Why Do Dogs Twitch in Their Sleep, and Is It Normal?

This behavior is completely normal, and most dogs will twitch in their sleep at some point in their lives.

Published February 13, 2023
Long haired dachshund sleeping in bed with his human

Your dog is sleeping soundly, dreaming of chasing rabbits or whatever it is dogs dream about. Suddenly, they start twitching their legs, and you can't help but ask yourself, "Why does my dog twitch in their sleep?" If your dog has been experiencing frequent sleep twitches that aren't associated with any other symptoms, then it's generally nothing to worry about. It's probably just a normal part of being a dog! If this keeps happening and it seems like an issue, talk to your vet about what might be causing this behavior. Otherwise, read on to learn more about why your dog twitches in their sleep.

Dogs Twitching in Their Sleep Is Common

Twitching is one of the most common behaviors in dogs. It's seen in dogs of all ages, breeds, and sizes twitch in their sleep every now and then. Some dogs do it more frequently than others. Also, some dogs may twitch more noticeably than others.

Dog sleeping on cushion

Your dog may twitch for various reasons. They could be dreaming about chasing something or playing with another dog. They might also have an itch that they can't reach while they're sleeping.

How Twitching Works

In order to understand why your dog twitches in their sleep, first you have to understand how their brain works. When you're awake, your brain sends signals to your muscles through nerves. The signal travels down those nerves and causes the surrounding muscles to contract. This keeps the body functioning normally while awake.

At night, when dogs are dreaming or sleeping deeply, and they're dreaming while in rapid eye movement or REM sleep, their brain sends these signals again, starting with those in their legs and arms. These signals then spread out through the rest of their body until they're twitching all over.

It Is Common in Young Puppies

Twitching while sleeping is a normal sign of a puppy who has high energy and activity, so it's not uncommon to see your puppy twitching in their sleep. If you notice your pup twitch when they're asleep and they don't appear to be in pain or discomfort, it's likely nothing to worry about. However, if your dog seems agitated or distressed by their movements, there may be an underlying cause for concern.

In some cases, stress can cause the condition known as myoclonia. Myclonia is a sudden involuntary muscle contraction that causes the limbs to move rapidly back and forth. This can occur at any age, but it tends to affect puppies more than adult dogs because their nervous systems are still developing. Other signs of stress include excessive panting and salivation.

Your Dog Is Dreaming About Running

It's possible that your dog is dreaming about running or frolicking, which is a natural behavior. Dogs probably dream about playing with other dogs, going for walks and runs, or whatever else they do in their waking hours. This can also be related to anxiety and stress levels. If your dog twitches as they're dreaming about something stressful, such as being attacked by another animal, it could show that there are underlying behavioral issues that you need to address.

Your Dog Is Dreaming About Hunting Prey

Dogs are hunters by nature, and they dream about what they do best; hunting. When you think about your dog's dreams, it's not just all about the chase. Your pet is probably dreaming about the prey they are pursuing, as well as their ultimate goal of killing and eating it.

It's fun to imagine that your dog has human-like dreams and emotions as you do! But really, they may just be thinking about how much fun it is to chase mice or squirrels when they wake up from a nap. It is usually not something to worry about unless your dog acts aggressively towards you or another person when they are in this state.

Fast Fact

Even if your dog doesn't hunt, the still have the instinct. This is why your couch potato pup might still dream about chasing down prey.

Feelings of Discomfort

Twitching during sleep can be a sign of discomfort, so it's important to take your dog's twitching seriously until you determine if it's their normal way of sleeping. Here are a few possible reasons why your dog may have these twitches:

  • Pain: If your dog is in pain and twitches as a result, they may be showing other signs while they're awake, such as limping or not wanting to put weight on their leg. Look for any signs of pain, both when your dog is awake and asleep.
  • Anxiety: Your dog may feel anxious about something. Perhaps they fear being left alone without you or they have separation anxiety. This can cause them to twitch and make them more uncomfortable than usual during the nighttime when there aren't any distractions around to take their mind off of things! If this is the case for your pooch, try taking some steps toward treating whatever might make them feel distressed.

Should You Wake Them Up?

Unless you suspect your dog is in pain or a serious amount of distress, do not wake your dog up if they're twitching in their sleep. If you wake them up suddenly in the middle of a dream, they might be disoriented or even frightened. However, if your dog is clearly in pain or is very agitated, you can try gently waking them up. Just don't do it suddenly, and don't touch them. Try turning on a light, or speaking to them in a soft voice.

When to Be Concerned

Twitching is common and generally isn't a cause for concern. However, if it's severe or frequent, there could be a problem. If your dog is twitching in their sleep and seems otherwise healthy, the best thing to do is monitor them closely for any other symptoms. If your dog is acting normal and shows no signs of illness or discomfort, then you may just need to accept that this is how they sleep.

English bulldog sleeping on sofa

On the other hand, if your dog has been twitching frequently or seems lethargic when they wake up from a nap, especially if there are no other obvious issues, then it might be time to see the vet. In addition to stress-related twitches, dogs may also experience seizures that cause them to twitch during their sleep cycles without waking them up from their slumber.

A dog who is experiencing a seizure in their sleep will not be easy to wake up. They will likely defecate and urinate on themselves and feel stiff. If your dog does have a seizure in their sleep, it's important that you give them plenty of space and try not to touch them unless absolutely necessary.

Seizures can be very frightening for owners and other family members who don't know what's going on, so it's best not to make things worse by panicking. Remain as calm as possible and keep track of how long the seizure lasts. Then, call your vet to explain what happened.

Stay Calm, It's Probably Normal

Don't panic immediately if your dog twitches in their sleep. It's a generally safe, normal behavior. However, if you notice that your dog is having trouble sleeping, or if your dog's twitching becomes more severe, take them to the vet. It's important that your pet get the proper rest they need. If there's any concern about neurological disorders such as epilepsy, there are several tests your vet can perform to determine the safest course of action for your pup.

Why Do Dogs Twitch in Their Sleep, and Is It Normal?