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Have you ever caught your furry friend staring at the roof when you thought they were deep in slumber?
This may seem odd for some dog owners, but it is not uncommon to find dogs sleeping with their eyes partially or fully open.
You may then wonder what makes it normal in some dogs, or does it indicate an underlying medical condition?
In this post, we will answer the question ‘Why does my dog sleep with his eyes open’ and also provide possible health problems causing it.
Watch out for some of our tips on how you can understand your dog’s sleeping pattern, and when you should seek veterinary care if you suspect something wrong.
Why does my dog sleep with his eyes open
1. Evolutionary perspective
In order to understand this sleeping phenomenon in dogs, we may have to travel back in time and look at the ancestry roots of our furry friends.
During those days in the wild, the dogs’ ancestors were both hunters and prey. They, therefore, had to remain vigilant even during their supposed time to rest.
It’s for this reason that wild dogs cultured the habit of sleeping with their eyes partially open, to give them an advantage when a potential threat attacks.
This adaptive behavior becomes instinctual in canines. They had to follow it along for their survival in the wild, and it has been passed down the generations to our present home pets.
2. Biological factors
Anatomy of a dog’s eyes
We may have to understand the structure of the dogs’ eyes for us to fully figure out why they sleep with their eyes partially or fully open.
Unlike the human eye, dogs have a third eyelid known as the nictitating membrane, which offers added protection to the eyes.
The thin nictitating membrane is also transparent making it invisible under normal conditions. It also allows dogs to keep their eyes moist and shield them from debris while sleeping.
It’s possible that your dog is using the nictitating membrane to cover the eyeballs during sleep, while you think they’re open.
3. Environmental factors
a. Sensory awareness during sleep
Our canine friends have a more established sensory system including a very keen sense of smell and a knack to detect the smallest movements.
Some of these highly established senses don’t take a full break even when the dog is sleeping. Most dogs would typically remain vigilant of their surrounding throughout their sleep.
Such dogs would always be triggered to partial awakening even with the slightest touch, vibration, or scent.
It is possible that your dog may sleep with their eyes partially open to keep their visual sensory radar active and ready to respond to potential threats.
b. Sleeping in unfamiliar environments
Have you ever glanced at your dog while sleeping in a new environment? You may have found their eyes partially open when you thought they were deep in slumber.
Dogs may show sharp vigilance when sleeping in a new environment since they’re trying to understand the surrounding.
Your dog’s eyes may remain partially open during sleep since they’re trying to ‘keep an eye’ for any potential threats.
Another reason could be related to a dog’s past experiences. Rescue dogs or those who have undergone traumatic events may sleep with their eyes open as a defense mechanism.
By keeping their eyes open, they can quickly assess potential threats and react accordingly. It’s their way of ensuring their safety even while they sleep.
While it is normal for dogs to sleep with their eyes partially closed, especially during REM sleep, you also need to consider some underlying medical conditions linked with this behavior.
Dogs can experience some health problems that may affect their sleeping pattern and normal behavior during sleep.
The following are some of the medical conditions to be mindful of:
1. Potential eye problems
Conjunctivitis is a common eye problem in dogs that is caused by the inflammation of the conjunctiva (membrane covering the eyelids and the eyeballs).
This eye problem in dogs is also called ‘pink eye’ because of the visual changes it causes to affected patients.
In addition to swelling, sometimes the membranes on the affected eye may become reddish and discharge a yellowish fluid.
If your dog is experiencing inflammation in their conjunctiva, they may try sleeping with their eyes open as a way of relieving pain.
b. Canine Keratoconjunctivitis sicca
Dry eye, clinically known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), is an eye problem in dogs which means the inflammation of the cornea or the surrounding tissues.
This condition is common in dogs and it results from the scanty production of the aqueous portion of the tear film by the tear glands.
Dogs with dry eyes can experience symptoms such as redness, discomfort, and even swelling.
Affected dogs would sleep with their eyes open to prevent them from causing further discomfort by rubbing the eyelids.
c. Corneal ulceration
Corneal ulcers, which are sores on the surface of the dog’s eye, are a painful condition that can cause further irritation and lead the patient to sleep with their eyes open.
Affected dogs may keep their eyes open for most of the day because closing the eyelids add more pain and irritation.
Ulceration on the cornea can be caused by underlying infections, trauma, dry eye, chemical burns, or injury.
2. Neurological conditions
Dogs with seizures can have violent episodes of abnormal activities and are impossible to arouse.
This neurological condition may cause your beloved pup to sleep with their eyes fully open as opposed to having them partially open.
