To most dog owners, our dogs are an endless source of fun and fascination.
Watching all the funny little things they do and trying to figure out why they do it is very entertaining.
For example, have you noticed your dog’s legs twitching when they are asleep?
Why does this happen?
Why Do Dogs Run in Their Sleep?
Dogs run in their sleep when they are dreaming about running.
Twitching limbs may also be a feature of normal muscle development in puppies.
However, repetitive violent convulsions and stiff limbs may be signs of a seizure and should be addressed as soon as possible.
This article will explore the sleeping behavior of dogs and help you understand the difference between your dog running in their sleep and having a seizure.
NOTE – Check this post out if you are interested in reading about why dogs love to walk so much.
Do Dogs Dream When They Are Asleep?
Dogs have dreams, especially in the rapid eye movement or REM stage of deep sleep.
We cannot be sure what dogs dream of, but it appears that their dreams involve running, chasing, and playing, among other typical dog behaviors.
For a long time, it was assumed that, apart from human beings, only a few advanced mammals–such as chimpanzees and dolphins–had dreams.
However, scientists at MIT have recently discovered that even animals such as rats have rich dreams.
By studying the brain patterns of dreaming rats, the scientists could even pinpoint the specific behaviors (such as running, walking, and eating) from their waking that the rat’s bodies were mimicking in sleep.
Other studies have discovered that dogs have similar sleep patterns as humans, including short-wave sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) cycles.
In the REM phase of deep sleep, dogs are most likely to dream.
Since dreams are mechanisms for processing memories, the assumption is that the dreams a dog experiences are influenced by its waking memories.
Therefore, a dog’s dreams are a continuation or variation of its waking behavior, which often includes running and chasing.
If dogs seem to be running in their dreams, it is only because that’s what they do during their waking life, and their brain is processing the memories of this daily activity during sleep.
NOTE – You might like to read this post we wrote about why dogs like snow so much.
Do We Know What Dogs Dream About When They Sleep?
While we can’t definitively know the actual content of dogs’ dreams, scientists have some ideas about what dogs likely dream about based on their behaviors during sleep.
Here are some leading theories:
- Dogs likely dream about common daily activities. Studies of brain waves during sleep reveal dogs spend a lot of time in the rapid eye movement (REM) stage, where dreaming occurs. Their brain activity suggests they replay waking experiences.
- Since sniffing, playing, eating, and other doggie activities comprise so much of waking life, it’s believed their dreams reenact these everyday experiences. The same parts of a dog’s brain activated during real activities fire during REM sleep.
- Dogs probably dream about interactions with their owners. Scientists think dogs dream about their owners and the activities they do together based on watching dogs during sleep. Sleeping dogs have been observed making running motions when their owner arrives home.
- There may be negative or stressful dreams as well. Dogs sometimes whimper, growl, or twitch during REM sleep as if responding to something disturbing or frightening. Bad dreams likely involve common stressors for dogs, like loud noises.
- Puppies likely dream about nursing, their mother, and their litter mates. Young puppies spend a lot of time playing and interacting with their mother and siblings, so it makes sense that they dream about these early experiences.
While we can’t say for certain, dogs likely dream about mundane aspects of their daily lives, like playing, going for walks, eating food, and interacting with their loved ones.
Their dreams reflect their typical routines and experiences.
Related Post: Dog Running in Sleep?
Understanding Dog’s Sleep and Dreaming Behaviours
Like humans, dogs pass through various stages of sleep, each distinguished by its unique features.
First is Light Sleep or Slow-Wave Sleep (SWS), where the dog relaxes but remains easily roused.
This is followed by the Deep Sleep stage, where the dog’s body relaxes completely, and brain activity slows, promoting physical restoration.
The final stage is Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, where dogs’ brains are active, and dreaming predominantly occurs.
It is in this REM stage where you’ll likely see your dog ‘running,’ twitching, or whimpering in their sleep, suggestive of dreaming.
Although dogs enter REM sleep quicker than humans, their sleep cycles are shorter and more frequent.
Recognizing these sleep cycles can help dog owners differentiate between normal sleep behaviors and those needing veterinary attention, ensuring proactive care for their pets.
Related Post: Why Do Dogs Like Playing Fetch?
Are Dog’s Muscle Twitches Part of Dog’s Normal Sleeping Behavior?
Your dog’s muscle twitches are most likely part of their normal behavior.
A dog’s muscles may twitch while dreaming or as part of normal muscle development in younger dogs.
