Why Do My Dog’s Eyes Roll Back When Sleeping?

correct answerThe Short Answer is:

You don’t need to be alarmed if your dog seems to roll his eyes back while he sleeps. Maybe it’s just that the dog is dreaming which explains the twitches so there’s no need to assume that it’s having a seizure.

In this research you will know the answer to the query “Why Do My Dog’s Eyes Roll Back When Sleeping?“.

When you see a dog staring at you with white eyes it is like something out of a horror movie but rolling their eyes back is a natural motion for many dogs so if you see this strange sight you do not have to be alarmed. 

Although some breeds are more prone to this any dog can succumb to it.

This has to do with the physical characteristics of their heads and eyes as well as their sleeping pattern and we will examine all the reasons why dogs roll their eyes back while they sleep.

We will also discuss why dogs roll their eyes backward while awake. There are more reasons to be concerned when this occurs.

Why does my dog roll his eyes back while sleeping?

A dogs eye movements can be understood by looking at its sleeping pattern which is quite similar to that of a human. Normally dogs sleep in two stages: deep sleep and light sleep.

  • The stage of Rapid Eye Movement is when a dog dreams. No matter if the dogs eyes are fully closed or not you can still observe this movement.
  • The dog can easily wake up at the slightest noise when he is in the short wave sleep stage or non-REM stage since the mind is quiet but the body is not totally relaxed.

When an owner worries about their dog rolling his eyes back in his sleep what they’re really observing is the third eyelid or nictitating membrane which is present in many kinds of animals including birds reptiles cats and dogs.

Known as the haw this translucent third eyelid is located under the lower eyelid and its main purpose is to provide additional protection to the eye by removing dust and debris.

The eyelids of birds and reptiles are controlled by a full membrane that is independent of them. Vestigial nictitating membranes can only be controlled by dogs as a whole. The third eyelid moves in sync with the normal eyelids but while they are sleeping the third eyelid often becomes exposed. It still does its fundamental job of protecting the eye but it can also freak out pet owners.

Why do dogs sleep with their eyes open?

When the dog sleeps with its eyes closed you wouldnot notice any disturbing white parts so why do they keep their eyes open partially or fully while sleeping?

According to one theory sleeping with their eyes open is a defense mechanism that dates back to when dogs lived in the wild.

Predators would be tricked into thinking the dog is awake and alert so they would think twice before attacking. Even though that was thousands of years ago your furry friend still retains many of his natural instincts.

Although the third eyelid covers the eye the eye can still receive some external stimuli and transmit them to the brain.

Although the dog does not have to worry about enemy attacks this characteristic is most useful when you’re quietly getting ready to leave or opening a can of his favorite biscuits. Its not unusual for your dog to catch you in the act when he wakes up.

Due to the shape of their heads and eyes some breeds are more susceptible to this.

When they are asleep dogs with flat faces like pugs or French bulldogs are more likely to keep their eyes partially open.

It can be very confusing for their owners when their dogs sleep with their eyes fully open.

When you see the dog staring creepily at you you talk to him but he does not respond. The only indication that the dog is fast asleep is gentle snoring when you approach it.

Is my dog having seizures in his sleep?

Pet owners who see their dogs lying on the floor with the white of their eyes showing often worry that the dog might be having a seizure. Seizures are often associated with epilepsy but they can also be caused by:

  • Poisoning
  • High or low blood sugar
  • An imbalance of electrolytes
  • Anemia
  • Liver disease
  • Stroke
  • Tumors

It is most common for dogs to have seizures when they are awake or right after waking up. Dogs can also suffer seizures while sleeping so its important to know how to distinguish one from something as common as sleeping with their eyes open.

How to tell if the dog is having a seizure in his sleep?

When dogs are dreaming they often twitch and move their legs which scares their owners even more. Normal twitching is not to be confused with convulsions caused by a seizure. As a dog goes through a seizure his legs become rigid and he experiences full-body convulsions. As opposed to a dog randomly moving his legs while he dreams that hes chasing squirrels or fetching a stick.

