How to Manage Nightmares in Dogs

Updated on July 9, 2019
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Michelle is a professional freelance writer who loves music, poetry, pets, and the arts. She is a techno-geek as well.

Addressing nightmares in dogs.
Addressing nightmares in dogs. | Source

How to Manage a Dog's Nightmares

Canine nightmares may seem trivial but they are worth your attention. Have you wondered what your furry buddy thinks about while it sleeps? You may think this is foolish, but dogs dream the way we do. No dog owner wants to see his pet whining or writhing in agony. When you sense your dog is having a nightmare, you must manage it. Preventing further occurrences is also critical.

Why Do Dogs Have Nightmares?

According to experts like Stanley Coren, Professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia's Department of Psychology, dogs dream just as humans do. Like people, dogs have nightmares about things that scare them. However, they aren't as imaginative as we are, so their dreams are related to past trauma. Rescue dogs are particularly prone to canine nightmares. These dogs have endured harsh treatment (e.g., being caged or beaten), and tend to recall it in their dreams.

Features of Canine Nightmares

First, understand what happens when your pet dreams. Like humans, dogs go through sleep cycles. They experience periods of wakefulness, rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep. Dogs first fall into a light sleep. At this time, their breathing is regular and natural. They enter the REM stage after about 15 minutes and may have vivid dreams or nightmares. You may notice your dog breathing rapidly and moving its eyes quickly. They may twitch as well. Dogs twitch or kick quietly if their dreams are positive. They will growl, whine, or yelp if they have nightmares.

Is Your Pet Having a Seizure?

Seizures look similar to nightmares, but there are some differences between them. Your dog is likely having a seizure if it has bowel movements as it sleeps or dreams. Its eyes will be wide open, and it will give you a blank stare. Furthermore, its leg movements will be stiff. It will twitch and paddle as though it's chasing another animal. It won't be able to wake up no matter how loud your voice is. Also, it may have violent, uncontrollable muscle movements. It would have gentle movements if it dreams, or has a nightmare. It may even bite its tongue.


How to Deal With Dog Nightmares

It’s disturbing to find your dog sleeping fitfully. The good news is that you can pull it out of that state. Here’s some advice:

  1. Decide if you want to wake up your dog. Proceed with caution If you take this step. You may wish to do this if it's sleeping fitfully. Note that waking your pet up may cause it to feel disoriented. It may lash out at you.
  2. Call their name softly. Instead of moving closer to your pet, consider calling its name in a soft voice. It may not get up at once, so call it a few times, gradually increasing your volume. If it doesn’t get up, it may be having a seizure. Consider calling your vet. You may need to do this if it shakes uncontrollably.
  3. Wait for your dog to wake up. Your dog probably isn’t having a nightmare if it isn’t shaking or salivating. In this case, it’s best to let it sleep through its dream. It will wake up once it’s a nightmare ends.
  4. Soothe your pet with quiet music. Of course, your pet may feel confused when it wakes up. Calm it down with soft music.


Preventing Future Nightmares

A nightmare is a horrific experience for both humans and dogs and you certainly don't want your pet to have another one. The good news for it is that you can take steps to prevent them. First of all, try to get to the root of your dog's nightmares. Loud noises and rambunctious visitors may trigger them. If you can find out what causes your pet's disturbing dreams, you can limit its exposure to these situations.

A dog may have a nightmare because of a bad experience during the day. Perhaps it had a painful grooming session. Take it for a long walk or play an engaging game like fetch. Spend some time with it before going to bed. Play soft music when it wakes up. Soothing tunes help to relax it and calm it down. Supplements or anti-anxiety medications may ease it as well, but do consult a doctor before administering them. Nightmares can leave your pet frightened and disoriented. But they are preventable with patience, and a little know-how.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2018 Michelle Liew


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    • profile image

      Suzette McFarland 

      17 months ago

      My dogs sleep with me every night. Recently, my 10 year old dog has been having horrible nightmares every single night, about 5 times a night since he's gone blind. I don't get sleep anymore because of it. I think he's having dreams of falling, but not sure, if course. It takes several shakes, patting, calling his name, etc. until he wakes up. He screams these blood curdling screams while he's having his nightmares. Of course, I'm not sure, what he's dreaming of, but he usually stops when I pick him up and hold him tightly, sitting him for a bit. He clings to me and pants nervously afterwards. I've had such a hard time trying to figure out how to make it better for us both (sleep deprived!). He's been through so much with all his diseases, surgeries, etc. that it could be vet nightmares also. I've asked the vet, did researching, and couldn't find any solutions until I started using his Thunder Shirt. This has been a life saver for us both! He's been sleeping through the night now. So now, I put it on him before we sleep. Therefore, my suggestion if you're going through the same issues is to go buy a Thunder Shirt for your dog. No, I'm not getting paid by them and don't work for them. I'm just sharing what has worked for me lately. Hopefully, this will continue to work.

      I just thought I'd share in case anyone else is having problems like this and can't think of a solution. I hope this helps!

    • wpcooper profile image


      2 years ago from Barstow

      Well I never gave consideration to this. When I had a dog it would sometimes make noises and shift in its sleep and easily wake up, but I wasn't sure what kind of dream it was having. This makes sense though because the sleep cycle is away of the brain rejuvenating itself and dreams are integral in the process.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Dogs a re amazing pets to have but when they experience such issues it becomes difficult to cope with.You shared a useful hub on this topic.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      2 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Nice to read another article from you.

      Very useful information shared by you, for pets and dog lovers. Some useful suggestions and tips to tackle dog’s nightmares.

      Thanks for sharing!


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