Is My Dog Dreaming or Having A Seizure, and Do I Need To Worry?

For those dog owners lacking experience, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between a dog in the middle of an exciting dream, and a dog having a seizure in their sleep. A dog panting, whining, and moving erratically during sleep could just be having an amazing or “scary” dream, or they could be experiencing a brain event that needs further attention.

Dogs can in fact have seizures in their sleep, and a seizure does warrant medical attention. But, most dog owners would probably rather spare themselves the expense of a trip to the vet just to find out their dog was likely having a bad dream, and there’s nothing to worry about.

Here’s a quick primer on the difference between a dreaming dog and a convulsing dog, and what to do if you believe your dog is having a seizure in their sleep, or has just experienced one.

Dog Dreaming

Yes, dogs do dream. Not all dogs show outward signs that they are dreaming, but like humans, they can and do dream. Just as with humans, dreaming is a natural, healthful part of sleep. A dog enters REM (rapid eye movement), and begins to sleep as a part of the most restful period of slumber.

A dog in this sleep state may vocalize (whining, yipping, even barking), paddle the air as if swimming, move their legs as if they are running, even toss and turn, just like humans do. Remember: it is important to let a sleeping dog sleep; they need their rest just like we do.

Dogs Having Seizures While Sleeping?

A seizure is a series of uncontrolled muscle movements that originate in the brain and may affect only a portion of the body (petit mal) or the entire body (grand mal). Most dogs that experience seizures, whether due to epilepsy or another acute cause, experience them while awake, often during a period of excitement or shortly after waking.

Seizures while sleeping are far less common in canines, but they do occur and may appear on the surface to resemble the normal behavior a dog exhibits while dreaming. The key to distinguishing the two is to pay attention to the dog’s breathing.

During deep, restful (REM) sleep, a dog will exhibit signs of deep breathing. During a seizure, however, a dog’s breathing will be labored, as if the dog is struggling to get air into its lungs.

What to Do If You Believe Your Dog Is Having a Seizure as They Sleep

First, remain calm, because a panicked owner is the last thing your dog needs in the moment. Stay calm and take steps to ensure that your dog isn’t in a position where they could hurt themselves if they begin to thrash around. Move objects away from your dog, but do not move your dog unless absolutely necessary. If this becomes necessary, only move the animal by her back legs (for your safety).

Do not attempt to wake your dog, and do not attempt to put your fingers or anything else in your dog’s mouth. Contrary to widespread belief, your dog is not in any danger of swallowing their tongue. If you put your fingers in their mouth, you may be in danger of losing your fingers.

What to Do After Your Dog Has Suffered a Seizure

If this is a recurring event in a dog that has been diagnosed with epilepsy, follow your vet’s instructions for what to do after a seizure. If this is an isolated event, schedule an appointment for your dog to be seen by a vet.

Some seizures are caused by epilepsy and are manageable. Others are caused by underlying, possibly life-threatening conditions that may be treatable if they are diagnosed in time. And, if the seizure is prolonged (more than five minutes in length) seek emergency veterinary care as soon as possible.

Author: Giano Panzarella