Additionally a dog having a seizure will often defecate or pee since he has no control over his body which is not the case with a dog asleep and dreaming.

You should not wake up a dog when hes dreaming even if you’re worried about their twitching and growling. Even though your dog may be having a nightmare you should not disturb him. Actually if you wake a dog in the middle of a nightmare he might act aggressively because he is confused.

Talk gently to your dog if you are concerned that he is having a seizure rather than dreaming. He will eventually wake up if he is dreaming but a dog experiencing a seizure will remain unresponsive.

Your dogs unusual sleep behavior should be evaluated by a veterinarian if you have any doubts.

What causes my dog’s eyes to roll back while he’s not sleeping?

Most often only one eye seems to be rolling back but you might also notice unintentional weird movements in both eyes. As well as being caused by old age it might also be a symptom of other conditions. The most common causes are listed below.

Eye injury

Whenever a dog moves one of his eyes in a strange way it probably has to do with the third eyelid. Inner eyelids might be damaged since they keep the eye-clean.

It is also possible that the third eyelid might come up if the dog has conjunctivitis or scratched his eye. In addition the third eyelid may act up if you experience some pain in the eye area. Pain like this can be caused by an injury or infection.

If this is the case you should see a veterinarian and have eye drops prescribed to treat the underlying cause.


A jerking movement of the eyes such as an up-down movement or a side-to-side movement is defined as Nystagmus. Nystagmus can be a sign of vestibular disease so it is a serious cause for concern.

When a dogs balance is affected by the vestibular disease it can appear suddenly. Infections of the inner or middle ear hypothyroidism trauma or injury tumors or certain drugs that harm the delicate balance mechanism in the inner ear can all result in this condition.

The other symptoms of vestibular disease include irregular eye movement

  • Deficiency of balance
  • Tilting of the head
  • Falling (usually in the same direction as the tilt)
  • Confusion
  • Inability to walk or stand

Most of the time a rapid medical intervention will help the dog get back on his feet within a few days.

Tumors or cysts

Irregular eye movements can also result from tumors affecting the neurological system. Sometimes they can even cause abnormal growth of the third eyelid causing the eye to move jerkily.

Cysts form underneath the skin whereas tumors grow on top. It might cause strange eye movements if they’re in the eye region. Cysts are usually benign but since they cause great discomfort to the dog you should have your pet checked by a veterinarian.


During this condition the dogs brain can not control the eye muscles to work together. This can result in eye movements being in different directions. Age is often a contributing factor to this condition but vestibular diseases or tumors can also trigger it.


An abnormal eye movement can be caused by a stroke which occurs when there is a lack of blood supply to the brain. Strokes are often caused by ruptured blood vessels that become blocked and often occur without warning.

A stroke and vestibular disease have many similar symptoms including jerking eye movements head tilting and a loss of spatial awareness and balance. In case your dog exhibits such worrying signs do not hesitate to see a veterinarian.

Cherry eye

The inflammation of the third eyelid gland causes irregular eye movements in addition to causing discomfort. When this happens the haw becomes swollen and bright red hanging over the lower eyelid close to the nose and muzzle. Cherry eye requires immediate medical attention such as surgery if permanent damage to the third eyelid or the eye itself is to be avoided.


You do not need to be alarmed if your dog seems to roll his eyes back while he sleeps. Maybe its just that the dog is dreaming which explains the twitches so theres no need to assume that its having a seizure.

During sleep many dogs keep their eyes partially open which allows them to see their third eyelid and this is perfectly normal.

Jolting movements of the eyes especially when the dog is awake can be a symptom of various diseases. Other worrying signs should be addressed by a vet as well.

If you want to read more about dog health tips read here: Dog Health Tips and Tricks.

Why Do My Dog’s Eyes Roll Back When Sleeping? (Watch Video)

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