Can Dogs Sleep with Their Eyes Open? (Yes and No)

by Stuart | Last Updated:   April 3, 2019
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The average dog sleeps between 12 and 16 hours per day, more than humans’ typical 8 hours, so it’s common for pet parents to find their doggies napping for long periods of time during the day.

However, sometimes dogs appear to be sleeping while their eyes remain open. Is this possible?

Can dogs sleep with their eyes open? It’s uncommon, but some dogs actually possess the ability to sleep with their eyes open and this is no reason for concern. However, a dog’s eyes wide open while appearing to be asleep could be a sign of something serious like a seizure.

This article will explore what is really going on when your doggie rests throughout the day, as well as hopefully providing a definitive answer to one of pet parents’ most common curiosities— can dogs sleep with their eyes open?

Dog sleeping in bed with teddy bear

Why Is My Dog Sleeping With Their Eyes Open?

It’s uncommon, but some dogs actually do possess the ability to sleep with their eyes open. While the above scenarios are more likely, if your dog is able to sleep soundly, and even dream, without ever shutting their eyelids, there is no reason to be alarmed.

In addition to their tendency for light sleeping, sleeping with eyes open is another evolutionary trait that a small number of dogs inherited from their wolf ancestors, who had to be constantly on the lookout for threats and potential prey, even when at rest.

Put simply, your dog might be in the minority that sleeps with their eyes open, and that’s okay.

Reasons Why Dogs Sleep With Their Eyes Open

Here are some common explanations and reasons why some dogs can sleep with their eyes open.

Watchdogs

Most doggies are light sleepers. While they sleep for a larger percent of the day than their human counterparts, their sleep tends to not be as deep. This characteristic is an instinct that traces back to canines’ days as wild wolves, during which the animals had to remain alert and attentive, even during sleeping hours.

Therefore, if your doggie often appears to be sleeping with his eyes open, there’s a very good chance they’re not sleeping at all. They were probably some sleeping moments ago, but your subtle movement was likely enough to wake them. Once their surroundings are peaceful again, they will fall back asleep.

Third Eyelid

Here’s another huge difference between dogs and humans— dogs have what’s known as a third eyelid, while humans don’t. Pet parents unfamiliar with the subject may be unaware that the third eyelid exists, which may lead them to believe a dog’s eyes are “open.”

This is not the case. A doggie’s third eyelid provides most of the functions that our single eyelid does— it helps produce tears, keeps the eye lubricated, and ensures that debris cannot scratch or damage the eye.

However, unlike human eyelids, a dog’s third eyelid is not a muscle and therefore not under your canine’s control.

The opening and closing of this delicate membrane happen naturally. If you look closely, you should be able to see the third eyelid—a pinkish, cloudy membrane that protects your pup’s iris and pupil.

From a distance, the eyelid is not as apparent, but a closer glance will help you tell if your pooch’s eyes are truly “open.”

Dog sleeping with eyes open on back
Life is good

Seizures

Of course, one of the ways dogs can be unconscious with their eyes wide open is if they’re having a seizure. This is uncommon, so it makes no sense to automatically assume your dog is seizing simply because they appear to be sleeping without fully closing their eyes.

However, there are several warning signs you should look out for. If these warning signs are present, seek veterinary attention immediately.

Dogs experiencing seizures are unresponsive to human touch or vocal stimuli until the episode has finished. Sleeping doggies, being the light sleepers that they are, will almost wake up if you simply say their name aloud at a moderate volume or gently scratch their backs.

You might not want to wake your sleeping pooch, but if you’ve examined other factors and still cannot decide whether they are experiencing a seizure, attempting to wake them is your safest option.

However, seizures will almost always be obvious from looking at the other factors listed above.

Vocalization and Movement

Dog’s dream, just like people, so it’s not uncommon for your doggie to twitch or even vocalize in their sleep. However, if the twitching appears violent and uncontrolled, and if it is continuous rather intermittent, this is a cause for concern.

When your dog vocalizes, pay attention. An occasional bark or whine is perfectly normal for a sleeping dog, but long, loud, distressed moans are not. Use your best judgment and consult with your vet.

Wide-Eyed or Lazy-Eyed

Your dog may seem to be asleep with their eyes open, but the degree to which this is the case is noteworthy. Most dogs that sleep this way still relax their eyelids slightly and appear very lazy and content.

If your dog’s eyes are wide open, they are most likely either awake (which you can determine by calling to them or petting them to see if they react) or experiencing a seizure.

Final Thoughts

The above video is a humorous take on the evolutionary reason some dogs sleep with their eyes open.

There you have it—what we hope is a comprehensive answer to the question “Can doggies sleep with their eyes open?” In simpler terms, that answer is, “Not usually.”

Your dog may be in the minority of eye-opened sleepers, but what is much more likely is that the pet simply is not asleep (either because he never was or because he was awoken by you) or that it is actually their third eyelid, not their outer one, that is shut.

We’ve also provided you with some tips for detecting seizures in dogs. Determining whether your dog sleeps with their eyes open is important regardless of your doggie’s health because if they do, you can rest assured that you will likely never need to use the seizure-identifying tips we’ve listed above.

However, if it is common for your doggie to conk out without ever shutting their eyes, you need to be sure that you can tell the difference between regular sleep and the rare possibility of a more serious issue.

After all, we would hate for a seizure or other serious problem to go unnoticed simply because the parent assumes their doggie is just dreaming.

As for you, we wish you good luck, and we wish your pup many more nourishing naps (and some for you too!).

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