Why It's Normal for Dogs to Twitch in Their Sleep
Perhaps he’s hot on the tail of a squirrel, or simply scratching an itch. He might be greeting you at the front door or protecting you from danger. Your guess is as good as ours.
While we’ll never know exactly what our dogs dream about, when their limbs start twitching mid-slumber, it’s clear that whatever is going on inside those furry little heads feels real.
“Dogs have a normal REM cycle of sleep just like we do, so when they get to that deeper level of sleep, they actively are having dreams,” Dr. Diarra Blue, a Houston-based veterinarian who stars on Animal Planet’s The Vet Life, explained to PetMD. “Whatever that dream is—whether they are chasing a little cat in their dream or they are asking for some good food or running a marathon—they can twitch, and you can see muscle movement, just as you would in humans.”
Unless your pup spasms violently or becomes rigid, occasional kicking and twitching accompanied by little noises is completely normal behavior.
“During the REM state of sleep, animals tend to dream, and their eyes move around behind their closed eyelids. During this dream state, the large muscles, which tend to move our bodies around, are turned off,” Dr. Stanley Coren, a former psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and neuropsychological researcher, told PetMD.
This “off” mechanism resides in the pons, a part of the brainstem with two “off” switches that regulate movement during the sleep cycle. If it weren’t for the pons, animals (humans included!) would act out all of our dreams.
Though all dogs can exhibit muscle movements while dreaming, studies have shown that it most often affects younger and older dogs.
“If either or both of these ‘off’ switches is not fully developed or has grown weak due to the aging process, then the muscles are not completely turned off and during dreaming, the animal will start to move,” Coren continues. “How much movement occurs depends upon how effective or ineffective these ‘off’ switches are.”
If you’re worried that your pup’s twitching isn’t normal or they seem dazed upon waking, you might want to talk to your vet. He or she can determine whether or not there’s cause for concern.