Why Do Dogs Sleep with Their Eyes Open?
You probably love having your dog cuddled up next to you as you doze off. It feels comforting to know that he’s nearby after a long day at work. I love having my dog around when I’m about to fall asleep. His gentle breathing and soft fur make me feel warm and safe.
But I was always wondering, ‘why do dogs sleep with their eyes open?’ This used to worry me at first because it looks alarming. You notice that he has his eyes open, but he looks like he’s sleeping. It used to catch me off guard at first as well.
But what you need to know is that a dog sleeping with his eyes open is not necessarily a cause for concern, if you factor in all his behavior. You’re a dog owner, so your job is to judge your dog based on how well you know him. Depending on what you can assess, you will find out if the cause is dangerous or not.
Let’s explore the various causes of this sleep time behavior.
Why Can Dogs Sleep with Their Eyes Open?
There are multiple reasons why your dog may be sleeping with his eyes open. He could merely be dreaming, which is nothing to worry about. He could also be having a seizure, in which case you need to be extremely careful of the signs and catch it as soon as possible.
Other reasons why your dog may be sleeping with his eyes open are different illnesses or medical conditions. In these instances, you need to know when you should call a vet to catch something before it is too late or causes your dog too much pain.
If you notice that a pink type of flesh is covering your dog’s eye when he is sleeping, then this is probably just his third eyelid, which we discuss later on as well. However, even though the third eyelid is made for protection, when a dog has the Cherry Eye disease, it means there is a problem with his third eyelid.
Some dog breeds have a more prominent third eyelid than others. These usually include Beagles, Lhasa Apsos, and Cocker Spaniels. They have a genetic predisposition to get the Cherry Eye more often than other dog breeds
If you notice that there is an oval bulge growing out of your dog’s third eyelid, you should get them checked for Cherry Eye disease. These can be painful and may need to be removed surgically. This is usually in extreme situations if the disease cannot be cured through medicines that your vet may give your dog to reduce the swelling and pain.
In this condition, dogs sleep with their eyes open. You might find it strange to see your dog sleeping with both eyes open, but it is your responsibility to know the symptoms of this condition and take your dog to a doctor if they are showing the signs of this condition.
Not all cases of dogs sleeping with their eyes open have to be a case of Lagophthalmos, but if it is, then it can be painful for your dog.
Some breeds get this condition more often than others, like Shih Tzus, Pugs, and Bulldogs. This is because their heads are short but broad. The dog’s breed is not the only thing to blame, though; the condition could also arise due to an issue in their eye socket.
If your dog has a bulge or some growth inside the eye socket, it can make their eyes stick out. The eye could start bulging so much that your dog will find it physically impossible to shut his eyes, and this is painful and disturbing to see.
Sometimes this happens if your dog’s face has become partially paralyzed too. You need to take him to the vet right away if you notice anything like this.
Some other symptoms of this disease are that your dog’s eyes may change color, you’ll see marks and bruises, or even sores that are scattered around his cornea that you feel are taking longer than usual for him to recover from. You’ll also notice scars like there was an injury in that area.
How Can Dogs Sleep with Their Eyes Open?
The interesting thing to remember here is that dogs aren’t sleeping with their eyes wide open. What you see when their eyes look open is usually their third eyelid, which is a pinkish shade. It still looks like their eyes are open, and many dogs are seen to be sleeping this way.
The Third Eyelid
Look closely at your dog as he sleeps with his eyes open. You most likely won’t see his full eye color, but rather a tissue that the eye is covered with. This third eyelid is nature’s way of keeping your dog’s eyes hydrated while he sleeps, even if they’re open. If your dog was sleeping with his eyes open and the third eyelid did not exist, his eyes would dry out.
Most dogs get half of the moisture to their eyes through this third eyelid. The eyelid has a gland called the nictitans gland that makes tears. How cool is that?
The nictitating membrane, also known as the third eyelid, can’t be controlled by your dog. Think of it as an involuntary function, such as breathing. The third eyelid was perhaps designed to clear away dirt from the dog’s eyes the way we used our fingers to wipe away anything unusual we feel in our eyes. As long as his third eyelid goes away when your dog’s wide awake, there’s nothing to be worried about.
Is Sleeping with Eyes Open a Sign of Seizure?
Unfortunately, yes. Sometimes, your dog may look like it’s sleeping with its eyes open, but it could be worse. Dogs who are having seizures also appear to be sleeping, but their eyes will be wide open. Since this can often be life-threatening, get your dog checked by a vet as soon as you can if you detect any signs of a potential seizure.
One way you can detect the seizure is by analyzing your dog’s body as it is lying down. If you notice that its jaws are opening and snapping shut, or that your dog’s body is rigid, it could be a seizure.
If you see that your dog is shaking or twitching repeatedly and aggressively, it is probably an emergency. Other signs to look out for are crying, whimpering, howling, or different sounds that indicate that your dog is in pain.
Another quick way of catching your dog in a seizure is to call out your dog’s name. If your dog is dreaming, it will most likely respond right away and then resume its sleeping. However, if it is having a seizure, it won’t react to you saying his name.
At the time when your dog is having a seizure, the best thing you can do is help him feel comfortable and safe. Afterward, take him to the vet and see what measures you have to take from there onwards.
Is Sleeping with Eyes Open a Sign of Twitching?
There are two different kinds of twitches that your dog can have. His eyes can twitch, but so can his entire body.
Dogs, as well as cats, can have eye twitches. These are known as blepharospasms, and they happen with people too. In this condition, your dog’s eyes will repeatedly blink very fast and entirely involuntarily. However, most of the time, if your dog is having an eye spasm, it won’t look like his eyes are open.
When dogs have eye spasms, their eyes open and close so fast that it looks like their eye is closed. You’ll also notice that your dog doesn’t want to look into bright lights either.
