Dogs Twitching in Their Sleep: What Does it Mean?

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Have you ever noticed your dog is sleeping peacefully, then suddenly starts to jerk and twist in its sleep? Seeing your dog’s leg spasm during what was once slumber doesn’t mean they’re in pain. Dogs twitching in their sleep is incredibly common, and not necessarily cause for alarm. 

These movements are involuntary, which means your pup doesn’t have any control over them. Even though they appear to jerk and twist, they remain very much asleep. This is because when a dog twitches in their sleep, it’s a sign that they’re dreaming.

However, there are instances when you should be concerned by your dog twitching in its sleep. You may be wondering when and if to wake your dog up. In this blog post, you’ll learn why dogs twitch in their sleep, when to be concerned, and if you need to wake them up.

Why is My Dog Twitching in Sleep?

Human brains and dog brains actually function similarly while sleeping. Have you ever had the sensation that you’re physically falling when you’re dozing off and end up jerking yourself awake? This happens to humans and dogs alike when they first fall asleep and experience slow wave sleep (SWS).

During the SWS stage of the sleep cycle, mental processes are quiet while muscle tone is still active, so the body is not totally relaxed. So while your dog may appear to be resting peacefully, it can jerk and twist suddenly and wake itself up. Your dog may also twitch when it reaches rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep.

The REM cycle is when we first begin dreaming. Dreams are a way that the brain processes information and experiences. Dog leg spasms and twitching are often indications that your pup has begun dreaming.

Related articles: Puppies and Their Sleeping Needs: How Much Sleep Do Puppies Need?

How Often Do Dogs Dream?

How often and how long a dog dreams varies according to its age and size. If you notice your puppy is dreaming more than your older dog, that’s because puppies usually dream more than adult dogs. This is because puppies learn a lot of new information each day, so they have a lot to process at night.

Should I Wake My Dog Up if it Jerks and Twists in its Sleep?

No, you should probably not wake a dog that is twitching in their sleep unless they’re clearly in distress. Just like dogs can have dreams like humans, they can also have nightmares. Signs of distress include whimpering or extreme shivering in their sleep.

Your dog may wake up frightened if they’re having a nightmare. If you choose to wake them up, avoid shaking them. It’s also a good idea to refrain from touching their face so they don’t get startled and bite you by accident.

The best way to wake your dog up from a nightmare is to softly call your dog’s name until they wake up. Continue to speak gently as they gather their bearings. Even though they were just moving a lot in their sleep, dreaming dogs may take a minute to wake up.

Signs of a Seizure

Though seizures typically happen while the dog is awake, it’s not impossible for a dog to seize in its sleep. It’s also not impossible for an owner to see their dog laying on their bed and twitching and assume they’re just dreaming. Look for these signs to determine whether your dog is just twitching during its sleep or is having a seizure:

  • Their body becomes stiff.
  • Their breathing is labored.
  • Eyes wide open but not responsive.
  • They lose consciousness.
  • They don’t respond to your voice.
  • They lose control of their bowels and bladder.
  • You notice they are foaming at the mouth or vomiting.

Should I Be Concerned About My Dog Twitching in Sleep?

It’s important to be able to recognize when your dog’s sleeping behavior is healthy and normal versus when it’s not. The first cause for concern is if your dog’s leg spasms and twitching is interfering with how much sleep it’s getting. If your dog is unable to stay asleep, it may become sleep deprived.

Sleep deprivation in dogs can result in a buildup of stress hormones. As a result, the dog may begin behaving more aggressively or develop other common behavioral issues. Lack of sleep can also weaken a dog’s immune system, increasing the risk of them becoming sick.

The next sign you should be concerned about is if your dog’s twitching in their sleep becomes full-body shaking that lasts longer than normal twitching, or if the dog becomes rigid afterward. This is because these could be symptoms of larger, more serious health issues. Examples of these issues include:

  • Your dog is having a seizure. 
  • They’re developing a neurologic condition.
  • They have an infection.
  • Your dog is malnutritioned.
  • Diabetes and/or low blood sugar.
  • Their body temperature is low.
  • They’re experiencing kidney and liver issues.
  • Your dog has a certain heart condition.
  • The pup has anxiety.
  • Your dog has Arthritis.
  • They’re ingested poison.

If your dog is continuously having severe tremors and shakes while sleeping, consider taking them to visit the Vet. While twitching in their sleep is usually not cause for alarm, it’s always best to get peace of mind from a professional. That way, you can calm your nerves by ruling any serious concerns out or you can catch something early on.

In Conclusion

If your dog is twitching in their sleep, don’t be alarmed or wake them up. Dogs need their sleep just like humans do, and if you were to wake them every time they jerk and twist in their sleep, you’d be waking them up way too frequently. Only wake your dog if they appear to be in distress, and do so gently. 

If you suspect your dog’s sleep spasms are a sign that something’s wrong, use this blog post as a guide. Remember to never diagnose your dog on your own and to take them to a professional if you suspect there’s an issue. More than likely, your pup is just sleeping peacefully after a fun day of play!