Why do dogs sleep with their eyes open?

Why do dogs sleep with their eyes open?

Does your dog sleep with his (well, to infer his or her) eyes open, or semi open? Well, if he does, you don’t need to get worried or freak out because it’s not a serious condition and it usually happens with many dogs. So, before you can start running to the vet for help, read on to get a good understanding on what could be the cause and why you shouldn’t be alarmed.

However, if your dog always sleeps with his eyes open or partially open, it is advisable to give your dog a close observation to find out why he sleeps with his eyes open. This will help you know if the pooch is healthy, happy or if it feels unsafe because the habit may be triggered by different things.

What you also need to understand is that the behavior of sleeping with eyes open may depend on the breed. We have certain breeds of dogs that do not have this behavior while others have. Here are some of the breeds that are likely to sleep with their eyes open:

  • Bulldog
  • Chihuahua
  • Shi Tzu
  • Spaniel
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Poodle
  • Labrador
  • Blood hound
  • Shar-pie
  • Boxer
  • Pekinese
  • Saint Bernard
  • Beagle
  • Bassett hound

Supposing that you didn’t find your dog breed in the above list don’t feel so safe because all dogs have a membrane called a nictitating membrane which does a splendid job keeping the dog’s eyes open as it sleeps, so, any dog can sleep with eyes open.

Are the eyes really open?

You also need to know that whenever your dog is sleeping and you see his eyes open, what you always see is not the eyes but the nictitating membrane which is also called the third eyelid.

This membrane helps with protecting the eye, production of up to 50% tears, protects the aye from wind and dirt from entering the eye and also keeps the eye moist. Nictitating membrane ensures that the dog’s eye remains healthy.

When did this habit start?

This behavior is generational it won’t easily come to an end. Dogs used this sleeping habit as a defense mechanism when they used to live as wild animals in the forest caves. They used to be attacked by other big animals so they adapted the habit of sleeping with their eyes open so that whenever the enemy would come to attack, they’ll scare the attacker away with the eyes. The enemies will see that the dog is awake and ready to defend themselves and the attacker will just go away.

However, if your dog sleeps with eyes open and you notice that he is twitching, then that could be a course of alarm and you may need to visit a vet because, that can be a sign of seizure. But if your pooch is twitching normally, no need to worry since your dog may be having a dream.

Also when you see your dog staring blankly or making abnormal noises and movements in his sleep with his eyes open then you may consider getting a vet for help because that could also be a sign of seizure.

So, if you notice these signs in your dog you need to make sure that whenever he sleeps, he sleeps in a safe place because when he starts having movements, he might hurt himself without knowing. Make sure you clear the place for him. Once the seizure stops you may take him to the vet immediately.

For some people, it may be hard to differentiate between a normal twitching when your dog is having a dream and the one that shows signs of seizure. This confusion often happens to new dog owners who don’t know much about their new pooch.  Worry less, I’m here to help you with this.

Here is how you may differentiate a dream from a seizure

  1. Take a good look at your pooch’s eyes if you notice that your dog is having a scary stare, that’s seizer but if he looks peaceful and relaxed the open eyes may show that he is just having a dream.
  2. During seizure your dog’s eyes tend to be wide open compared to when he is dreaming and having peaceful rest the eyes should be partially open
  3. Your dog may have mild twitching when dreaming but not like when he’s experiencing a seizure because with seizure the twitching is usually stiff.
  4. When your dog is having a seizure, he will be moaning, he will howl and also produce screaming sounds and when he’s dreaming he may just make a short and not so loud bark.
  5. It is easy to wake up your dog from a dream, with seizure you can’t wake your pooch from it and it is so heartbreaking watching your dog going through that pain yet you can’t do anything to help
  6. Your dog will be always alert after he wakes up from a dream but he will look confused after a seizure.
  7. Breathing become difficult for your dog when experiencing seizure but when hes dreaming breathing is usually normal and easy.
  8. Foam usually forms on a dog’s mouth during a seizure and might even bite his tongue but with dream he’ll be much relaxed.


You may think that your dog is sleeping with its eyes open but that’s not true, what you are seeing is the nictitating membrane (the third eyelid). But then, you should not ignore that even if it seems like a normal behavior in most dogs because some may be caused by some sickness like seizure and also cherry eyes or Lagophthalmos. Otherwise, it is advisable to visit the vet often for routine checkup.