When Dogs Kick And Twitch In Their Sleep, Are They Really Having Seizures?

Written by: Dr. Katy Nelson

August 19, 2015

Sometimes when I creepily watch Remix sleep, I often wonder if he dreams. And if he does dream, what does he dream about that makes his little legs twitch? Why do these small whimpers slip out from his mouth?

Like any regular crazy dog mom, I have my vet on speed dial so whenever I’m unsure about something, I always give them a ring. In this instance, she assured me that he was most likely just dreaming.

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According to Pet Place, dogs have two main types of sleep like humans do — REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and SWS or slow wave sleep. The cycle of sleep starts off in slow wave sleep then gradually transitions into REM sleep. In the REM stage of sleep, the “brain waves are rapid and irregular, like those of the awake stage”. Just like humans, their mental activity at this stage is heightened. As a result, they might move their legs, whine, breath rapidly or etc.

Here’s a short video of a Golden Retriever in the REM stage of sleep. Looks familiar, right?

Should your pup ever experience a seizure, their body will stiffen and tremble severely. According to Canine Epilepsy, a seizure is “a sudden and uncontrolled burst of neurologic activity occur[ing] in the brain.” But to a pup parent it is simply terrifying. So rest assured that simple sleep-twitching does not always equal a seizure.

If you’d like to an example of an actual nocturnal seizure, click here, but it’s not included here because it’s difficult to watch.


If you’re unsure how to respond when you see your dog sleep-twitching, here are some tips from Vet Street.

1. Don’t panic!

Some dogs might be reactive when sleeping so if you’re thinking of waking your dog, call out to him gently instead of using your hand to wake him. Of course, if you don’t have to wake them, it’s best to let them sleep. 😉

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2. Reassure your pup.

Sometimes dogs can wake up frightened if they had a nightmare. In this scenario, just speak to them calmly when they’ve awoken.

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3. Keep them warm.

Sometimes when the temperature drops, your pup might twitch in an attempt to stay warm so lay a blanket over him or turn up the heat.

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4. Educate yo’self!

Know the difference between dream twitching and a seizure! If your pup is sleep-twitching, they’ll wake up if you call their name. During a seizure, your dog will not respond to you if you call out their name.

If you want to learn more about canine seizures and the specifics, Canine Epilepsy is a great resource to educate yourself on the causes of a seizure and the signs to look out for when your pup is having a seizure.

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Until next time, happy napping like Loki and his owner in the above photo! Talk about napping goals. 😉

Featured image via Angela, Flickr

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Written by: Dr. Katy Nelson

August 19, 2015

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