May 02, 2019 5 min read

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You love your beloved dog friend and you want only the best for him, right? But what happens if while he is snoozing, you notice he suddenly starts moving his feet, as if he’s getting into a bit of a run, and yet his eyes stay closed and he is still sleeping? Then you notice his body starting to twitch and quiver, and you might even notice a whimper or two; even what sounds like an excited yelp. His pace might pick up and he could look like he is starting to run but on his side …. Is he trying to escape from something? Is he having an exciting dream and in seconds he will have caught his rabbit! What on earth is happening?

Vets tell us that dogs dream just like humans which can lead to dogs twitching in sleep!

Big dog sleeping on a brown leather couch

Dogs also go through a couple of sleep phases as well. Let’s look at them:

  • NREM- non-rapid eye movement
  • REM- rapid eye movement
  • SWS - short-wave sleep
  • When a dog gets to the SWS stage, it is then that he starts to breathe heavily in sleep.
  • Vets and other animal experts say that dogs dream when they are in the REM stage; acting on those dreams by twitching.
  • Dog behavioral expert and psychologist, Stanley Coren, has proved that when dogs are dreaming, their brain waves look similar to the brain waves of humans. And being emotional and social like humans, it is assumed dogs dream and experience nightmares in the same way humans do.
  • Look at your dog how he sleeps; maybe he is all curled up and keeping his muscles tight and tense; less relaxed than other dogs that are fully stretched out – just maybe your own dog has had a traumatic past; a cruel beginning in life.
  • Roger Hawcroft, who has had more than 50 years’ experience with dogs, as an ex-police & obedience trainer, and a great lover of animals, says that it is actually a harmful practice to wake dogs from sleep, whether from their twitching dreams or not. He says that what you might think is just a dog dreaming might not be the case at all. After all, how can a human know? Even though science shows that there are similarities in brain patterns during REM sleep similar to humans, it still does not prove that a dog is dreaming. According to him, it is not an uncommon thing for dogs to twitch or even cry out during REM sleep.
  • To help your dog get to the deeper levels of sleep you should try out an orthopedic memory foam dog bed that is made for their comfort and health.

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Should you wake your dog up during a dream or a nightmare?

Signs a dog is having a good dream are probably kicking, twitching, and making quiet noises, whereas a dog having a nightmare or a bad dream could be crying, growling, even screaming. The only way to wake the dog is through a quiet voice. If your dog is defecating or urinating after a ‘nightmare’, you should see your vet quickly. Dogs typically lose control of their functioning so as to eliminate appropriately after a seizure. You need to understand that nightmares and seizures can sometimes look very similar. If your dog is, in fact, having frequent nightmares, you could consider a natural anti-anxiety supplement like Composure. If you really want to know more about dogs twitching and their dreaming, there is a book, ‘Do Dogs Dream?’ by Stanley Coren.

A dog twitching and a dog having a seizure are two different things!

Brindle Dog Sleeping On A Blue Couch With Its Limbs Out

Just briefly the differences:

Sleep twitching: This is when the dog makes jerky movements, but he usually goes back to quiet sleep. Usually, when you call his name, he wakes up.

A seizure: This is when the dog’s body is still’ he is trembling a lot and his jaw might even be locked; accompanied by excessive panting. He might even lose consciousness and will not respond when you call his name. You can’t ignore this, but need to rush your dog to the vet.

If you are a dog owner and you lack experience, it might make it difficult for you to tell the difference between your dog having a dream or a seizure. And the thing is, dogs can also have seizures in their sleep, which needs medical attention. Unfortunately, a lot of dog owners want to spare themselves a trip to the vet and rather believe their dog is having a bad dream rather than a seizure.

What to do if your dog is having a seizure in their sleep?

Brown Dog Sleeping On A Hard Cool Floor
  • Stay calm, taking the steps to make sure your dog isn’t in a position where they can hurt themselves the most whilst thrashing around. Move objects out of the way of the dog, without moving the dog unless it is absolutely necessary. If you do have to move the dog, take her gently by her back legs; this is the best way for your own safety.
  • Don’t put your fingers in the dog’s mouth – the dog won’t swallow his tongue. Not only that, in the process, you stand to lose a couple of fingers.
  • If the seizure recurs more than once in your dog, you would need to follow what your vet instructed you to do after a seizure.
  • If it is an isolated event, get your dog to a vet to be checked out a.s.a.p., particularly if the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes.
  • Some seizures are manageable in a dog in that they are caused by epilepsy. But others can be more life-threatening and need to be treated and diagnosed in time.

There are other reasons why your dog might have twitching movements.

Must you worry though about the twitching?

Dog Sleeping In The Grass With Its Paws In The Air
  • No, nothing really to worry about. However, it might be a sign of trouble only if your dog is constantly awaked by the twitching.
  • If the twitching does occur frequently in a pet that is awake though, then you need to let your vet know. And if it is excessive twitching, then you also need to take note, because this could be due to a neuromuscular condition such as seizure activity, tick paralysis or even an electrolyte imbalance caused from malnutrition.
  • Normal twitches with a dog typically lying on his side and paddling his paws, making little twitches here and there – this can be very normal.
  • You as the pet parents can monitor your dog’s twitching just to make sure that everything is normal. If you are concerned, you can mention it to your vet and he might want to do some blood tests to make sure that the electrolyte balance is all in order, and that the twitching is within normal limits.

Your therapist and friend has fur and four paws and that means he deserves the best – let him follow his dreams too!

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