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Why Does My Dog Sleep With His Eyes Open? 9 Reasons Explained - PawSafe

Why Does My Dog Sleep With His Eyes Open? 9 Reasons Explained

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

dog sleeping with eyes open

Dogs are known for their peculiar sleeping habits, from snoring to twitching, and even sleeping with their eyes open. While it may seem strange to us humans, this behavior is actually quite common among dogs. In this article, we will explore why dogs sleep with open eyes.

Sleeping is a time for any living being to rejuvenate and allow their bodies to sleep right. So, dog owners invest in specially designed canine beds for their pets to get the best of this valuable psychological process. 

To answer this question, we have taken a deep dive into Canine Behavior Insights by Dr. Bonnie V.G. Beaver, DVM. So, let’s get right into the unusual question of why dogs sleep with their eyes open.

It’s reasonable to be concerned about what goes on in your pet’s sleep. Just like humans, dogs have their snoozing quirks like snoring, twitching, leg kicks, soft barks, even farts. Be sure to read our article on why dogs whimper in their sleep if your dog does that too much.

The good news is most of these behaviors are as harmless as they are funny. Unless, of course, they happen alongside other signs like pain, discomfort, seizures, and deep anxiety. 

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Let’s get right into 9 reasons dogs sleep with their eyes open:

Behavioral Reasons Why Dogs Sleep with Their Eyes Open

1. Instinct

Dogs are natural predators, and their instincts make them alert to any potential danger. While in the wild, sleeping with their eyes open enabled them to be more aware of their surroundings and any potential threats. This behavior persisted even after dogs evolved into domesticated companions. 

2. Alertness and Protection

When a dog sleeps with their eyes open, they are still able to monitor their environment while they rest. They can detect any movement or sound that may indicate danger and quickly respond to it. This behavior is particularly useful when dogs are in unfamiliar environments or situations.

Also see: Can dogs sense bad weather?

3. Comfort and Relaxation

Some dogs sleep with their eyes open simply because it is more comfortable for them. Sleeping with their eyes partially open allows them to feel more secure and relaxed.

Additionally, dogs that are highly active or have a lot of energy may sleep with their eyes open as a way to conserve energy. This behavior is more common in younger dogs that have not yet learned to relax fully when they sleep.

Physiological Reasons Why Dogs Sleep with Their Eyes Open

4. REM Sleep

Dogs, like humans, go through different sleep cycles, including REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Studies show that during this phase, dogs may dream, and their eyes may appear to be open. This is a normal part of their sleep cycle.

5. Third Eyelid Function

Dogs have a third eyelid, also known as the nictitating membrane, which is a translucent membrane located in the inner corner of their eyes. This membrane is used to protect the eye by spreading tears across the surface of the eye, removing debris, and providing additional moisture. 

When dogs sleep, their third eyelid may only partially close, giving the appearance that their eyes are open. This is because the third eyelid is still partially visible, even when it is covering the eye. Some people may think the third eyelid is a pink bump at the corner of the eye but that’s a condition called cherry eye.

6. Breed-Specific Traits

Some breeds of dogs are more likely to sleep with their eyes open due to their physical characteristics. For example, brachycephalic breeds, such as pugs and bulldogs, have shorter snouts and a more prominent forehead, which can cause their eyes to appear to bulge slightly. This can make it appear as though their eyes are open even when closed.

Additionally, dogs with large, protruding eyes, such as Chihuahuas and Pekingese, may also sleep with their eyes open.

Potential Health Concerns

Dogs sleeping with open eyes can indicate potential health concerns requiring veterinary attention. Here are some of the possible health issues that could cause this behavior:

1. Eye Infections

Eye infections, such as conjunctivitis or keratitis, can cause dogs to keep their eyes open while they sleep. Bacteria, viruses, or fungi can cause these infections and can result in redness, swelling, discharge, and discomfort. If left untreated, eye infections can lead to more serious eye problems, including vision loss.

