Can Dogs Sleep With Their Eyes Open?

Dogs do all sorts of weird things in their sleep, from simulating running to rolling onto their backs. By far, the weirdest of these habits is sleeping with their eyes open. If you have walked in on your pooch fast asleep with their eyes fully or partially open, then you know how unsettling it can be.

Despite how unusual it may seem, it is sometimes normal for dogs to sleep with their eyes open. More often than not, their eyes are only partially open and remain in this state for a few minutes before dogs fully close them. The most common reason why they may be left open while sleeping is the REM cycle of sleep.

While many of the reasons why dogs sleep with their eyes open are innocent, there are a few situations that should have you concerned. We shall highlight both the innocent and ominous causes in the sections below so that you have a better understanding of this habit.

First thingโ€™s first, letโ€™s look at how normal it is for your dog to sleep with open eyes.

Is It Normal For My Dog To Sleep With Their Eyes Open?

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There are several situations where it is normal for your dog to sleep with its eyes open. The eyes in these cases are usually only partially opened, with only a small part of the whites being visible between the eyelids.

However, there are some situations where either one or both of the eyes may be fully open when the dog is asleep.

Here is a bit more on some of the normal instances where your dog may sleep with its eyes open.

REM Cycle Eye Twitching

Dogโ€™s sleep is divided into REM and non-REM cycles that interchange throughout the entire time that the pooch is asleep. When it comes to your dog sleeping with its eyes open, the REM cycle is at play.

REM is an acronym that means rapid eye movements and gets its name from the involuntary eye twitching your dog experiences during this sleep phase. The twitching can be so intense that an eyelid or two pop open, making it seem like the dog is sleeping with its eyes open.

Dreaming

Dogsโ€™ dreams can be very animated. You may have caught your dog tossing about or even flexing their paws as if they were running in their dreams.

These dreams could also manifest with eyes opening as a part of the involuntary muscle movements. This is different from REM cycles, as the eyes simply pop open as opposed to twitching rapidly.

The Third Eyelid Phenomenon

Dogs have an additional membrane underneath the main eyelid that serves as an extra layer of protection for the eye.

This layer is just as effective as the eyelid when it comes to protecting the dogโ€™s eyeballs from irritation by things like wind, dust, and even liquids. However, it does not offer as much protection against light and physical trauma.

While this โ€œthird eyelidโ€ is not the most effective protection for your dogโ€™s eye, it may sometimes cover the eyeball as they sleep. This makes it seem like their eyes are open as the membranous lid is easy to see through.

Sleeping Position

Finally, your dogโ€™s eyes could be open as they sleep simply because of the position that they take as they sleep. This happens when the position results in stretching of the dogโ€™s face, especially around the forehead or cheeks.

The more the tension there is, the more likely the eyes are to pop open as the dog is sleeping.

Should I Be Worried If My Dog Is Sleeping With Their Eyes Open?

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There are a few scenarios where you have every reason to be worried about your dog sleeping with its eyes open.

To help you figure out when to freak out, here is a bit more on some problematic reasons why your dog is sleeping with their eyes open and how to distinguish them.

Seizures

Seizures in dogs are not always dramatic fits with stiffening, loud groans, or frothing in the mouth. Some dogs experience seizures that manifest as nothing more than the sudden loss of muscle tone.

You may therefore find your dog perfectly still and otherwise unresponsive, in which case you may assume that they are asleep.

These seizures may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including urinary or fecal incontinence and loss of coordination once they regain consciousness.

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a condition where the dog suddenly falls asleep and loses motor function for random, short periods of time.

Since the dog does not have time to find a comfortable spot or position to fall asleep in, you may find them in weird locations and obviously uncomfortable positions.

Narcolepsy also stands out in that the episodes may occur any time during the day, including when the dog is active.

Defensive Instinct

Your dog may also literally be sleeping with one or both eyes open because they do not feel safe in their surroundings. This is common with dogs that suffer from separation anxiety or traumatic pasts.

You may also notice that your dog gets very difficult to handle around bedtime, whether it is increased vocalization, pacing, or even aggressive behavior.

Ophthalmic Conditions

Another common concern and reason why your dog may be sleeping with their eyes open are that they quite literally cannot keep them shut. This could be due to one of two conditions.

The first is lagophthalmos which is an abnormality of the lid itself that results in incomplete closure. It could be due to issues in the dogโ€™s motor control centers of the brain or due to muscle abnormalities affecting the small muscles that control the eyelids.

The second possible condition is exophthalmos which is a condition where the dogโ€™s eyeball becomes too big for its socket and protrudes outwards. This could result from a number of issues, including hyperthyroidism and tumors in the eye or brain.

Should I Let My Dog Sleep With Their Eyes Open?

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It is generally not a good idea to let your dog get into the habit of sleeping with their eyes open.

If you suspect a negative cause like epilepsy, eye conditions, or narcolepsy, it is best to get veterinary assistance as soon as possible for the dogโ€™s wellbeing. This is because these conditions could have life-threatening complications if they go unaddressed.

Even in instances where your dog is sleeping with their eyes open for harmless reasons, it is best to gently close their eyes for them. This is because if the eyes are left exposed for long enough, your dog could be at risk of developing conjunctivitis.

Conjunctivitis is a condition where the white part of the dogโ€™s eye gets irritated and inflamed. The eye becomes itchy, teary, and red. Long-term conjunctivitis could result in permanent complications, including scarring that compromises the dogโ€™s vision in the long run.

It is best to stop your dog from sleeping with its eyes open to avoid such outcomes. This could mean ensuring they have a safe and comfortable place to rest, or it could mean that you actually close those open lids yourself.

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Pete Decker