However, stiff limbs, repetitive convulsions, and a dog that cannot be easily awakened are signs of concern.
Most often, when a dog moves its legs in its sleep, it is dreaming of running or walking, in which case, there is nothing to be concerned about.
In the case of younger dogs, muscle twitches may also indicate normal muscle development as a part of the pup’s growth.
So there is also nothing for a dog owner to be concerned about here.
However, dogs can have seizures in their sleep, which you need to watch out for.
If you suspect your dog may be having a seizure in its sleep, consult a veterinarian immediately.
NOTE – You might also be interested in this post about why dogs get hiccups when sleeping.
Is Your Dog Having a Seizure During Sleep?
Your dog may be having seizures if it has violent convulsions, stiff or rigid limbs, an awkwardly held head position, or is asleep so deeply that it’s hard to wake them during the episode.
You can also look for signs after the convulsions have stopped to indicate that your dog might have had a seizure.
For example, after the convulsions cease, your dog may also:
- Drool or pant excessively.
- Defecate, urinate or appear disorientated.
While the running movement of sleeping dogs is most often harmless, dogs occasionally have seizures in their sleep.
Seizures in a dog can indicate an underlying neurological condition that can adversely affect your pet’s health and quality of life and should always be taken extremely seriously.
Before we continue with this post, here is a cute video showing some dogs running in their sleep.
If your dog looks like this, the chances are it is not a seizure, and there is nothing to worry about:
NOTE – You might find this post useful, looking at why dogs get zoomies after a bath.
What To Do When Your Dog Is Having a Seizure Duirng Sleep
When your dog is having a seizure:
- Clear the area around your dog of any objects that may injure them.
- Record the convulsions with your camera to share with your vet.
Once your dog recovers:
- Comfort it.
- Make an appointment to see the vet.
- If the seizures persist, visit the vet immediately.
Your dog can have a seizure when it is awake or mid-sleep. In either case, its body will likely go rigid and convulse violently.
So, you must clear the surrounding area of any objects that may injure your pet by obstructing its movements.
Remember that it is never a good idea to awaken a sleeping dog abruptly as you may startle it, and your dog may bite you involuntarily.
There is also no need to try and pull your dog’s tongue out of its mouth, as some people recommend.
Do not worry; your dog will not swallow its tongue.
Next, note and record your dog’s behavior.
Try to be as accurate as possible and include the duration of seizures.
If you are unsure how to do this, recording the incident with your phone’s camera may be the best thing to do.
While it may seem insensitive, recording the symptoms is crucial.
This information may assist a vet in making a more accurate assessment of your pet’s health later.
Also, there is little else you can do for your dog at the moment.
Although your dog’s convulsions may seem painful, they are more likely to be disorienting than uncomfortable.
When the fits subside, your dog may be anxious. Comfort your dog and let it know that it is in safe hands.
Finally, once your pet appears normal, make an appointment with a veterinarian.
When you visit the vet, share all the information you have with them to help them make the most accurate diagnosis.
Seizures can also occur bunched together in clusters.
So, if your dog’s convulsions recur before your appointment with the vet, treat the situation as a medical emergency.
Call your vet immediately and appraise them of the recurrence of the convulsions.
Your vet may ask you more questions or conclude that your dog needs to be brought in immediately.
In this case, your urgency can significantly help your pet receive the care it needs.
If you are in financial difficulty and are worried about vet bills, this website has helpful resources for charities to help you pay your bills. (If you don’t live in the US, you can use Google to find similar help in your country).
NOTE – You might also like to read this post looking at why dogs curl up in a ball when they sleep.
Final Thoughts On Dogs Running in Their Sleep
Like humans, dogs have rich inner lives, including vivid dreams.
In deep REM sleep, they sometimes move their legs, imagining they are running in their sleep while dreaming.
Occasionally, leg movements during sleep can indicate the onset of seizures, and your pet may need medical attention to assess if this is the case.
So that’s it for this post looking at the question – why do dogs run in their sleep?
Before you go, you might also like to take a look at these posts:
Tim is a proud, vetted, and experienced dog foster carer for a charity helping dog owners escape domestic abuse.
He has years of experience training and caring for dogs, both his own and other people’s.
He is an expert in canine behavior and is highly skilled in dealing with all dogs but specializes in the difficult ones that other people may struggle with.
When he isn’t fostering dogs, he is making friends with other people’s pups!