Why is my dog twitching in sleep?

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Author: Steph Coelho

Last Updated: January 31, 2023

Your dog is cozy and asleep in their dog bed. The next thing you know, their little paws are moving, and they look to be twitching in their sleep. What’s going on? Dogs twitch in their sleep for many reasons, some more serious than others.

Below, we look at some reasons for dogs twitching in their sleep and how pet parents can tell whether they’re dealing with a serious medical issue.

3 reasons for dog twitching in sleep

Your dog may be sleep-twitching for a few possible reasons.

Dreams

Yes. Dogs dream, too! The part of the brain stem called the pons is responsible for preventing you (and your dog) from acting out dreams during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This area of the brain doesn’t work as well in young and elderly dogs, which is why puppies and older dogs are more likely to twitch in their sleep while they dream.

What do dogs dream about? Research suggests they probably dream about what you’d expect: chasing squirrels and playing with other dogs. Dogs may also have both good and bad dreams.

Muscle twitches

Muscle twitches or muscle spasms can happen for no reason at all but are more likely after strenuous exercise or when a dog is experiencing stress.

Medical conditions

Tremor and twitch syndromes

Tremors and twitches can also happen because of an underlying condition.

A dog with a tremor will experience shakiness in a limb that doesn’t manifest while sleeping. On the other hand, twitching can happen in a dog’s body while they’re asleep.

Twitching can occur because of the following:

  • Metabolic diseases
  • Toxicity from ingesting things like lead, chocolate, caffeine, etc.
  • Hereditary diseases like cerebellar ataxia
  • Motor neuron diseases

Seizures

Seizures can happen while your dog is awake or asleep and can cause twitching. They can affect young and adult dogs alike.

A neurological condition called epilepsy is one possible cause of seizures. There are two distinct types of seizures in dogs:

Generalized seizures cause involuntary muscle movements on both sides of the body. Your dog may appear unaware of what’s happening, and they may drool, urinate, or defecate during the episode.

Focal seizures affect only one side or part of the body, causing:

  • Facial twitches
  • Limb paddling
  • Vomiting
  • Salivating

During a focal seizure, your dog may or may not be aware of what’s happening.

It’s not always easy to spot a seizure disorder in a dog. Not all seizures will cause full-body twitching or obvious muscle movements.

If you suspect your dog is having seizures, consider taking notes regarding their symptoms during an episode, what happened right before the seizure, and how they behave afterward. Talk with a veterinarian about diagnosis and treatment options.

A dog that experiences a seizure for more than 5 minutes requires emergency attention.

Should I worry if my dog twitches in its sleep?

Wondering how to tell if a twitch is just a twitch or something more serious? Here’s how.

Seizure vs normal twitching

You may be wondering, ‘is my dog dreaming or having a seizure?’ It can be tough to tell the difference, but your dog is likely asleep and dreaming if they fell asleep about 20 minutes ago.

Signs that twitching is the result of seizure activity include:

  • Your dog’s limbs are stiff and rigid.
  • The movement is particularly violent.
  • They urinated or defecated during the episode.
  • They seem disoriented or confused.

Dogs are also more likely to seize when awake than asleep.

Talk with a veterinarian if you’re unsure whether you witnessed normal sleepytime twitching or something more serious like a seizure.

Until then, make sure your dog has a comfy place to sleep. A durable dog bed should provide a comfortable sleep surface and padding to protect your dog if they start twitching uncontrollably.

Seizure causes in dogs

Seizures can happen for various reasons in both humans and dogs. Sometimes, there’s no apparent known cause, and the disorder is inherited. This is called idiopathic epilepsy.

Other possible causes for seizures in dogs include:

  • Kidney failure
  • Liver disease
  • Brain tumors
  • Brain injury
  • Toxins

Takeaway

If your pooch twitches while sleeping or napping, it’s probably nothing to worry about. They’re likely dreaming or just experiencing a brief muscle twitch.

In some cases, twitching can signify an underlying medical condition like a seizure disorder. If you’re worried about your dog’s twitching, consider speaking with a veterinarian about their symptoms. They can help diagnose your dog and offer up treatment options.

FAQs

Why does my dog twitch when dreaming?

The brain limits movement during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep to prevent humans and animals from acting out scenarios and hurting themselves while they dream. When dreaming, there’s brain activity but not body movement.

In some people (and dogs), this part of the brain is inefficient, and some small movements can slip through the cracks, twitching included.

Should I wake my dog up if he’s twitching?

You might feel guilty letting your dog whimper and twitch in their sleep, but it’s better to let them work it out than startle them awake. Some dogs may become aggressive when awoken from a dream, for example.

You’ll also disrupt your dog’s sleep cycle if you wake them.

Should I wake my dog up if he’s crying in his sleep?

Same deal here. But if you’re really bothered by the whimpering, consider calling out your dog’s name or making another loud noise to wake them.

Which dog breeds have seizures?

Some dog breeds are more likely to have inherited idiopathic epilepsy. These include:

  • Labrador retrievers
  • Australian shepherds
  • Poodles
  • Vizslas
  • Beagles
  • Golden retrievers
  • Border collies

This list isn’t exhaustive, though, and seizures can happen in virtually any breed.