Why Dogs Howl In Their Sleep

Many dog lovers have roused in the middle of the night to sounds made by their dogs, and howling is one of them. Although you may think your dog is unique regarding sleep-howling, you are not alone. You may even wonder if your dog is in pain, but that is often not the case.

So why is your dog howling in its sleep? Read on to find out more.

Sleep Cycles

Dogs need a lot of sleep; it is not uncommon to see them sleep more than half the day. Most healthy dogs sleep between twelve to fourteen hours daily. A dog’s sleep cycles are similar to ours in that they experience two phases of sleep, the REM phase, where dreaming happens, and the non-REM. The non-REM or slow-wave phase begins just as your dog falls asleep and can last twenty minutes. The REM phase or deep sleep follows the REM phase. It is during this time that vocalizations such as howling or crying occur.

Based on the size and age of your dog, the REM phase can last thirty to forty-five minutes. During this phase, the brain is highly active and sends signals to other body parts.

Reasons Your Dog Howls In His Sleep

With more knowledge about your dog’s sleep cycles, you can determine exactly when he is dreaming. However, there are various other reasons your dog howls in this sleep. Some of these are:

1. Dreaming

Dreaming is often the cause of your dog howling while asleep. While dreaming about the day’s events, your dog may howl at that squirrel or bunny that he couldn’t quite catch.

Signs of Dreaming

The body and brain are very active during REM sleep, when the body replenishes with new cells, fixes damage, and prepares itself for the next day. There is a surge in brain activity since it starts firing impulses to all body parts.

REM sleep is also where dreaming happens. Since the brain sends signals to different muscles throughout your dog’s body, you will notice these signs when he is dreaming:

  • Eye darting
  • Muscle twitching
  • Muscles of the face jerking or twitching
  • Vocalizations including howling, growling, whimpering, and crying
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What Do Dogs Dream About?

Current technology can accurately picture brain activity, but it can’t tell us what the dreams are about.

We can assume that dogs have simple dreams about the day’s events. They probably don’t have nightmares, but they can relive the stressful events of the day in their dreams. Observe your dog closely to see if his actions resemble something he has done throughout the day. For example, a dog whose hind legs are twitching could be chasing a squirrel in his dream as he did during the day.

2. Age

Puppies are much more than adult dogs. Howling or whimpering in its sleep is perfectly normal for a puppy. Separated from its mother and littermates can be stressful for a pup and is fodder for its dreams. Your dog needs comfort and reassurance, but in a way that won’t encourage howling or whining. Ensure your puppy feels warm and safe before you put him to bed. Help your puppy relax, and it will hopefully have better dreams.

3. Trauma

Many dogs and puppies at your local shelter have had miserable lives, experiencing traumas that we cannot know.

When adopting a puppy from a shelter, inquire about their life and family history. Dogs from shelters are often anxious and withdrawn and may relive these events in their dreams repeatedly. It is similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that human beings experience after undergoing traumatic situations.

In this case, you should consult your veterinarian about the best course of action. Treatment for PTSD will involve medicines and behavioral treatments under the supervision of a veterinary behaviorist.

4. Seizures

Twitching and howling during sleep can indicate a seizure or other neurological issues. While howling won’t help you differentiate dreaming from a seizure, twitching appears more intense during a seizure. The movements from a seizure are more violent and uncoordinated than in a dream. Seizures can occur in one body part (localized) or manifest as overall thrashing (generalized).

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Unlike dreaming which occurs in the REM phase, seizures occur soon after falling asleep or waking up. If your dog’s movements appear uncontrolled, last longer than thirty seconds, and your dog is disoriented when he wakes up, consult your veterinarian immediately.

6. Medical Issues or Pain

If you hear your dog howling, first ensure he is sleeping. He could be howling out of pain. Medical issues such as arthritis can cause chronic pain and discomfort for senior dogs. Putting pressure on the joints can cause pain, making it difficult to stay comfortable while resting.

5. REM Behavior Disorder

Although rare, some dogs have a disorder called REM Behavior Disorder, similar to sleepwalking. Your dog will act out his dreams, perceiving them as reality. Slamming into walls, attacking objects around the house, and howling or growling are common signs.

Unlike seizures, dogs with REM Behavior Disorder wake up completely fine with no disorientation. If your dog is showing these symptoms, consult your veterinarian. If left untreated, your pet could accidentally injure himself during one of these episodes.

What You Can Do

Regardless of why you think your dog is howling in his sleep, do not try to wake him up. If startled awake, your pet might bite you unintentionally. It is better to call out their name a few times to wake them up and reassure them with a few pets once they wake up. You might have to tolerate your dog howling in his sleep if it is not indicative of any medical conditions. Like humans, dogs also need some amount of uninterrupted sleep.

If you suspect your dog is suffering from any medical conditions described above, consult your veterinarian for more information. If your pet’s behavior appears bizarre or worrying, it is best to consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.

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Susan Dorling

I am a pet expert with years of experience working with a variety of animals. From dogs and cats to birds and exotics, I have a deep understanding of their unique needs and behaviors. I am dedicated to helping pet owners provide the best care for their furry friend.

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