Why Do Dogs Sleep With Their Eyes Open?
Picture the scene: Your dog is fast asleep, happily snoozing, but when you look over you’re faced by their eyes partially open, unfocused, and staring right through you. It’s a startling sight, verging on creepy!
However, this behaviour is fairly common with dogs and not often cause for concern.
The question is, why do our four-legged friends do this?
While there isn’t one definitive answer as to why dogs sleep with their eyes open, there are several theories why. A dog sleeping with their eyes open can be disconcerting and lead to dog owners thinking something is wrong, but in most cases, your pup may just appear to be sleeping.
Can dogs sleep with their eyes open?
In short, yes, dogs can sleep with their eyes open.
Here’s an eye-opening fact: Dogs have a third, partly clear protective eyelid (also called a nictitating membrane) that keeps their eye moist and prevents dirt or dust getting on the surface of their eyeball and it’s often visible when your dog is dozing but not deeply asleep.
If your dog only partially opens their eyes, their third eyelid stays in the closed position, and when your dog opens their eyes fully, the membrane retracts into the corner of their eye.
So, because the nictitating membrane is partly clear, it can look as though your dog is sleeping with their eyes open, when really, you may be looking at their third eyelid as your dog sleeps lightly with their eyes partially closed. During this early stage of sleep, your dog is likely to become alert very quickly if you call their name or if anything disturbs them.
Reasons why your dog sleeps with their eyes open
Now that we’ve covered the fact that it’s possible for your dog to sleep with their eyes open, the question is – why? Well, there are quite a few theories. Keep reading as we explore the reasons why your four-legged friend’s peepers are open during sleep.
Your dog’s survival instincts could be at play
One reason why your dog may sleep with their eyes open is related to evolution and their deep-rooted instinct to “keep an eye out” on their surroundings.
Many animals, including clever canines, have developed the skill of staying partially alert during sleep to trick predators into thinking they’re awake to discourage an attack. Even though your pooch may lead a pampered lifestyle, their natural protective instinct may still be at play, and they’ll show their third eyelid to make it seem as though they’re awake while they get some shuteye.
Your dog may be dreaming
During your dog’s REM sleep – the stage of sleep where dreams occur – your dog may sleep with their eyes partially open. When your dog is dreaming they may also twitch, make running movements, bark, cry, and their eyes may move as well.
While it can be worrying to see your dog’s eyes flickering and their body moving about while they sleep, it’s likely that they’re dreaming about what they’ve done that day (like chasing squirrels). Click here for more info on your dog’s sleep cycle and what the noises in their sleep mean.
The difference between a dreaming dog and a dog having a seizure
A dog that’s experiencing a seizure will also look like they have their eyes open, but instead of having the relaxed look of a dreaming dog, your pup will be tense, their movements will be much more violent, and it’ll be impossible to wake them even if you call their name.
If your dog is having a seizure, then make sure the area around them is clear and speak to them in a calm, reassuring voice. Once your dog’s seizure has ended, it’s important that you see a vet to find out the cause.
Your dog may have an eye condition
If your dog sleeps with their eyes open often, there may be a medical reason behind this. Some dogs develop eye conditions that make it impossible for them to close their eyes or eyelids fully, so they’ll always snooze with their eyes open. Two of these common conditions include cherry eye and lagophthalmos.
Cherry eye is a prolapse of the tear gland on a dog’s third eyelid, which becomes inflamed, swollen, and red – hence the name cherry eye. This condition occurs most often in flat-faces dogs, such as Pugs, as well as giant dog breeds with droopy eyelids, like Bullmastiffs.
If you suspect your dog has cherry eye, it’s important to take them to the vet as surgery may be required.
Lagophthalmos is the medical term that means that your pooch cannot close their eyes fully, usually because their eyeballs are too large for their eyelids to close around the eye. This may be due to genetics or an underlying health issue such as glaucoma – which increases pressure in the eye, causing it to swell and become red and painful.
If your pooch’s eyes suddenly look bigger or they’ve started sleeping with their eyes open regularly, then it’s best to get them medically examined.
Should I be worried that my dog sleeps with their eyes open?
If your dog occasionally naps or dreams with their eyes open, it’s usually nothing to worry about. If you’re concerned about a sudden change in your pup’s sleeping habits or you believe they’re experiencing seizures or narcoleptic episodes, then it’s important to visit your vet for a check-up.
Narcolepsy is another condition that can make it seem like your dog is sleeping with their eyes open. This neurological disorder disrupts the sleep/wake cycle and in the event of a narcoleptic episode, your dog will suddenly fall to the ground and sink into a deep sleep.
It’s crucial that you see your vet as soon as possible if your pooch experiences any of the following symptoms:
Suddenly falling asleep, especially during unexpected moments like eating or playing.
Sleeping with their eyes open, even if they appear red and swollen.
If your dog’s eyes are flickering and moving about quickly or their body shakes violently while they’re seemingly asleep.
How can I give my dog the sleep of their dreams?
While there’s no reason to take special precautions if your dog sleeps with their eyes open, there are a few things you can do to help your pooch sleep soundly.
Get to know your dog’s sleeping habits and their sleep patterns – some doggos need more sleep than others, and for many pooches it’s not unusual for them to sleep with their eyes partially closed until they fall into a deep slumber.
Try to establish a sleep routine for your dog so they get a good night’s rest. You don’t want your pooch napping within two hours before their bedtime as they may not be tired when it’s time to rest for the night.
Try to feed your pooch a good few hours before bed. Eating affects sleep patterns and this will also allow them lots of time to relieve themselves before bedtime.
Ensure your dog gets a run around and plenty of exercise each day so that they’ll burn their mental and physical energy. This will help them feel more relaxed and ready for a big snooze.
Cuddles, or even a relaxing bath can comfort your pup will help your dog feel more zen before they catch some z’s.
Providing your pup with their own pet bed will give them a space that’s fully their own and encourage them to sleep through the night. You may not mind your dog sleeping on your bed, but your pooch is sure to appreciate a luxuriously comfy dog bed or maybe a snuggly blanket for them to curl up on!
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