If you have observed your dog twitching or generally looking agitated in their sleep, it’s only natural to worry about them. While some verbalization and movement are normal for a dog during a pleasant dream, it leads us to the question of whether they could experience nightmares. Or worse, night terrors (where they remain asleep). This is what the research states.
So, can dogs have night terrors? Dogs can have night terrors. They are typically experienced during REM (the deepest stage of sleep) and where memories and emotions are processed. Night terrors are often easily notifiable in dogs, although it is recommended that you do not wake them up during this time. Comforting them is instead advised.
Depending on the severity, it can be very distressing to see your dog having a night terror.
However, when they wake up, they should bounce back to their normal selves.
Even so, sometimes they can hurt themselves or others during this distressing episode.
It can also indicate that something is wrong and that they may require veterinary support, as we shall soon see.
So, not only does understanding the root cause help us understand our dog and their emotions better, but it can potentially help us resolve a dog’s night terrors altogether.
With that said, let us continue to explore why and when, how to tell, and how to respond.
That way, you’ll be in a much better position to support your dog going forward.
So keep reading – it may ease both you and your dogs anxiety!
Why Does A Dog Have Night Terrors?
Dogs have night terrors for many reasons. These include reliving a traumatic experience, feeling physical pain, or due to anxiety. Night terrors could also be a sign of a serious illness or condition which your vet can check for.
Dogs go through different sleep cycles during their slumber. After the initial falling asleep phase, a dog will alternate between Deep sleep and REM sleep.
Deep sleep is when your pet relaxes and rests. They don’t dream during deep sleep, and their breathing stays calm and steady.
Dogs go into the REM cycle within 20 minutes of sleep. REM sleep is when the brain stays active, and then we dream. So, it stands to reason that this is when nightmares and night terrors occur.
Signs that your dog is in REM sleep include rapid eye movement behind closed lids and twitching.
Dogs can’t imagine scary scenarios. So, night terrors manifest from something that your pet has experienced.
Or something they’re suffering with at the time, like physical pain (but more on this shortly).
Your pet might be the happiest dog in the world. But they still can interpret some uneventful situations as traumatic.
For instance, if you scold them for doing something wrong. Or they’re around very loud people and music.
Anxiety And Stress
Some dog breeds are more prone to anxiety and stress than others. And, their heightened states can permeate their sleep, causing night terrors.
Innocent times like getting groceries while your pet is at home can be stressful. Your pet might mistake your absence for abandonment.
Then, this fear might play out in their dream.
When your dog is having a night terror, any of these memories could be replaying in their mind.
In Response To Pain
Another cause for night terrors is if your pet is suffering from pain.
Many senior dogs develop joint problems and arthritis. Pain flare-ups can manifest during REM sleep.
Or it could be them reliving a painful moment in their lives. Maybe it was when their tail was stepped on or when they were recovering after a big surgery.
Undiagnosed Neurological Disease
Another unexpected reason, yet more unlikely reason for night terrors, is an undiagnosed neurological disease.
Seizures are mistaken for night terrors as they do share similar symptoms.
A seizing dog can verbalize and twitch during the seizure; like a dog would in the middle of a night terror.
However, where a seizure differs is from a night terror is easy to spot.
If your pet loses control of their bowels and they don’t wake up from a loud command, it might be epileptic.
If you’re worried your dog is having night terrors because of illness, it’s time to visit your vet.
How Do You Know If A Dog Is Having A Night Terror?
You can tell your dog is having a night terror because they will show clear signs of distress during their sleep. This could be through screaming, yelping, or growling.
Fear-riddled dogs may lash out with their teeth and claws as a defense mechanism while they’re asleep.
Seeing your pet going through a night terror can be a cause for concern for you.
You may worry for your pet’s safety as well as your own, depending on the severity of the terror.
Your dog may scream out in pain or howl, growl, and hiss during the episode.
Some owners report their dogs running throughout the house, chasing animals and humans.
