Why do dogs shake when they sleep?

April 13, 2012

A dog shaking during sleep may be having an epileptic seizure or the pet can have a ballistocardiogenic tremor, a shaking that is related to the pumping of the heart. The shaking can also be a symptom of other ailments. An ailing dog could shake when it sleeps because of pain. All these causes for shaking while sleeping would certainly need immediate medical attention. In most cases though, a perfectly healthy dog that intermittently shakes while sleeping is simply having a dream. The dog is reliving what it has experienced while awake. Scientists believe that dogs dream when they are at the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep. Humans too are most likely to dream when they enter the REM state. This is where humans would talk and cry in their sleep. Some people are even known to walk in their sleep. In this stage the mind is active while the body is totally relaxed. Any actions or movements are done involuntarily. Pretty much the same thing happens in our little buddies. The crying, barking and howling as well as the twitching, pawing, tail wagging and shaking occurs when the dog is at the REM stage of sleep.

Scientists have established the fact that dogs dream. This little (and not so little) companions are usually happy dreamers. However, it was noted that not all dogs dream in the same manner. Through studies conducted on the sleeping behavior of dogs, it was verified that small breeds dream more than their big cousins. For instance a Great Dane will dream once every 90 minutes while a toy breed will chase rabbits in her sleep every 10 minutes. It is really quite amusing to watch the dog slurp food from an imaginary doggie bowl or swat an imaginary insect with its tail. I have watched my dog “chase bunnies” many times. Watching our pets dreaming is like being given the chance to see the dog’s private moments. However, we know that not all dreams are happy dreams. Everyone has experienced having a nightmare. Dogs cry and shake in their sleep. Could our furry friends be having a nightmare too? Unfortunately we can not ask our “babies” what is wrong. If only dogs can talk!

When we dream the brain is processing what we have gone through in life. Despite all the studies conducted on dog behavior no one can really understand the workings of a dog’s mind. Some dog experts believe that when a dog shakes in its sleep it is reliving the hardship and the fear it has gone through. Owners of dogs obtained from rescue centers have noted that the adopted pets would shake violently while sleeping. Dogs have long memories. The shaking can be attributed to a traumatic experience. Puppies are also known to shake in their sleep. Of course there is the possibility that the pup is cold. However dog experts have observed that a puppy separated from its mother and from its littermates would shake when they sleep, at least for the first few days in a new home.

Dogs’ shaking in their sleep while dreaming is pretty normal. Owners need not be concerned as the dog would snap from the dream in no time. If you noticed your pet shaking while sleeping, a soothing voice calling the dog’s name and a hand gently patting and rubbing the dog would calm the pet. Waking the dog may not even be necessary as in most cases the shaking will stop once the pet is reassured that you are there.

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