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2. Neurological Disorders (like Narcolepsy)

Some neurological disorders, like narcolepsy, can cause dogs to sleep with their eyes open. Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that affects the brain’s ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles. Dachshunds, Dobermans, and Labs are among the most affected breeds.

 Dogs with narcolepsy may fall asleep suddenly and unexpectedly, even during activities like eating or playing. Keeping their eyes open while sleeping is a common symptom of narcolepsy.

3. Eye Abnormalities That Affect Dog’s Ability To Close Eye

Certain eye abnormalities, such as eyelid agenesis or ectropion, can affect a dog’s ability to close their eyes. Dogs with these conditions may sleep with their eyes open to protect their eyes from drying out.

Eyelid agenesis is a congenital condition in which a dog is born without one or both eyelids. Ectropion is a condition in which the eyelid droops outward, exposing the inner surface of the eyelid.

When to Consult a Veterinarian About Dogs Sleeping with Eyes Open

While it is normal for some dogs to sleep with their eyes open, it is important to know when to consult a veterinarian. Here are some situations when a visit to the vet is necessary:

Abnormal Eye Movement

If a dog’s eyes are moving rapidly or twitching and seizing while sleeping, it may be a sign of a neurological disorder or other health issue. A veterinarian should be consulted to rule out any underlying conditions.

Eye Infections

Dogs with eye infections may sleep with open eyes due to discomfort or pain. Other signs of an eye infection include redness, discharge, and swelling. A veterinarian can diagnose and treat the disease to prevent further complications.

Eye Trauma

If a dog has suffered an eye injury, it may sleep with its eyes open to protect the injured eye. Signs of eye trauma include redness, swelling, discharge, and cloudiness. A veterinarian should be consulted immediately to prevent further damage to the eye.

Behavioral Issues

In some cases, dogs may sleep with their eyes open due to anxiety or other behavioral issues. A veterinarian can help diagnose and treat any underlying behavioral problems to improve the dog’s quality of life.

Overall, if a dog’s sleeping habits seem abnormal or if there are any signs of eye discomfort or injury, it is important to consult a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do certain dog breeds tend to sleep with their eyes open?

Yes, certain dog breeds, such as Greyhounds, Whippets, and Afghan Hounds, tend to sleep with their eyes open more often than other breeds. This is because these breeds have a more prominent brow ridge, which makes it easier for them to keep their eyes partially open while sleeping.

Why do some dogs sleep with their eyes open at night?

Dogs may sleep with their eyes open at night due to their natural instincts to protect themselves and their pack. By keeping their eyes partially open, they can quickly detect any potential environmental threats or dangers.

What could cause a dog to sleep with their eyes open and twitch?

A dog sleeping with their eyes open and twitching could be a sign of a deeper sleep state, also known as REM sleep. During this stage, dogs may experience muscle twitches and eye movements. This is a normal part of the sleep cycle and is nothing to be concerned about.

Is it normal for elderly dogs to sleep with their eyes open?

Yes, it is normal for elderly dogs to sleep with their eyes open. As dogs age, they may experience changes in their sleeping patterns and habits. This can include sleeping with their eyes partially open. However, open eyes during sleep are more common in energetic, younger dogs.

What does it mean if a dog’s eyes are open but unresponsive while sleeping?

If a dog’s eyes are open but unresponsive while sleeping, it could be a sign of a deeper sleep state. However, if the dog is unresponsive to touch or sound, it may be cause for concern and should be evaluated by a veterinarian.

Why do some dogs sleep with their tongue out and eyes open?

Dogs may sleep with their tongue out, and eyes open as a way to regulate their body temperature. By panting and keeping their tongue out, they can release heat and cool down. Keeping their eyes partially open allows them to stay alert and aware of their surroundings while they rest.

Final Thoughts

Dogs sleeping with their eyes open is a common and natural behavior. A dogs’ ability to sleep with their eyes open is related to their need to be alert and aware of their surroundings at all times. Genetics, breed, and individual differences also play a role. Additionally, certain medical conditions or medications may also affect a dog’s ability to close their eyes during sleep.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.