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Dog Crying in Sleep: 5 Reasons Why & How to Stop It

A dog crying in its sleep is not uncommon. It usually indicates that a dog is dreaming. It’s worth monitoring, as a dog whining in its sleep can be due to pain, seizures, or anxiety.  

When your dog whines during the day, chances are you can help, whether it’s with a tummy tickle or finding your dog’s favorite ball. 

It’s another story if your dog whines in its sleep.

In this article, we explore five reasons dogs cry in their sleep and what you could do to help your dog sleep soundly.   

5 Reasons Why Dogs Cry in Their Sleep

It’s understandable that you may feel helpless and concerned if your dog starts crying in its sleep. While pain is the first concern, it’s not the only reason for a dog to whine at night. 

These are the 5 most common reasons why dogs cry in their sleep:

  1. Dreaming
  2. Pain
  3. Anxiety
  4. Normal puppy behavior
  5. Seizures

1. Your Dog Could Be Dreaming 

Dog Could Be Dreaming

Much like sleep-talking humans, dogs may whine, growl and bark in their sleep.  

Research has found that humans and dogs experience the same brain wave patterns during sleep, including the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep cycle.[1]

Rapid fluttering eye movement happens in response to ’seeing’ a dream.

What does your dog dream about?  

This is unknown, but it’s assumed dogs replay daily events, like chasing a squirrel or barking at the delivery person.  

2. Your Dog Could Be Crying in Pain While Sleeping

One worrying reason for a dog crying in sleep is pain, so make sure it’s not the cause of your dog’s nocturnal whining. Monitor your dog during the day, or take it to the vet for a check-up.

According to Dr. Marsha R. Reich, common causes of pain in dogs include musculoskeletal, neurologic, and gastrointestinal diseases, particularly in older dogs.[2]

When it comes to musculoskeletal diseases, a dog can feel less pain during the day than at night. According to Dr. Petty’s Pain Relief for Dogs: The Complete Guide[3], during the day a dog shifts its weight almost continuously, helping maintain joint mobility, but laying down may put painful pressure on the affected joints.  

3. Your Dog Could Be Suffering from Anxiety 

Separation Anxiety

Anxious dogs are prone to whining, even in their sleep.  

An anxious dog who relives daily stressors in dreams may whine in response. It’s also possible for a usually calm dog to become suddenly anxious.  

A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior reported that dogs eight years or older can experience a rapid increase in fears and phobias within a mere six-month period. [4]

4. Your Puppy Crying While Sleeping Maybe Expected 

We tend to think of puppies as playfully cute, making a puppy crying while sleeping come as shock.  

Puppies may be more vocal in their sleep than older dogs because they are dreaming more. According to dog expert Stanley Coren Ph.D., puppies have more dreams because they are taking in lots of new information and have much to process at night [5]

Another reason puppies cry in their sleep is separation anxiety caused by leaving their mother and siblings.  

5. Your Dog May Be Having a Seizure

Your Dog May Be Having a Seizure

A seizure, which indicates abnormal motor activity in the brain, doesn’t only affect epileptic dogs.   

Seizures can be linked to epilepsy but can also occur in dogs suffering from electrolyte imbalances, low blood sugar, cancer, brain tumors, or poisoning.  

Seizures can cause a dog’s whole body to convulse. It can also cause localized reactions, like a facial tremor or spell of unusual barking or whining.[6]

What Is Your Dog Trying to Communicate When Crying in Its Sleep?

Your dog is not communicating with you when crying in its sleep. Sleep-related behavior changes can indicate physical or mental health issues.

According to famous dog behaviorist Cesar Millan, a dog whines to communicate its physical, mental, and emotional state. The first one to rule out is a physical state of pain.  

The next thing to consider is anxiety.  

If your dog often whines during the day because it wants something – like a treat – it may relive these events in dreams and cry in its sleep.  

What to Do if Your Dog Cries While Sleeping

If your dog cries while sleeping, don’t wake them up but document it. Stay calm if the crying is caused by a seizure. An occasional whine during sleep is unlikely to be a concern, but if it happens regularly you need to know when to take your dog to the vet.

