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My Dog Sleeps with Eyes Open! Should I be Concerned?

Updated by Sheryl on Dec 10, 2021

is it normal for dogs sleeping with eyes open

Dogs are amazing species. Sometimes we find dogs behave strangely, such as going around a certain spot or, sleeping with their eyes open--yes, many dog owners have found that their dogs have such signs. So, is this behavior normal, and should we pay attention to the frequencies it happens? Is the dog sleeping with his eyes open because his eyes are uncomfortable? Now, I will answer for you.

  • Do Dogs Sleep with their Eyes Open? 
  • How and Why Do Dogs Sleep with Their Eyes Open?
  • How Do I Make Sure that My Dog is Sleeping with Open Eyes? Should I Wake them Up?
  • When to be Concerned about a Dog Sleeping with Eyes Open?
  • Dog Sleeping Disorders - Is Sleeping with Open Eyes a Sleeping Disorder in Dogs?

Yes! Dogs are probably asleep if they are in one of their usual sleeping postures, taking deep breathes, and calm. Their eyes may be partially or fully open. They do need about 8 to 14 hours of sleep each day, depending on their age, breed, health conditions, diet, habits, exercise levels, medications, environment, and emotional security, among other things.

The frequency of sleeping with eyes open can vary a lot depending on each factor we just noted. Sleeping with open eyes may or may not be of habit to different dogs.

So, as a rule of the thumb, if a dog sleeps with eyes open usually and is calm, let the sleeping dog be.  Let's discuss when sleeping with open eyes is normal and when it is not for dogs, in the meantime.

white puppy sleeps

So now that we know that they indeed can sleep with their eyes open, there are the questions of how dogs sleep with their eyes open and why? Is sleeping with its eyes open a sign of caution in a dog? Does it count as proper sleep? Don't their eyes burn? How are they block out the sights their eyes are seeing? Are they seeing everything while sleeping? Is it a sleeping disorder? Is it an eye condition? We'll discuss all these things you may want to know.

Well, as it turns out, dogs do not see much of the sights around them or at least perceive them consciously while sleeping with their eyes open. This is because cats and dogs have a membrane called the nictitating membrane that acts as the third eyelid for them.

The whitish, flexible film is found behind the eyelids and can sheath the eyeball when the eye is closed. In fact, it moves from the inner corner of the eye to the outer corner when these animals close their eyes and retract back into the inner corner when the eyes are opened. This action pushes dirt out of the eyes of cats, dogs, and other animals who cannot use their hands or water to clean their eyes. In addition, the 'third eyelid' produces small amounts of tears and sufficient antimicrobial compounds like lysozyme to protect the eyes from infections.

yellow dog lying with big eyes

Cats and dogs also do not have very functional eyelashes or brows. So these membranes do a lot of heavy lifting for your pet's eyes.
When a dog or cat sleeps, the brain signals the nictitating membrane to relax and spread over the eyeball. This holds true for both natural sleep and induced sleep alike.

The eyes of most dog breeds are more protruding compared to cat breeds. One could safely say that most cats have eyeballs that rest well within the skull. So, we observe more dogs sleeping with their eyes open than other animals.

Sleeping with its eyes open helps a dog in tricking his foes into believing that he is awake and alert. That's just the dog's survival instincts and wild-life genes acting up even though they have been domesticated as family pets for millennia now. Dogs were never the largest predators out there. But they had always been very territorial within the species.

puppies sleep

The sleep patterns of dogs are fairly similar to those of humans. Scientists who have studied dog sleep patterns have observed that dogs may keep their eyes open even in the REM sleep stage.

If you have had or known your dog since it was a wee puppy, you would probably know if it had always been sleeping with fully or partially open eyes. In that case, you may have already asked your vet if this is a matter of concern and ruled out the distress.

But when you adopt an older puppy or dog, you cannot be sure if this had always been how they slept or not. So, you can watch them carefully when they are sleeping. Talk to your vet if there are any signs of distress in the dog while sleeping with their eyes open. Also, inspect the eye after they have woken up. If there is any redness or other signs of irritation have your vet look at it.

In any case, if your dog or puppy used to sleep with closed eyes and is now sleeping with its eye/eyes open then want the vet to see them.
If you want to be extra sure, you can record your dog's sleep. It need not be a complete video of them sleeping. Take photos or smaller shots of their open-eyed sleep patterns and show them to the vet.

You will not need to wake them up if they are calm or breathing alright. Rapid eye movement too is normal for sleeping dogs. Occasionally though, if they seem to be having some trouble, it is okay to call out to them softly to wake them up.

husky sleeps

With the normal cases of dogs sleeping with their eyes open sorted, let's move on to the points of concern - from mild to serious.

( 1 ) The Nictitating Membrane is Not Covering the Eye

If the third eyelid or nictitating membrane is not covering the portion of the eye that is not covered by the actual eyelids your dog may be in a bit of trouble. When the eyeball is directly exposed to the air the cornea and sclera (i.e., the pupil and the white part) can lose moisture. The lack of moisture will both irritate the eye directly and let microbes infect it.

As a result, your dog's eye will appear red, irritated, or darker in color. Should this be the case, take it to the vet to avoid serious damage to the eye. Let the vet know that the furry bag of sleep had been sleeping with its eye open.

( 2 ) Dissimilar Behaviour of the Eyes

Is your dog sleeping with the eyes open, but one eye is more open than the other? Does the dog open just one ye alternatingly? Is he sleeping with just one eye open?

Let the proverb be, and observe your dog. Your dog is not supposed to sleep with just one eye open. This is more out of the ordinary than a dog sleeping with both eyes open.

Your vet will need to have a look to find out if it is a slight nervous disorder, a sign of anxiety, or a more serious eye problem.

dog with one eye open

( 3 ) Opening the Eyes Frequently to Check

If your dog keeps opening its eyes alertly too often within its naptime, it could mean one of these two things: (i) the dog is anxious and cannot sleep well, or (ii) something (internal or external) is waking the dog up.

You may want to ensure better sleeping conditions for your dog in this case.

( 4 ) Cherry Eye Disease

Cherry eye disease is a common condition in dog breeds with eyes more protruding than the others. A dog is said to have a 'cherry eye' when the third eyelid or a part of the conjunctiva swells and reddens for some reason. The dog cannot sleep with its eye open if it has a cherry eye.

All the more, sleeping with the eye open will aggravate the condition. The dog needs a vet's help immediately if it has a cherry eye.

Sleeping with both eyes open or partially open is not strictly a sleeping disorder in dogs, humans, or other mammals. Many aquatic species are also known to sleep with their eyes wide open. With that being said, let us list a few common sleeping disorders in dogs and get help if your dog has the symptoms.

  • Narcolepsy and Cataplexy - Falling asleep suddenly, as in literally "falling" down and sleeping.
  • Urinal Incontinence - We call this bedwetting too. But bedwetting is not common for even puppies, senior dogs, or females that have given birth.
  • Insomnia - Sleeplessness too is a rare veterinary condition that comes from serious trauma or a medical condition.
  • Sleep apnea and other sleep-breathing disorders - Sleep apnea is the condition by which the patient has a hard time breathing while asleep. Although this is not a common condition in dogs, it can be fatal.
  • REM Sleep Behavior Disorder - This is usually a funny situation like the dog moving as if it was running or swimming in its dream. But you can easily mistake seizures for this condition. REM behavior disorder can be more serious by itself if the condition frequently disrupts the dog's sound sleep
Sheryl is an editor from iPetor, owns extensive pet care experience. As a professional writer, she can provide useful pet care tips for all "parents".
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