This neurological disorder in dogs can disrupt their normal sleep-wake cycle and make them sleep with their eyes open.
Dogs with narcolepsy can have uncontrolled episodes of sleep during inappropriate times such as while eating or playing.
3. Other health issues
a. Pain or discomfort
Dogs with other painful underlying medical conditions such as arthritis may affect their ability to relax fully or enjoy a deep slumber.
The affected dogs may subconsciously sleep with a partially closed eye as a way of staying vigilant in response to discomfort or potential attacks.
b. Medication side effects
Some canine medications can have a wide range of side effects including excessive salivation, disruption of sleep pattern, and mild unconsciousness.
Such medicines may make your beloved pooch get restless throughout the night or even sleep with their eyes partially closed.
It’s always a good idea to discuss with your vet the side effects of prescribed medicines before administering them to your dog.
Dog Breeds That Are Predisposed to Sleeping with Open Eyes
In addition to the reasons outlines above, some dog breeds are predisposed to sleep with their eyes open, thanks to their facial structure. They include:
1. Brachycephalic breeds
Brachycephalic dogs are flat-faced breeds known for their unique facial appearance characterized by a short muzzle.
Brachycephalic breeds are also prone to certain canine health problems due to their unique facial configuration.
Dogs such as French Bulldogs, Pugs, Shi Tzu, and Boston Terriers, may find it more comfortable to sleep while opening their peepers partially, thanks to their facial structure.
2. Dogs with prominent eyes
Dog breeds with large protruding eyes may also find it more appealing to sleep with a slightly open eyelid.
Breeds such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and Boston Terriers, among others, have a unique eye anatomy making them easy to sleep with open eyes.
3. Specific breeds prone to eye conditions
Certain dog breeds are genetically predisposed to develop eye problems and vision issues which can affect their sleep pattern.
If you own a vulnerable breed, we suggest you seek clarification from your vet and incorporate preventive measures against common eye problems.
Understanding Your Dog’s Sleeping Habits
As a responsible dog owner, you need to understand your furry friend’s sleeping habits and provide them with a rewarding sleeping environment for their well-being.
1. Observing your dog’s sleeping patterns
Dog owners can get valuable insights into their pet’s health by observing their behavior including sleeping habits.
Make sure to take note of your dog’s sleeping patterns, including their preferred sleeping position, eye configuration, and sleep duration.
Observe whether your pup frequently sleeps with their eyes fully open or partially closed, and if this behavior occurs during specific times or situations.
It is common for some dogs to partially open their eyes during REM sleep, which typically occurs about 20 minutes into a nap and lasts for about two or three minutes.
Dogs visualize their day’s activities during REM sleep and it’s common for them to twitch or bark during this sleep phase.
2. When to seek veterinary attention
Make a call to your vet if you notice any signs of discomfort, such as redness, discharge, or squinting in your dog’s eyes.
These symptoms may indicate an underlying medical condition that requires prompt treatment.
If your dog starts sleeping with their eyes open for long hours yet they have never done that before, you should check with your vet.
Unusual behavior such as violent movements and disorientation may be indicative of neurological conditions, and they warrant an immediate intervention from the vet.
3. Creating a comfortable sleeping environment
Furnish your dog’s sleeping environment by ensuring the place is cozy and warm. Invest in a decent dog bed that suit’s your pup’s age and sleeping preferences.
You can optimize the sleeping area by altering factors such as temperature, lighting, and quietness to ensure your dog gets a peaceful rest.
Make sure your dog’s sleeping area is in a less traffic zone with minimal disturbances to guarantee a healthy sleep.
Conclusion – Why does my dog sleep with his eyes open?
Sometimes it may be intriguing to see your dog sleeping with partially open eyes, but it could also be worrying because of underlying medical conditions.
We recommend studying your dog’s sleeping pattern and habits to enable you to know when they show worrying signs of discomfort or illness while snoozing.
The next time you see your dog sleeping while keeping a watchful eye, you should be able to know if it’s for benign reasons or medical concerns.
It helps to provide your dog with a comfortable sleeping area to reduce their vigilance as they sleep.
Reach out to your vet as soon as you notice any medical condition disrupting their normal sleep pattern and behavior.
Laura is the founder of Furs'n'Paws. She is a also a pet writer and expert with more than 20 years of experience of working with dogs and cats. She developed a very strong love for animals at a young age. Her passion led her to establish a thriving pet sitting and dog walking business in Dubai. As an expert in pet training, behavior, and nutrition, Laura is committed to helping pet owners and pet lovers by offering high-quality information on a wide range of topics.