Dogs suffering a night terror may also display violent limb movement. Or try to bite themselves and others nearby.
This all happens while your dog is asleep, and they aren’t aware of what they’re doing.
So, it’s best to keep a safe distance between your dog, just in case they are to subconsciously lash out at you.
Should You Wake A Dog Up From A Night Terror?
Generally, waking up a dog suffering a night terror isn’t a good idea. Before your pet is completely awake, they might bite or claw at you defensively. They’re mistaking reality for their dream. However, if it lasts for longer than a few minutes or they’re very distressed, there are ways to wake them up.
Wanting to wake up your dog from its horrible dream is understandable for dog owners. Nobody likes to see an animal in pain.
Night terrors seem to be more common in puppies than older dogs.
One study found 64% of puppies under 12 months old experience sleep disorders. REM sleep is crucial for puppies.
During REM sleep, they are creating memories and learning from experiences. But they’re also strengthening their bones and muscles.
Regardless of the age of the dog, disrupting their sleep can result in a sleep-deprived pet. And they can develop anxiety from being in this state for too long.
However, experts do recommend waking a dog up if the terror continues for more than a few minutes. Or if they are extremely distressed.
Even so, getting close to your dog to wake them up isn’t wise.
They are prone to reacting aggressively if they’re woken up from a frightening dream.
Instead, you can softly call their name and say reassuring things such as ‘it’s okay’ or ‘you’re safe.’
The sound of your voice will seep into their subconscious, encouraging them to wake up.
You can also add calming music to the room to help soothe your dog awake.
Keep calling your dog’s name until they wake up. Give them enough space to adjust to being awake and let them approach you in their own time.
Once they’re fully awake, make sure to give them some love and affection as they recover from the night terror.
How To Help Prevent Your Dog From Having Night Terrors
The best way to prevent night terrors is to create positive memories with your dog. You can also use herbal remedies to promote undisturbed sleep. Or consult with your vet for sleeping aids.
Using pharmaceuticals can be a great treatment option. But you should only consider them as a last resort and with the approval of your vet.
As mentioned above, night terrors tend to stem from bad or traumatic memories.
So, preventing those is an easy fix:
- Spend more quality time with your dog through playtime or showing affection.
- Take them on long walks before bed will help tire them out for a sound sleep.
- Create a bedtime routine that includes soothing music to ease them into a restful sleep.
All these suggestions will encourage your dog to sleep peacefully.
Though, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t ever correct or discipline your dog. The end goal is for your dog to have more positive memories than negative ones.
Another way you can keep night terrors at bay is to introduce some holistic treatments.
Supplements like Composure or aids like a DAP collar are natural routes to go down. And they won’t wreak havoc on your pet’s liver like some pharmaceuticals can.
Composure is a calming supplement specifically made for dogs. It lessens their anxiety before bed and lulls them into a relaxing sleep.
Dogs communicate through smell and pheromones. The DAP collar (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) releases pleasing pheromones into the air. Your dog picks up this scent and relaxes them into a peaceful sleep.
You can get either, or both of them, for a great price over at Amazon 👇
Certainly worth a try – even if you just want your dog just to have a better, more restful sleep.
Other than this, you can always reach out to local behavior specialists for help.
This is generally a good approach for dogs experiencing night terrors as a result of anxiety that cannot be managed or corrected, in time.
These experts help train your dog to associate your absence positively.
If these methods of prevention aren’t working, the last thing you can try is vet-approved medication.
Giving your dog anti-anxiety medication or anti-epileptic tablets will help relax their mind. And encourage blissful sleep.
But only do this through, and following discussion with your vet.
Watching your dog experience night terrors can be stressful. Sometimes these episodes are short-lived and resolve themselves quickly.
However, if they happen often or increase, it’s time to investigate why and consult a vet if needed.
Luckily, there are several different approaches you can take, or even remedies available, to help stop your dogs’ night terrors and get them sleeping soundly and restfully once again.
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I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.