You can check if your dog has this condition by checking the area around the eye. If it is red and looks painful, you need to get it checked by a vet right away. The area might also be itchy, and your dog might try to scratch it, causing the eye more damage unless you treat it as soon as possible.
Eye spasms can be a result of a bug sting or the genetic disposition of their body anatomy. Some dogs, like Pekingese dogs, are more likely to get eye twitches than others because of the way their face is shaped.
Some dogs twitch in their sleep, but that doesn’t mean that they’re having a seizure. The best way to differentiate safe twitching from a seizure is by observing your dog. When your dog is twitching, it might be because of the stage of sleep they are in.
REM sleep usually causes twitches and eye movements in people too. However, when your dog is twitching in REM, you’ll know it’s harmless because he will resume his regular rate of breathing and activity after he wakes up from it.
When a dog is having a seizure, he will awake to be disoriented and scared. He might foam at the mouth and will not be able to move correctly at first. It will take him time to readjust to his environment.
You don’t have to worry if your dog is twitching in his sleep. If you determine that it is a seizure, then you will have to get him checked.
Do Dogs Dream with Their Eyes Open?
There’s a chance that your dog sleeping with his eyes open is because he’s dreaming. Their eyes can flutter or sometimes be a little open too. You must be extra vigilant to make sure that your dog is dreaming, and that it is not a seizure.
Check how relaxed his body is. If it looks like he’s at ease and calm, he’s probably dreaming. His legs might wriggle a little bit, from something he sees in his dream.
One reason why dogs may dream with their eyes open is evolution. When dogs weren’t people’s pets, and they lived in the wild, they always had to be able to protect themselves from predators. This resulted in some dogs sleeping with their eyes slightly open, to be on guard even as they slept.
Not all dogs still have this trait. It runs in certain breeds more than others, depending on how long ago your dog’s breed was domesticated.
Can You Train Your Dog to Sleep with Eyes Closed?
It’s not exactly possible to train your dog to sleep with his eyes closed because he can’t control them being open in the first place. Eye twitching, dreaming, seizures, or just the third eyelid being visible when your dog is sleeping are all out of his control.
When training dogs to do anything, like sitting, walking, or shaking your hand, they have to be in control. They have to know that they are getting a reward for what they do. A sleeping dog has no control over what it is doing and cannot think of a reward when they are asleep.
Although it may seem alarming to you if your dog sleeps with his eyes open, your primary concern should only be to make sure the reasons are not dangerous. If you have concluded that none of the reasons for your dog sleeping with his eyes open are dangerous, then you should not have to be concerned about what you can do to make him sleep with his eyes closed.
If you feel that your dog’s habit of sleeping with his eyes open is causing his eyes to become dry and he is genuinely uncomfortable with this sleeping habit, you can buy him eye drops that will keep his eyes moisturized. You can also try to slide his eyes shut when he’s sleeping, but the chances are that you will end up waking him from his nap.
How to Train Your Dog to Sleep with Eyes Closed?
If you have a pup that is new to the family, he may outgrow the phase of sleeping with his eyes open. If you have an older dog that occasionally sleeps with his eyes open, the best solution is to make sure there are no probable dangerous causes that are making him suddenly display this behavior.
Although this may not be the answer that you were searching for, it is essential to know that most dogs will only become distressed or have trouble falling asleep altogether if you try to force them to close their eyes while sleeping. Some people may opt for an eye mask or trying to slide their dog’s eyelids shut when he is already asleep, but this will most likely make your dog wake up.
Instead of disturbing his sleep, you should let him stay as he is. Most of the time, the predisposition to sleep with their eyes closed runs in the breed of the dog you have, so there is nothing you can do to make him stop this behavior. What’s more, your dog has no control over the fact that his eyes are open when he is sleeping.
If you feel that this behavior is possibly drying out your dog’s eyes, you can talk to a veterinarian about buying eye drops for your dog in situations like these.
However, you will find that most of the time, his eyes are closed, and it is only the third eyelid you are seeing. So, there are no issues with his eyes being moisturized, because the third eyelid already has glands present that keep the eye moisturized.
Another critical thing to remember here is that if your dog looks comfortable and at peace when asleep, you should not try to alter that way of sleeping.
Dogs are very active animals, and they wake up at the slightest noises. Just looking at them sleep, you will know that they are always thinking about running around and playing.
If you tamper with the way they sleep, you are most likely to ruin the little sleep that they manage to get. This might result in your dog being tired and drowsy throughout the day.
Now that you know the facts why do dogs sleep with their eyes open, you should take comfort in the fact that most of the time, what you see is just the third eyelid. The third eyelid does its job and protects and moisturizes your dog’s eye, even when you think his eyes are open.
So, why do dogs sleep with their eyes open sometimes? There are several conditions that a dog with his eyes open while sleeping could have. The dangerous ones can be picked up quite quickly if you are an observant dog owner.
If you feel like your dog is suffering from a seizure, an infection, or any other kind of painful eye condition that we’ve discussed here, you should take him to a vet to be checked up right away.
However, if you notice that he is just peacefully dreaming away and sleeping with an eye open because of a genetic disposition, then the most you can do is learn to accept that sometimes our dogs do strange things that we have to love them for!
Paul Cook is an avid pet and animal enthusiast. He spent much of her childhood on a small farm in rural Iowa. When in high school, Paul nursed an entire box of newborn, and recently dumped, kittens back to health, and successfully found homes for all of them. He’s presently the dog-dad of nine beautiful dogs, Bruno, Lester, Sandy, Bailey, Dio, Pat, Max, Brutus, and Nora. In his career life, Paul has 20+ years of writing experience as a content writer and content collaborator across a host of verticals. When he is not writing, he is spending time with his dogs.