Let Your Dog Sleep 

Let Your Dog Sleep

As tempting as it is to wake a dog that is whining in its sleep, don’t. There’s a reason for the old saying, “let sleeping dogs lie”.

Waking a dog in a REM state of sleep can give them such a fright that they instinctively defend themselves. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, about 60% of dog bites in children occur when the child wakes a sleeping dog. [7]

Document Your Dog Crying While Sleeping

Record your dog crying in its sleep and discuss it with the vet.  

Make a video of your dog crying in its sleep. A video may help the local vet or a behavioral therapist diagnose the problem.   

Stay Calm Amid a Seizure 

Stay Calm Amid a Dog Seizure

Stay calm and protect your dog from injury if you think your dog is having a seizure.

If your dog is sleeping on your bed or the couch, gently move it to the center and use cushions or your body to prevent falling.

Time the length of the seizure. Use your mobile phone to do this by making a video. This helps the vet when diagnosing and treating your dog.  

When your dog comes to itself, it will be confused and scared. Your dog may also be thirsty, hungry, and tired. Comfort and reassure your dog, allow them to eat and drink and let them go back to sleep.

How to Stop Dogs from Whining While Sleeping

To stop incessant whining while sleeping, you need to find out why your dog is crying. Analyze whether it’s caused by pain, anxiety, poor training, or something else.

Treat Your Dog’s Pain 

According to Millan, a dog whines to communicate a physical, mental, or emotional state. The first one to rule out is a physical state of pain.  

If you suspect your dog is crying at night due to pain, take them to the vet so you can get them on the best treatment plan.  

Related: How to get a puppy to stop whining

Help Your Dog Cope with Anxiety 

How to Comfort Your Dog After Surgery

If your dog seems fearful during waking hours and cries in its sleep, it may be struggling with anxiety. The loss of another pet or family member or moving home can make your dog anxious.  

Wait for your dog to settle into a new routine, seek the advice of a behavioral therapist or ask your vet about treatment options for anxiety.  

Train Your Dog to Not Whine During the Day 

If your dog often whines for something – a tummy rub or a treat – during the day, it may relive these whiny events in its dreams and cry while sleeping.  

To stop your dog from crying while sleeping, start by addressing daytime whining. Don’t give your dog your immediate attention and affection when it whines. Millan claims this teaches a dog to whine.   

When your dog whines for something, tell it to be quiet before giving it what it wants.    

Help Your Puppy Sleep 

Here are ideas to help them sleep better if your puppy is whining in its sleep: 

  • Play to make sure your puppy is tired out before bed
  • Add a blanket or toy that smells like the puppy’s mother 
  • Ensure your puppy is warm enough at night 
  • Simulate the sound of the mother dog’s beating heart by adding a small clock or a beating heart toy to the puppy’s bed 

Contact A Vet

sick dog on vet clinic

Contact your vet for a medical check-up if all else fails.

If there is nothing physically wrong with your dog, the vet may be able to recommend an animal behavioral therapist or natural remedies to help your dog sleep soundly.  

How Do You Tell the Difference Between a Dog That Is Dreaming and Seizing?

According to the American Kennel Club, a dreaming dog can twitch, paddle, or kick its legs. These movements usually last less than 30 seconds. During a seizure, a dog’s limbs seem rigid and move violently.[8]

During a seizure, dogs may urinate or defecate, something a housetrained dreaming dog wouldn’t do in its sleep. 

State Dreaming Seizing
Leg movement Dog’s legs twitch, kick, or paddle for less than 30 seconds. Dog’s legs appear rigid and move violently.
Urination & Defecation Housetrained dog does not urinate or defecate in bed. Housetrained dog may urinate or defecate in bed.

FAQ

Why Is My Dog Crying at Night All of a Sudden?

Although your dog may simply be dreaming, if your dog suddenly and regularly starts crying in its sleep, it could signal pain because of an injury or a condition like arthritis, anxiety, or separation anxiety.

About Monique Warner

Monique is an avid dog lover who grew up with dogs, cats, and budgies as pets. She has worked as a pet sitter and dog walker. With her passion for dogs and pets alike, she writes articles with the intention of helping pet owners solve their biggest struggles.