Why Do Dogs Sleep with Their Eyes Open

dog sleeping

People magazine reports that around 75% of all dog owners prefer their dogs to join them in their beds when bedtime rolls around each night. There are many reasons why owners opt to have their dogs sleep with them with some of the most common being the added warmth and the sense of peace and comfort that comes from close companionship with their dog. You may have noticed that your dog has some peculiar sleeping habits such as sprawling out on his back, twitching during slumber, and in some cases, sleeping with his eyes open. Though seeing your dog deep in la la land with his eyes staring into the darkness can feel disturbing, this is not an uncommon phenomenon and often takes place intermittently as your dog passes through the different phases of sleep. If your dog likes to sleep with his eyes open, why is this? 

Dogs Sleeping with Their Eyes Open – Is It Normal?

Dogs spend most of their days asleep. Experts share that the average dog will sleep between 12 to 14 hours each day. Very old dogs and very young dogs tend to sleep for even longer periods of time as their bodies require more sleep to function well.

Just as with humans, dogs progress through various sleep cycles as they slumber. During the REM phase, it is quite common for your dog’s eyes to begin to flicker rapidly and even open entirely. 

But it is not just deep REM sleep that causes some dogs to sleep with their eyes open. Some dogs sleep in this state when recovering from anesthesia post-surgery. Because the eyes can become quite dry and uncomfortable if left open all night during sleep, it is a good idea to use a veterinarian prescribed ointment to help keep your dog’s eyes moist until your dog’s sleep patterns return to what is normal for them.

How Dogs’ Eyes Differ from Our Own?

Though there are many similarities between the eyes of dogs and humans, there are some key differences that set them apart. Much like their sense of smell, dogs possess more acute vision than the majority of people do. However, some dogs can suffer from nearsightedness or farsightedness as well. Sadly, there are no corrective lenses in the dog world, and thus, dogs must learn to adapt to any shortcomings with their vision.

In addition to their eyeball and eyelid, dogs also possess what is known as the third eyelid. A translucent membrane that provides protection for the surface of the eye, the third eyelid’s role is to keep the eye properly lubricated and to remove dirt and harmful debris. Humans do not have this third eyelid. Though we don’t entirely know the reason why, many scientists speculate it could be because humans have the ability to wipe their eyes with their hands.

The dog’s third eyelid blinks when the eye is closed and retracts back into position when the eye reopens again. When a dog is asleep with his eyes seemingly open, the third eyelid is in place covering the eye for protection. Instead of seeing the naked eye, you are actually seeing your dog’s third eyelid.

Is There a Purpose for Dogs to Sleep with Their Eyes Open?

Some working breeds developed the habit of sleeping with their eyes open to help them fulfill their roles as hunters or guardians. By sleeping without closing their eyes, these dogs were able to remain alert and ready to chase away prey or an intruder should the occasion present itself. 

Some other breeds that possess eyes that tend to protrude from the head can give the appearance of sleeping with their eyes open though this is not actually so. In dog types like the French Bulldog or the Pug, what is actually seen is the third eyelid, a clear membrane that covers the eyeball for safety.

There are several other reasons why your dog may choose to sleep with his eyes open. These include:

  • Seizures

Open eyes are sometimes seen when a dog has a seizure. Though your dog may exhibit some jerking motions when in a dream state, a dog having a seizure will have a stiff body and may attempt to snap. During dreaming, your dog will appear relaxed while during a seizure your dog will seem distressed.

Vocalizations are often seen during seizures and may include such noises as moans or howls. To determine if your dog is suffering from a seizure or is simply dreaming, experts recommend calling your dog by name. If your dog responds to his name when it is called, your dog was dreaming. Dogs that are experiencing seizures will not be able to respond to your call.

  • Dreaming

When dogs dream, it is quite normal for them to keep their eyes open as they slumber. When this occurs, you may also notice your dog’s legs twitching. Most commonly, the twitching and open-eyed state often takes place when your dog is deep in REM sleep. It is believed that this trait remains from the days when dogs were in the wild and needed to sleep with their eyes open to protect them when vulnerable.

  • Cherry eye

Cherry eye is a medical condition in which the third eyelid becomes swollen and begins to protrude over the eyeball. When inflamed, the third eyeball appears a deep red hue, thus why this condition is referred to as cherry eye. Cherry eye can be quite common to some breeds particularly those of the brachycephalic variety such as Bulldogs and Boston Terriers.

Unfortunately, cherry eye rarely resolves on its own. Surgery is required to correct the problem.

  • Lagophthalmos

A less commonly seen problem, Lagophthalmos is a medical problem evidenced when a dog is no longer able to close his eye completely. Most typically, this condition occurs because the eye’s sphere is too large for the eyelids to cover when closed. If you suspect your dog may be suffering from this health issue, it is important that you schedule an appointment to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. 

How Do I Know if There is Something Wrong with My Dog’s Eyes?

Most often, your dog sleeping with his eyes open is no cause for concern. However, if you see evidence your dog has cherry eye or your dog lacks the ability to full close his eyes, it may be time to stop by your veterinarian for a wellness examination and full assessment. 

Why do dogs sleep with their eyes open? There are lots of reasons why your pooch may adopt this particular stance, but rest assured, in most cases, it is quite normal.

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