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Why do dogs twitch in their sleep?

Updated on July 7, 2009

Dogs are lucky animals. Dogs are noted to be the most loved and cared for pets. If you are one of the owners that can’t seem to take his eyes away from the dog, you surely have watched your pet sleep. You certainly have noticed that the pet would do some involuntary actions while sleeping. The dog may pedal its feet for a while or snap its teeth at imaginary insects. The dog may also twitch in their sleep. The dog that is sleeping peacefully would twitch… stop… and twitch again after a few seconds. Caring pet owner that you are, you will certainly be apprehensive. What is wrong with the pet? Is my poor baby seizing?

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Twitching vs. Seizing

Twitching and seizing are both involuntary movements. Twitching though is a normal movement of dogs that would not need a vet’s attention. Have you ever experienced the feeling of falling from heights or even from the bed when you are sleeping? The sensation of falling would cause you to twitch. Pretty much the same thing happens to dogs as well. Twitching is a reflex action to stop the fall. The twitching can be misconstrued as   seizure. In both situations, the dog would twitch or tremble. A seizing dog though would have stiff movements. The big difference is that a seizing dog will be unresponsive to the owner’s voice or touch.

The dog is dreaming

The sleeping pattern of dogs is very similar to what we humans have. When they sleep, dog too go through the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and the rapid eye movement (REM). Dogs though go through an additional phase when they sleep…the short wave sleep (SWS). This is the phase where the dog starts to breath heavily to enter the rapid eye movement phase. In the REM phase, the dog would be sleeping deeply. It is in this phase that the dog will dream and twitch. It is believed that the dog is acting out the dream so that it would yelp, growl and twitch.

A reflex action

Twitching can be a reflex action very similar to involuntary knee jerking when the doctor taps the knee. Because dogs are much loved pets it would not be uncommon to pet the sleeping dog. Some parts of the dog’s body may be sensitive to being touched. Twitching is a reflex action to the touch.

A sign of medical concern

Twitching when sleeping can be a sign of distemper. Constant twitching is commonly seen when distemper is on its advance stage. This means that the neurological system of the pet is already affected. The pet must be rushed to a veterinary facility.

my dog twitching while hes sleeping

Dog having a nightmare and twitching

Dog Twitching in Sleep

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    • profile image

      Jordan 

      5 years ago

      My dog twitches his legs, then stops and makes weird noices with his mouth and eye lids. Idk if he is having night mares or just dreaming.

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      Lydia 

      6 years ago

      My dog seems to twich when he sleeps then he stops he always twitches his legs

    • profile image

      hrmmm 

      8 years ago

      Humans too have Slow Wave Sleep.

      SWS consists of stages three and four nREM.

      It is not an 'additional' stage present in dogs, rather, another name for stages 3 & 4 sleep that is also present in humans.

      In humans, REM causes muscle paralysis, to stop us acting out our dreams. Dogs also experience atonia. Perhaps the argument for dogs dreaming causing the twitching is not plausible.

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