why do dogs sleep with their eyes open

Why Do Dogs Sleep with Their Eyes Open? What You Should Know

There’s something relaxing about seeing your pooch stretched out beside you while sleeping. It’s one of the best moments of the day for so many dog owners and their dogs. Some owners can become a little concerned when they notice that their dog is sleeping with his eyes open. However, this may not be anything you need to worry about, so here’s what you need to know when you see your dog sleeping with his eyes open

Eyes Are Important

Eyes, and good vision, are important for both people and dogs. In the past, for dogs, having good vision was the difference between being prey, and being a predator. As the eyes are so important, evolution developed ways to protect them. We have eyelids, eyelashes, and a blinking reflex. The eyelid protects the eye from foreign bodies, but the eyelashes also keep smaller pieces of dust and debris out of the eye. We blink to prevent the eye from drying out. All of these protective measures have been designed to protect one of the most important aspects we have – our eyesight.

little pooch sleeping with its eyes open

If you look at your dog’s eyelids, you might notice that he actually has three. Dogs have a third eyelid in the corner of the eye called the nictitating membrane. It’s a pinkish-colored membrane that covers the eye when your dog sleeps, and keeps the eyeball moist. It also has a secondary function as it wipes away any debris from the eyeball. Humans have a sort of nictitating membrane, but as it’s not an evolutionary necessity, these are now small bumps in the inner corner of your eye. One possible explanation as to why people no longer needed a third eyelid is because we have fingers, and can wipe debris out of our eyes. Dogs can’t do this, so they have retained the membrane.

This membrane is completely passive, and can’t be controlled, unlike other structures in the dog’s body. It isn’t attached to any muscles, and will only come across the eyeball when the other eyelids are closed, and the eyeball has retracted into the orbit. When he wakes, it will tuck back into the inner corner of the eye.

Often when people think that their dog is sleeping with his eyes open, what they are actually seeing is his third eyelid. This isn’t usually anything to worry about, as long as the membrane retracts back into its ‘awake’ position. If it doesn’t do this, you should see your vet as soon as possible, as this may be due to an eye injury, pain, or nerve damage.

  • Dreaming

Sometimes, it is possible that your dog does have his eyes open a little if he’s dreaming. You might notice some slight twitching from his legs, and his eyes may be just a little bit open. This is because dreaming occurs when the dog is in a deep state of sleep, which in the wild, would make him vulnerable to attack from other animals. It seems likely that dogs developed the ability to open their eyes slightly, and become aware of their surroundings while sleeping.

This does seem to be an evolutionary trait that is slowly being forgotten, as not every dog can still do this. It seems likely that as dogs are now domesticated, this isn’t an evolutionary necessity, so not as much energy is being given to retaining this ability.

  • Seizures

Another possible explanation as to why you can see your dog’s eyes open when he sleeps is because he’s having a seizure. There are a few big differences between dreaming behavior, and what happens during a seizure.

If your dog is dreaming, then while his eyes may be a little open, his face will be relaxed, and he will look peaceful. If he is having a seizure, then you may be able to see tension, or he may even be snapping his jaw. You may see him convulsing severely, and he may open his eyes completely and stare blankly. He may moan, howl, or make noises of distress.

One of the easiest and quickest ways to tell if your dog is simply dreaming is to call his name quietly. A dreaming dog should wake up quickly, and then go back to sleep normally. If he is having a seizure, then he won’t respond at all when you call his name. There’s very little you can do when your dog is having a seizure, other than making sure he is comfortable and safe.

What To Do If Your Dog Is Having A Seizure

As we said, there is very little you can do when your dog is having a seizure, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do.

  • Clear, Safe, And Comfortable

When you notice your dog’s fitting, the first thing you need to do is make sure that your dog is safe. Clear any potential dangers from around him. If you can do so safely, gently get him onto the floor. If he’s on a sofa or bed, he may fall off in the middle of the seizure, injuring himself further.

  • Stay Calm

This may be the most important thing you can do when your dog is having a seizure. You need to remain calm. You may not be able to stroke your dog, especially if his jaws are snapping, but you can talk to him in a soft, reassuring voice.

  • Afterward

After a seizure, your dog will probably be very disorientated and confused. Keep talking to him calmly, and give him time to re-orientate himself. It’s not usually a good idea to offer him anything to eat or drink until you’ve spoken to your veterinarian.

Often, the cause of your dog sleeping with his eyes open is absolutely harmless, and nothing to worry about. However, sometimes, these signs can be of a seizure disorder. If there’s anything that makes you feel uneasy, you can ask your vet to examine your dog, and put your mind at ease.


  1. Dr. Jerry Klein, ​Let Sleeping Dogs Lie: Seizures and Dreams, The American Kennel Club
  2. Sarah Jeter, Why Do Dogs Sleep With One Eye Open, Wag

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