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Why Do Dogs Shake When They Sleep

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Shaking may suggest an upsetting dream or a seizure.
  • Twitching is normal and likely means the dog is dreaming.
  • If a dog shows signs of a seizure, record the episode and inform a vet.
Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Thursday 5 August 2021
Last updated on
Friday 12 May 2023
dog that is sleeping
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Most pet owners enjoy watching their furry friend snooze, but sometimes it can be worrying if they start shaking. Some may wonder if their dog is having a nightmare or even having a seizure. However, there are differences between dreaming and having a seizure that can help you understand your dog’s behavior.

When a dog shakes while sleeping, it can either be due to dreaming or having a seizure. A seizure typically involves full-body movements, stiff legs, and the inability to be woken up from the episode. However, if your dog is just twitching and shivering, it’s more likely they are dreaming.

It’s essential to understand the difference between the two to ensure your dog’s well-being. So, let’s dive into the details.

Difference Between Shaking and Twitching

Although shaking and twitching may look similar, they have some important differences. Shaking is a continuous and erratic movement of the body, while twitching is brief and intermittent. If your dog is shaking during their sleep, they might be having an upsetting dream or a seizure. 

A seizure can cause violent shaking with rigid and stiff legs. A dreaming dog can be easily woken up, while a dog having a seizure cannot. Seizures can also cause disorientation, accidents, drooling, and panting. If your dog is experiencing these symptoms, speak to your vet as soon as possible.

On the other hand, twitching during sleep is a normal part of a dog’s dreaming activity. Puppies and senior dogs tend to twitch more than adult dogs because certain parts of their brainstem are not fully developed. If your dog twitches in their sleep, there is no need to worry, as it is likely they are just dreaming.

It is important not to physically wake your dog if you are concerned about their behavior. Instead, use a soft and gentle voice from a distance to avoid frightening them.

Shaking During Sleep

In contrast to twitching, shaking is a continuous, irregular, and erratic movement of the body. When awake, a dog might shake when anxious or excited. When asleep, shaking may suggest that your dog is having an upsetting dream. However, violent shaking can also be a type of seizure activity (tonic-clonic), especially when the legs are rigid and stiff. 

Dogs can have seizures when awake, after waking, and during their sleep, too. But how can you tell the difference between dreaming and a seizure? A dog having a seizure in their sleep cannot be easily woken, while a dreaming dog can. A dog having a seizure may experience disorientation afterward, sometimes having accidents on themselves, drooling, and panting. If this sounds like your dog, speak to your vet right away about your options.

Twitching During Sleep

Similar to humans, dogs also dream and move during their sleep. It’s common for a dog to twitch, kick, or paddle their legs occasionally while they sleep. These movements are typically brief and intermittent, and they stop as quickly as they began. Interestingly, puppies and senior dogs tend to twitch more during their sleep than adult dogs. 

This could be because certain parts of their brainstem are less developed. Therefore, if your dog twitches during their sleep, it’s normal, and they are likely dreaming. It’s not recommended to try and physically wake your dog if you are worried about their behavior. Instead, if you need to wake them, do so gently and from a distance, using a soft voice. Using physical force could scare your dog and teach them that sleeping isn’t safe

sleeping dogs that shake in their sleepJust like humans, dogs have dreams too.

Dogs Shaking During Sleep: FAQ

Have any more questions about why dogs shake when they sleep? Our Frequently Asked Questions section should have all the answers you need. If in doubt about your dog’s sleeping habits, it’s best to ask your vet for advice.

What do dogs dream about when they twitch?

Twitching could suggest physical activity in a dream, such as running, or chasing prey or a toy. Research suggests that dogs have similar dreams to people. Dogs replay the everyday activities that make up their daily lives like play and eating. They may dream about new tricks they’ve learned or training you’ve completed together, as dreams play a role in learning and memory, too. Also, for an unknown reason, the size of your dog also plays a role in the “size” of their dreams. Small dogs have more frequent but shorter dreams, while large dogs have less frequent but longer dreams.

What should I do if my dog is shaking?

If your dog shakes, make sure to check for other symptoms. Does your dog appear stressed when shaking, such as tucking their tail between their legs, lip licking, or looking away? If so, anxiety could be the cause of the shaking. If your dog shakes in their sleep, it’s best to let them be. Disturbing a dog’s sleep can lead to unintentional injuries as they may snap in self-defense.

If your dog’s shaking is particularly violent and involves stiffening of the legs, a seizure disorder could be the cause. Do not attempt to hold your dog down. Instead, ensure the area around them is safe and free from dangerous objects and monitor them closely. Note when the episode began and what symptoms it involves.

Should I let my dog sleep after a seizure?

Your dog may be tired after a seizure, so it’s best to let them rest. After a seizure, your dog may be disoriented and fatigued due to the energy expenditure from the tonic-clonic activity of a full-blown seizure. Additionally, your dog may feel very hungry, thirsty, and tired. 

It’s best to let your dog sleep as much as they need after a seizure. However, you should not leave them unsupervised. A dog who has had a seizure may hurt themselves by walking into things or attempting to climb stairs. Check on your dog and monitor them closely after a seizure to keep them safe from harm.

What are the signs that my dog is dreaming?

During deep sleep, many dogs “act out” their dreams. You may notice your dog twitching, kicking, paddling their legs, barking, and shaking intermittently. Some dogs may display more alarming signs, such as growling, whimpering, or their eyes rolling back. In some cases, a dog may suddenly wake up, sometimes even jumping up in their bed with apparent excitement or fear.

How do I know if my dog is having a bad dream?

Like us, dogs can have bad dreams, and their behavior will reflect this. A dog having a bad dream may whine, cry, or growl. Even if your dog is having a bad dream, it’s best to let them sleep. Waking a dog from any kind of dream with physical force may cause them to unintentionally snap in self-defense. A dog may also suddenly jump up and accidentally bump into you. Intentionally waking your dog from their sleep may also teach them that it’s not safe to sleep without being touched. To avoid a reactive response, it’s best to keep your distance

Twitching and shaking during sleep is normal for dogs when the behavior is intermittent. These behaviors usually suggest that your dog is dreaming, and as such are not a cause for concern. It’s best to let your dog continue with their dream to prevent physical harm from coming to you or your pooch. In the event that your pup shows signs of a seizure, record what you can and inform your vet as soon as possible.

One comment on “Why Do Dogs Shake When They Sleep”

  1. morehappawness

    Why do dogs shake their fur?

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