Most dogs twitch and jerk while sleeping. This behavior, known as sleep twitching or sleep spasms, is completely normal. Dogs might twitch their tails, ears, paws or even their entire body for a few seconds at a time throughout the day and night. In most cases, your dog's twitches are nothing to worry about.
However, it's important to note the circumstances in which these twitches occur, so that you can take action if they become concerning. If your dog is twitching during his naptime or while resting on the couch after playing outside all day, there’s probably nothing to be concerned about.
It’s only when your pooch starts twitching during his nighttime rest that you should take note. Depending on the circumstances of your dog’s twitches, they could indicate an underlying health issue – especially if they are coupled with other symptoms like fever or loss of appetite.
Normal Twitching in Dogs
A dog’s twitch is a muscle spasm, which is an involuntary contraction of a muscle or group of muscles. As many as one in five dogs will twitch while they sleep. It’s most common in dogs between the ages of one and six, but can happen at any age, even in senior dogs.
Twitches can be observed in any muscle in the body that’s controlled by a nerve. Most dogs twitch in their paws, ears, and tails, but some dogs even twitch their entire bodies.
The term “twitching” can apply to many different types of movement in the body, such as cramps and spasms, but in this case we’re talking about “myoclonus”. Myoclonus is a type of involuntary muscle contraction that occurs when the brain’s neurons misfire.
The most common areas in which myoclonus is seen are the eyelids, face, and neck. Depending on the intensity and frequency of the movements, it can be diagnosed as either a disorder or a symptom of an underlying condition.
The most common triggers for dog twitches are stress, anxiety, and changes in the environment. A dog who has just moved into a new home, is unfamiliar with his surroundings, or is experiencing some sort of change in lifestyle (like a new baby, a new pet, or a new schedule) is likely to twitch in his sleep more often than usual.
Dog Twitching While Dreaming
Dogs twitch and make funny noises while they’re sleeping or drifting off to sleep—and it’s a common sight in dog-owning households. But what exactly is happening when your pup twitches and lets out that weird noise?
That twitchy, jerky movement and the sounds that come with it are called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which stands for the initials of the researchers who discovered it in humans.
Although dogs have slightly different stages of sleep than humans, the same principles apply. Once your dog falls asleep (which isn’t hard to do once they’ve exhausted themselves by running around like a loon), their brain shuts down all unnecessary functions from their senses.
They have periods of light sleep with moments of complete darkness where their bodies aren’t responding to any outside stimuli. During these times, dogs can experience dreams just as humans do. However, because their sense of smell is so much stronger than ours, their dreams tend to be more centered around smells instead of sights like we experience in our dreams.
Why Do Dogs Twitch and Growl In Their Sleep?
All dogs twitch, growl, and make different noises while they’re sleeping—no matter their size or age. Even puppies as young as three weeks old have been seen twitching and making noises as they fall asleep. So what’s causing all the movement, sounds, and behavior?
Every dog’s brain activity and degree of movement while they’re asleep is different. Some dogs experience very little movement, while others twitch and growl like they’re being chased by a bear.
When dogs twitch in their sleep from dreaming: What's really happening?
You may have noticed that dogs tend to twitch and make noises towards the end of their sleep cycles. This is because their brains are transitioning from light sleep to the more “awake” REM sleep. During REM sleep, the brain releases hormones that create muscle twitches and random movement.
In humans, this period of sleep is associated with vivid dreams, increased blood flow to the brain, and an increase in heart rate and breathing. Although we don’t know for sure if dogs experience the same feelings we do when we dream, we can assume their dreams are vivid and intense, especially since dogs are so in tune with their senses.
Excitement, Not Exhaustion
For many dogs, twitching is caused by excitement or even overexcitement — not a lack of sleep. If your dog is used to a late-night play schedule or lots of stimulation, they’re likely to be kept up late. Twitching from overexcitement is often characterized by a sudden increase in the intensity and frequency of movements.
When your dog is overexcited, their muscles are probably more tense than when they’re relaxed. As a result, you may see more twitches and spasms within their muscles than you would if they were calm and relaxed. This is especially common in puppies and senior dogs who have more difficulty settling.
Dog Twitching in Their Sleep Due to Anxiety
There are several different types of stress, but the one we’re referring to here is “cortisol” — a hormone released by the body in response to stress. A sudden increase in cortisol levels can cause a variety of issues as a result of it being a “fight or flight’ hormone.
If your dog is stressed out, they’re more likely to twitch in their sleep. Twitches caused by stress are often less intense than those caused by overexcitement and often affect both the forelegs and hind legs.
Treatments for Normal Dog Twitching
There are no known treatments for standard dog sleep twitching. If your dog’s twitching has a cause that you can eliminate, then you should do so.
For example, if your dog is sleeping in an unfamiliar place, you can move him to a more comfortable location. If your dog has recently undergone surgery, you can give him pain medication to help reduce his pain and the number of twitches he experiences.
It’s also a good idea to keep a journal of your pooch’s twitching so that you can track the circumstances surrounding it. This will help you to pinpoint potential causes and address them as they arise.
If your dog is dreaming and twitching in their sleep, there's no reason to intervene or be concerned. This is perfectly normal, your dog is just enjoying the deep recesses of REM sleep.
When is Dog Twitching During Sleep Cause for Concern?
If your dog’s twitching progresses to something more serious, you should take note. Serious twitching is often accompanied by other symptoms, including fever and loss of appetite.
Dogs don’t sweat like humans do, so they cool themselves off by panting; however, if they’re sleeping, they can’t do this. If your dog is sleeping in a warm environment or if they have extra long fur that’s not being groomed regularly, they’re more likely to overheat, which can cause twitching.
