A sleepy dog laying down and getting its head rubbed by its owner.

Why Does My Dog Sleep With His Eyes Open?

We love our dogs, but they sure can exhibit a bunch of funny behaviors that may not make a lot of sense to us. Some of these behaviors can be cute and funny, like when they follow you around everywhere, or they can be seriously annoying, like when they pee in your bed or bark at nothing. But there’s one particularly strange habit that some dogs have that can cause a good deal of concern for their owners, especially if they’ve never had a dog who does it before; sleeping with their eyes open. This behavior can spook a lot of pet owners and is a good source of worry for many, but you don’t have to go into panic mode just yet. Please continue reading to learn more about why some dogs sleep with their eyes open, why, and what to do if it ends up becoming a problem.

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How Are Dog Eyes Different From Human Eyes?

Dogs have eyes that are relatively similar to those of humans, however, they also possess a number of defining characteristics that make them unique. For instance, dogs possess a specialized third eyelid, which is a membrane that helps keep their eyes moist while also wiping away any dust or dirt that may land on the surface of their eyes. These third eyelids can’t be manually controlled by the dog. They are only able to blink when the dog’s eyes are closed and will typically retract once the eyes open. The term “typically” is especially important here, since what people are generally seeing when they notice their dog sleeping with their eyes open is, in fact, their third eyelid. 

Why Does Your Dog Sleep With its Eyes Open (and is it Really Sleeping)?

An adorable dog sleeping on a blanket with its eyes closed.

When dogs partially open their eyes when sleeping, the membrane of their third eyelid remains in place to continue protecting the eyeball from all of the dust and debris that are close to the ground. It also provides dogs with the ability to continue picking up enough visual stimuli to wake up and respond in the case of an emergency (or food, playtime, walks, or conceivably anything else). That said, it can be a bit tricky to determine whether or not your dog is actually sleeping.

While humans have sleep cycles that last around 90 minutes, dogs have sleep cycles that tend to last around only 20 minutes, so they are much more prone to waking up when sleeping than humans do. The best way to tell is by seeing exactly how open their eyes are. If they are only slightly open and your fuzzy friend seems down for the count, then they are more than likely sleeping. But if they’re just lazing about, relaxed, but with their eyes fully open, it’s more likely that they’re just chilling in that short span of time between sleep cycles. So they may not be fully sleeping, but they are in a peaceful, restful state. However, it’s important to note that some dogs may also partially open their eyes when they’re dreaming during a deep state of sleep, though this is often accompanied by twitching of the legs and possible low vocalizations, like grunting and growls. There’s no need to worry about this, though. Chances are they are just chasing some dream rabbits or running through flower fields made of bacon.

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When Should You Worry?

A dog sleepily looking at the camera with its eyes barely open.

While sleeping with their eyes partially open can be normal for many dogs, it’s essential to note that this can also occur due to a number of potential medical issues that will need to be treated by a qualified veterinarian. These issues include narcolepsy, epilepsy, and other doggy sleeping disorders, like insomnia, sleep apnea, and REM behavior disorder. Two other medical conditions that can cause dogs to sleep with their eyes open also include cherry eye and lagophthalmos, the latter of which being a medical term meaning that your dog cannot fully close its eye at all, usually because the globe of the eye is too large to properly fit beneath the eyelid. Generally speaking, if sleeping with their eyes open is a new or sudden development for your dog, you should really consider taking them to the vet for a checkup, just to be sure there’s nothing wrong with them.

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How Should You Wake Your Dog Up if Their Eyes are Open?

Along with knowing that your dog may be dealing with a potential medical condition when it comes to sleeping with their eyes open, it’s also important to understand that, no matter the cause of their open-eye sleeping, you need to be careful when it comes to waking them up. Waking your pooch up from a deep sleep can startle them and cause them to misinterpret a situation as dangerous. This, in turn, can cause them to respond with aggression, uncharacteristic for them as it may be. And if they happened to be chasing those dream rabbits, there’s also a possibility that they may accidentally clamp down on your hand, thinking that they’ve finally caught their prize. If you need to wake your dog, gently call to them from a safe distance and give them the chance to recognize your voice before slowly approaching them.

Related: Why Does My Dog Cry When he Plays With Squeaky Toys?

Final Thoughts to Keep in Mind

If your dog sleeps with its eyes open, chances are that it’s just a cute quirk of theirs that isn’t caused by anything concerning. However, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, so please make sure you talk to your regular vet about it so they can ensure your dog isn’t experiencing any potential health issues. And if you’d like to learn more about some of your dog’s behaviors, please consider checking out the wide range of top-quality resources proudly provided by the experts at Runball today. Also, don’t forget to check out their stellar range of super durable dog toys and delicious baked treats.

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