close fully when they relax.  

When might a dog sleep with their eyes open? 

dog sleeping with eyes open

(Image credit: Getty Images)

1. They're dreaming

Just like in humans, dogs can also experience REM sleep, also known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM). This is a stage of sleep in which your dog may be experiencing intense dreams. In addition to their eyes being open, you’ll probably also notice twitching and jerking movements, vocalisation, and running in their sleep.

2. After surgery

If your dog is sleeping with their eyes open after having surgery, this is common and usually quite normal. However, it’s important to monitor your canine companion very closely if they’ve had sedation or an anaesthetic and contact your veterinarian for advice if you are concerned.

3. They're elderly

Dogs might also sleep with their eyes open when they are elderly. This can be due to a change in the position of the eyeball if your dog has less body fat as they get older but is also common if they are blind or have some age-related sight loss.

4. Sign of a health condition

In some circumstances, certain health conditions might make them seem like they are sleeping when they are actually ill. For instance, if your dog is severely unwell and is weak, dehydrated, or anaemic, they might be so lethargic that they hardly move. This might look like they are sleeping but is actually far more serious. Equally, if they have recently had a seizure or other brain issue, they might behave in a similar way. 

Is it REM sleep, or is your dog having seizures in his sleep? 

The first time you spot your dog in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep with their eyes open, you might be concerned that they are having a seizure or are unwell. This is because dogs' eyes can roll back when they sleep, and their eyelids can flicker. Just like in humans, though, this behavior during REM sleep is normal and is usually nothing to worry about. 

dog sleeping with eyes open

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When might you worry about your dog sleeping with their eyes open?

It's normal for dogs to sleep with their eyes open sometimes. However, certain health conditions might make them seem like they are sleeping when they are actually ill. 

So, how do you know if it's something more serious? Firstly, their recent health and how they usually sleep should help give you an indication as to whether there's something wrong. If they have often slept with their eyes open before and have shown no signs of being unwell that day, that should provide some reassurance. 

However, if you are concerned, you can also try to rouse them, to assess that they come around and are behaving normally. If you cannot wake them, or if their behaviour is unusual, they seem clumsy or uncoordinated or they have any other symptoms, you should contact your veterinarian for an emergency appointment.

So, is it normal for dogs to sleep with their eyes open? 

Many dogs will sleep with their eyes open sometimes, and this is usually nothing to worry about. As a pet parent, you will get to know what is normal for your snoozing pooch. So, if you notice them behaving unusually while they are sleeping, it's worth speaking to your veterinarian to put your mind at ease. 

Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS

Dr Hannah Godfrey is a small animal vet with a love of dentistry and soft tissue surgery. She lives in Wales with her partner, son, and their two cats.