Do Dogs’ Eyes Roll Back When They Sleep? (An Eye-Opening Explanation)

do dogs eyes roll back when they sleep

You’re snuggled up in bed with your beloved dog peacefully snoozing before you. Suddenly, you noticed that your dog’s eyes are rolling back in its sleep.

You can’t help but wonder, “Is this normal?”

Your dog’s eyes roll back slightly during sleep, particularly in the REM stage. Eye movements are closely linked to sleep stages and are most pronounced during REM sleep. The presence of your dog’s third eyelid can also give the illusion of the eyes rolling back.

In this article, we’ll dive into the fascinating world of doggy sleep habits and explore the mystery of those eye-rolling moments.

Is It Normal For A Dog’s Eyes To Roll Back While Sleeping?

dog sleeping soundly having dreams

To further understand this occurrence of your dog’s eyes rolling back, we will need to take a closer look at what happens when it sleeps.

When discussing your dog’s eyes rolling back, it’s important to clarify that their eyeballs aren’t actually pointing toward its brain.

Instead, it’s a subtle upward movement that occurs.

Just like humans, dogs go through various sleep stages, each with its own characteristics and importance for their overall well-being.

Many dogs are also capable of dreaming and can wake up screaming when having a nightmare.

Dogs need about 11 hours of sleep on average and puppies will need even more.

When a dog sleeps, it goes through a sleep cycle that lasts about 45 minutes. During this cycle, the dog will go through two sleep phases.

Short Wave Sleep (Light Sleep)

This happens during the first 10-20 minutes of your dog’s sleep when your dog’s brain activity starts to slow down. Its heart rate and breathing become more regular and the body temperature decreases slightly.

This stage serves as a transition from wakefulness to deeper sleep.

Even though your dog might seem that it is sound asleep, it will be up in a jiffy if you tempt your dog with its favorite treat.

Rapid Eye Movement (Deep Sleep)

It is during the REM sleep phase that we tend to dream and consolidate our memories for the day.

Your dog can even start to dream with can be accompanied by vocalization and jerky movements. There are some dogs that can even get a wet dream during this sleep phase.

During this stage, their brain activity increases, resembling the activity levels during wakefulness.

Despite being in a deep sleep, your dog’s eyes may move rapidly beneath its closed eyelids.

It can be rather scary to see this ‘strange eye movement’ if your dog’s eyelids are slightly open.

There are times when REM can make it seem like your dog’s eyes have rolled back due to the rapid movements.

Bell’s Phenomenon

Another reason that is causing your dog’s eyes to roll back when it sleep is called the Bell’s phenomenon.

This reflex action was discovered by Charles Bell in 1823 which causes our eyeballs to roll upwards when we close our eyelids forcefully or passively (when we sleep).

When your dog sleeps, its eyes roll back due to this reflex, helping to protect the cornea from potential injury.

This natural defense mechanism ensures that your dog’s eyes are safeguarded even when it is in a vulnerable state, like being fast asleep.

The Third Eyelid

“The third eyelid is almost white in color which makes it seem that your dog’s eyes have rolled back.”

In some religions, there is a belief that some people are born with an invisible ‘third eye’ on their forehead. This allows them to see supernatural activity around them.

Definitely not to be mistaken with the third eyelid of your dog which acts more like a protective shield and eyeball cleaner.

The third eyelid is also known as the nictitating membrane and it is found between the cornea and lower eyelid in each of your dog’s eyes.

This membrane is responsible for distributing tears to clean the dog’s eyes and protect the eyes from injury when the dog is walking through grass or debris.

When your dog is sleeping, it is possible to be showing its third eyelid. It might look like your dog’s eyeball but it’s actually the nictitating membrane.

The third eyelid is almost white in color which makes it seem that your dog’s eyes have rolled back.

It is also possible to see your dog’s third eyelid if it is suffering from pink eye.

Be careful when handling your dog as it is possible for your dog to transfer its pink eye to humans.

And if you are able to lift up the eyelid of your sleeping dog, the third eyelid could even be covering the whole eye.

It is also common to see your dog’s third eyelid when it first wakes up. It looks rather creepy as it makes my dog look like a lizard.

As a word of caution, do not try disturbing your dog’s eyelids while it is asleep.

Many dogs are not fans of being poked and prodded during slumber and can turn aggressive in a blink of an eye.

Why Do Dogs Sleep With Their Eyes Open?

As weird as it might sound, dogs can actually sleep with their eyes open.

Some dogs do it as a way to thwart predators by making it seem that the dog is still alert.

The dog can have one eye or both eyes open when it is doing this.

Based on my observation, sleeping with eyes open usually happens during light sleep.

This means that even though my dog is sleeping, he is still very aware of what is happening around him.

Having its third eyelid exposed while your dog is sleeping could also make it look like it is wide awake.

These days, our dogs no longer have to worry about being attacked by predators while they are sleeping.

Sleeping with its eyes open helps your dog keep an eye out when you are going to the kitchen for food.

Is My Dog Having A Seizure In Its Sleep?

Seizures are uncontrollable movements that your dog can experience when it is awake or asleep. Seizures in dogs can be caused by:

  • Brain tumors
  • Genetic epilepsy
  • Rabies
  • Canine distemper virus
  • Autoimmune disease

To many dog owners, a seizure can resemble the REM sleep phase of the dog. The dog will be jerking controllably and might even have its eyes rolled back.

One way to tell the difference is the intensity of the dog’s movements.

A dog that is having a seizure while sleeping will be making stiffer and more aggressive movements.

It might also pee or poo unknowingly which doesn’t happen to dogs that are dreaming.

Your dog can start getting seizures from as young as six months old or much later in your dog’s life at six years of age.

What Should I Do If My Dog Is Having A Seizure?

“Seizures can be better managed with the right medication.”

First of all, don’t panic if your dog is having a seizure. You can’t really wake your dog up until the seizure ends.

Do what you can to prevent your dog from falling off the bed or hurting itself from its violent movements.

Dogs aren’t able to swallow their tongues during a seizure, unlike humans.

So you don’t have to stick your hand in your dog’s mouth and risk getting bitten.

If this is the first time that your dog is having a seizure, you need to take it to the vet for a check-up to find out what the root cause is.

Seizures can be better managed with the right medication.

Why Is My Dog’s Eyes Rolling Back All Of A Sudden?

If you notice that your dog’s eyes have rolled back while it is still wide awake, that is definitely abnormal eye movement. It is possible to have one or both eyes roll back at the same time.

The common causes of such unusual eye movements are:

Brain Tumors

Brain tumors in dogs can cause a variety of symptoms such as eye-rolling.

This is due to the pressure they exert on the surrounding neurological structures which can lead to disruptions in normal eye movement and other motor functions.

Head Injuries Or Trauma

Trauma to the head can cause a dog’s eyes to roll back due to the impact on the brain and surrounding structures.

Head injuries can result from accidents, falls, or other physical incidents.

If you noticed that your dog suddenly has wall-eyes following a head injury, that could signal head damage and needs medical attention right away.

An Eye Injury

An injury directly affecting the eye, such as a scratch or foreign object, may cause your dog’s eyes to roll back as a response to pain or discomfort.

Vestibular Disease

Vestibular disease affects a dog’s balance and coordination. Symptoms include dizziness, head tilting, and eye-rolling.

This condition can stem from various factors, including ear infections, head trauma, or even old age.

When Should I Bring My Dog To The Vet?

If you notice that one or both of your dog’s eyes have been showing abnormal movement, you need to take your dog to the vet quickly for medical treatment.

Some of the above causes can cause blindness or become life-threatening without prompt medical attention.

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