Dogs, like people, can have seizures. They also can dream. It’s important for owners to distinguish between seizures and the twitching that commonly occurs when dogs are dreaming. There are some characteristic traits associated with seizures and dreaming that can help differentiate between these two conditions.
- Dogs always are sleeping and lying down when they dream. They often have seizures when they are awake, although they are unconscious while the seizure is actually happening. They also can have seizures during sleep.
- Dogs that are dreaming may or may not have their eyes open. Usually, their eyes will at least be partially closed, and they will look peaceful and relaxed. During a seizure, a dog’s eyes typically are wide open, and they have a blank look on their face.
- A sleeping dog that is dreaming may cry out once or twice or give occasional short barks. When a seizing dog vocalizes, it moans, howls or screams. This can be the worst part of the experience for its owner. Fortunately, this is involuntary and not a sign of pain or distress.
- Dreaming dogs often twitch, shake, paddle and kick with their legs as if they are running in place or chasing a bunny. Dogs having seizures tend to be stiffer and more rigid.
- The motions of a dog that is dreaming usually are intermittent and brief, while seizure activity typically lasts longer.
- Dogs can easily be awakened when they are dreaming during sleep. Seizures cannot be interrupted.
- Seizures typically involve violent muscle activity, uncontrollable shaking and thrashing about. The movements associated with dreaming are more gentle and shorter-lasting. The sleeping dog's body is relaxed, except for the twitching legs, feet and lips. Their eyes are entirely or partially closed, and their facial expression is peaceful.
- Dogs often have trouble walking after they have a seizure. They usually don’t have this problem after waking up from a dream.
- Most dogs are disoriented and confused following a seizure. They are not disoriented or confused when they wake up from a dream.
- Dogs frequently bite their tongue, foam at the mouth and drool during a seizure. Dreaming dogs rarely show these signs.
- Dogs may vomit, urinate and/or defecate during a seizure. This doesn't happen in dogs that are dreaming.
- Dreaming dogs breathe normally. Dogs that are seizing tend to have labored breathing.
- Seizures often happen when a dog is excited, although they also can occur during sleep. Dreams only happen when a dog is sleeping and relaxed.
Owners usually can tell whether their dog is dreaming or having a seizure, especially once they have witnessed a seizure. It probably is best not to wake a dog up while it is dreaming (it is impossible to “wake a dog up” during a seizure). Let sleeping dogs lie.