If you notice your dog twitching in their sleep in a warm environment, it’s important to note that the twitching could be an early sign of a seizure. In the case of overheating, the twitching will usually affect the muscles on one side of the body and be less intense than in the case of a seizure.
As dogs age, they’re more likely to experience a variety of health issues that can cause twitching and other involuntary movements in sleep. If your dog is an older pup, it’s important to pay attention to the type of movements they’re making.
Typical age-related twitches are less intense than those caused by overexcitement, stress, or anxiety. If you notice your dog twitching in their sleep and you’re not sure why, it’s best to take them to the vet for an exam to rule out any health issues that may be to blame.
Muscles often get tired as a result of overuse, and a twitch or spasm can occur when a muscle is fatigued. If your dog is active, especially if they’re engaged in sports or training, they’re more likely to twitch. Muscle twitches are usually less intense than those caused by overexcitement, stress, or anxiety. They may also be accompanied by a brief flexing of the muscle.
Low Blood Sugar
Another cause of dog twitching in sleep could be low blood sugar. If your dog has eaten within the last six hours, you can try feeding them a small amount of food. If they don’t eat it, then you can give them water. If that doesn’t help, then you should take them to the vet as soon as possible.
Infection or Inflammation
If your dog is experiencing an infection, they may twitch while they’re asleep. Take note of where the twitching is happening. If it’s happening in your dog’s legs, they may have an infection. If the twitching is happening in their face, then they may have an infection in their teeth.
Take your dog to the vet if you think they may have an infection. Infections can be serious and may require antibiotics to treat. The vet will be able to examine your dog and determine if they have an infection and treat it if they do.
Seizures can also cause a dog to twitch in their sleep. Seizures are a common neurological condition that affects dogs. While not always easy to detect, there are several signs of a seizure your dog may be experiencing.
A dog with a seizure will experience unusual behavior such as hiding and cowering, confusion or agitation, staring or fixed gaze and so on. If you notice any of these symptoms, seek veterinary help immediately.
There are several different types of seizures, which are classified according to their effects and possible triggers.
Tonic-clonic seizures are also called generalized seizures. This type of seizure occurs when abnormal electrical activity in the brain causes widespread excitation in the cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain.
When this happens, the muscles tense and relax, which is why the term tonic-clonic is used. The muscles in the legs, back, abdomen and sometimes the head and neck contract repeatedly, followed by a period of relaxation. This lasts between 1 and 5 minutes.
During a tonic-clonic seizure, the dog may experience a loss of consciousness, but this is rare. This type of seizure may be preceded by unusual behavior such as cowering, hiding or aggression. The dog may also exhibit unusual behavior after the seizure has finished. This can include confusion, exhaustion, increased thirst and urination, and excessive salivation.
Partial onset seizures
Partial-onset seizures occur when abnormal electrical activity in the brain causes activity in only a small part of the cortex. This type of seizure is often caused by a lesion in the brain, although it may be brought on by other neurological disorders such as epilepsy, head trauma, infection or liver failure.
As this type of seizure affects a small part of the brain, the dog may not lose consciousness. The seizure will stop on its own, and the dog may appear confused afterwards.
Absence seizures are a type of generalized seizure that causes rhythmic, intermittent and episodic abnormal electrical activity in the brain. During this type of seizure, the dog may be unresponsive, and her eyes may roll back in her head. This may be accompanied by barking or meowing.
This type of seizure lasts between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. The dog may appear confused afterward and may not remember what happened. While this type of seizure is not dangerous, it may be an indication of a more serious neurological disease.
A febrile seizure occurs when abnormal electrical activity in the brain is triggered by a high fever, commonly in young dogs between 4 and 16 weeks of age. This type of seizure is common in puppies and may be a sign of infection.
The dog may appear confused or agitated, and her muscles may twitch or jerk. This seizure usually lasts between 30 seconds and 2 minutes, after which the dog will usually appear confused.
Epilepsy in Dogs
If your dog has recurring seizures, or if you notice abnormal behavior that might be due to a seizure, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. It is important that you do not try to treat the symptoms at home.
Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination on your dog and may request blood tests, urinalysis and other diagnostic tests, depending on the symptoms.
If your veterinarian suspects that your dog has epilepsy, he may prescribe anti-convulsant medication. Do not stop taking your dog’s medication without consulting your veterinarian as this could have serious consequences.
Dog Sleeping Habits
It's important to remember that every dog will twitch in their sleep once in a while. Especially if your dog is dreaming.
While dogs don't sleep the same way humans do, they still experience the same phases of short wave sleep and rapid eye movement (REM sleep). Dreaming can occur during REM sleep and most dogs spend about 10% of their sleep time in this phase.
Monitoring Your Dog's Sleep
If your dog is twitching during sleep, it may be normal, but it may also be a good reason to make sure that your dog is dreaming rather than having abnormal body movements. Sleep plays an important role in your dog's health, so it makes sense that you would want to keep track of their sleeping habits.
A sleep tracker, like the one on the Fi Series 3 smart collar can help you monitor how much sleep your dog is getting and provide you with concrete information on their sleep patterns.
The information obtained from a sleep monitor can be invaluable to identifying potential health problems and can tell you when there are changes in your dog's body movements and behavior.
Dogs twitch in their sleep for a variety of reasons, ranging from stress to pain. If your dog starts to twitch more often, it’s important to note the circumstances surrounding his twitching.
With a little detective work, you should be able to pinpoint the cause of your dog’s sleep twitching and address the issue accordingly. If you are concerned about your dog, contact your vet. They will be able to tell you whether your dog's twitching is cause for concern.
For more helpful articles about pet-parenting tips, check out the Off Leash blog at TryFi.com.
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