Dog Running in Sleep: Is This Normal Behavior?

Have you ever seen your dog running in their sleep? Do you worry about what could be causing this odd behavior? Is there anything you should be doing to help your dog when this happens? Thankfully, running while sleeping is fairly normal for most dogs, but it can sometimes indicate an underlying problem.

dog running in sleep

You should always talk with a veterinarian if your dog is behaving a certain way that concerns you. Your vet will be able to tell you if their behavior is normal, or if a form of treatment is needed due to an underlying health problem.

6 Common Reasons Why Your Dog’s Running in Their Sleep

As a dog owner, it’s common to worry about peculiar behaviors you notice in your pet. In the article below, we’ll dive deeper into this behavior and help you better understand what it means when you observe it in your dog. 

Below are 6 causes for a dog running in their sleep:

1. Dreaming

Dreaming is by far the most common cause of sleep running behaviors in dogs. Dogs can enter into deep REM sleep just like humans, and this is the stage in which dogs may dream. Although we may never know exactly what a dog’s dream is like, we can understand that dogs react to these dreams by acting them out in their sleep.

If your dog is sleeping soundly and suddenly starts running or performing other behaviors while they are still asleep, this is perfectly normal. There’s nothing to worry about, but there may be some factors that increase the chance of this occurrence.

2. Being a Puppy

Puppies tend to sleep more deeply than adult dogs and seniors. Additionally, they need more sleep than adult dogs, so they spend more time in REM sleep than their older counterparts. All of these factors add up to give puppies much more of a chance to dream, too.

You may notice your dog dreaming actively while running and barking in their sleep a lot when they’re a puppy. Later on in their life, however, this behavior is likely to ease up, and they will probably start sleeping more peacefully throughout the night without such an active dream state.

3. Lots of Physical Exercise

If your dog has a lot of exercise and physical playtime during the day, they are probably going to be more active while they’re sleeping. This is why it’s one of the common causes for a dog running in their sleep. This is a common association found in dogs who are still young and healthy enough to run and play a lot during the day.

4. Mental Stimulation

Mental stimulation can also sometimes cause dogs to whine, bark, growl, and run in their sleep. This is because their minds are active during REM sleep, and they are having vivid dreams.

Additionally, the more tired your dog is when they go to sleep, the more likely they will be to sleep deeply and enter REM sleep.

5. Unique Experiences

Dogs who experience a lot of unique activities throughout their daily lives may be more likely to have active dreams that involve kicking, twitching, and running in their sleep. For example, if you take a lot of hikes with your dog, they may relive those memories in their dreams much like a human might.

That’s not to say that a dog who is a bit of a couch potato will never have active dreams. However, if your dog is active themselves, it is safe to assume they’re going to have a lot to dream about, too.

6. Seizure

Very rarely, dogs may look like they’re running in their sleep when they’re actually having a seizure. These are two very distinct behaviors, and if you’ve seen them both in the same dog, you can easily tell them apart from each other.

However, if you’ve never seen your dog have a seizure and aren’t sure what it might look like, there’s a chance you could mistake it for sleep running. Observing your dog often during their sleep can help you rule out this potentially serious problem.

What Dog Seizures Look Like

When a dog has a seizure, they may fall onto their side as they are no longer in control of their own body and muscles. They will appear very stiff, but they may also kick, run, or paddle their feet. They are likely to have wide, dilated eyes and may pant throughout the seizure, and they will be unable to pay attention to you or to their surroundings.

Most seizures only last about a minute, but any seizure that lasts longer should be treated as an emergency. Additionally, if your dog is having a seizure for the first time, go to the emergency vet.

Go to a Vet if You’re Concerned about Your Dog Running in Their Sleep

Most of the time, dogs are perfectly fine when they’re running or otherwise moving in their sleep. However, if you observe this behavior and your dog seems to be in distress in some way—other than potentially from having a bad dream—you may want to talk to your vet for more information.

Your vet can help examine and diagnose your pet with potential underlying health problems that could cause behaviors that mimic sleep running. Otherwise, however, your pet is likely perfectly fine and is just acting out their dreams while they’re enjoying a nice, deep sleep.

For more information about dogs running in their sleep, or if you want to know more about your pet’s health, bring your pet to any of our Heart + Paw locations. The health and happiness of your pet is our number one priority, and we’ll always make sure your pet receives any care that they need. Book an appointment with our team today.

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Heart + Paw was founded in 2018 by Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. George Melillo, who currently serves the Mid-Atlantic area. Heart + Paw offers a combination of veterinary care, pet grooming, and dog daycare to help be a resource in your pet parenthood journey.

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