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Why does my dog cry while sleeping?

Why does my dog cry while sleeping?

In most cases, if your dog is whining in his sleep, he is dreaming.  In rare cases, there could be a medical issue, but if your dog is fine otherwise, most likely it is just a dream.

Why does my dog cry while sleeping?

Dog health experts believe dogs dream just like we do. Of course, no one knows what dogs dream about, but it may be they are dreaming about dog activities just like we dream about human activities. One thing scientists are pretty sure of is that when dogs are asleep enough to be whimpering in their sleep, they are in a very deep sleep.

Dogs can be very active, but they also sleep a lot. Dogs may sleep 12 hours a day. Very young dogs and old dogs may sleep even more. Sleep cycles for dogs are much like they are for humans. There is also REM sleep, which is when dreaming happens.

Scientists have used equipment like electroencephalograms (EEG) to measure the brain activity of dogs while they are asleep. Dogs, like humans, enter a deep sleep phase and have rapid eye movement. Dogs may twitch or move their legs like they are running, breathe faster, and whimper or cry while this is happening.

Scientists also believe that small dogs dream more than big dogs. It is also possible that puppies dream more than adult dogs because they are processing a lot of new information every day. The REM phase repeats in 30 minutes for small dogs, and about every hour for larger dogs.

Here are some of the main reasons your dog might cry while sleeping.


No one knows what they are dreaming about, but this type of activity is similar to humans talking in their sleep. Some dogs may make crying or whimpering sounds, and some may even growl while asleep.

Puppy behavior

Especially the first few nights when you have a new puppy, they are going to make a lot of noise. They miss their mother and siblings. They miss their normal surroundings, so it is normal.


This is not common, but if your dog makes more violent types of moves that are stiffer than normal, that could be a seizure. Kicking and paddling legs can also be a sign. Dogs who have had a seizure seem disoriented after sleeping.


Especially with older dogs that have arthritis, lying on a flat surface may aggravate the pain they feel.  Laying down puts pressure on joints that may be affected, and more than just one joint may be affected. 


It could be that your dog is just bored, and may not be sleeping at all. Dogs need a lot of activity, and it is hard for dogs that live in the house to get enough activity to burn off extra energy.  If your dog is doing this, let him go outside and see if it stops.

Separation anxiety

Actually, any kind of anxiety can cause this problem. If they are used to sleeping with you and are separated, they may feel anxious and whimper.  There could be several reasons a dog might be anxious.

What to do about my dog crying while sleeping?

Many times a dog making noise while having a dream is normal and nothing to be concerned about. If it is not keeping you awake, or you are reasonably sure there is not a problem, there is nothing you should do.

It is a good idea to rule out any medical issues that might be causing the problem. Bloating can be a serious issue at times. If the dog’s stomach seems larger than normal while sleeping, this could be the problem. In this case, you should get your dog to a veterinarian soon because it could become a serious issue.

Other health issues should also be ruled out. If there are any other health issues that seem related, you should take your dog to a veterinarian for a thorough checkup. You might also talk with your vet about possible arthritis pain the dog may be having.

Look for repetitive patterns. Also, see how the dog is going after waking up. If the dog seems disoriented or still sleepy, there might be a health issue that needs to be checked out.

In most cases, the dog is just having a dream and there is no reason for concern. You might enjoy watching the dog’s movements, but it is best to just let them sleep.

If you think the issue might be boredom because the dog is not getting enough activity, you should start a training regiment to help the dog. Help them be more active and training can help them use their brains more, which is also good for boredom.

Should I wake my dog up when having a bad dream?

No, you should not wake your dog if you think it is having a bad dream. It is not really known whether dogs have bad dreams. When a dog is dreaming, it is in deep sleep. If you wake a dog from this state, he may be very startled. The dog might think he is being attacked and go into defense mode. He could bite you before he realizes what has happened.

Dogs need a lot of sleep, and they need the deep sleep they have when they dream. Humans need this level of sleep too, and not getting it can be bad for the mental health of humans, and it can be for dogs as well.

The only time you should wake your dog is when you think it is having a seizure. Look for signs of sleep that don’t seem normal, and for movements that don’t seem normal.

Be careful though. Instead of touching the dog, call out his name loudly. You could also drop something on the floor nearby but not too close. If the dog wakes up, it was just a dream. You can soothe the dog and let her go back to sleep. If they don’t wake up and awkward movements continue, it could be a seizure and you should get the dog to a vet very soon.

The old saying “let sleeping dogs lie,” had a lot of truth to it.  It is not a good idea to wake up dogs when they are sleeping. They could be startled and bite you. It is also not good for their mental health because it keeps them from getting the deep level of sleep that they need.

How can I tell if my dog is having a nightmare?

It is hard to tell what a dog is dreaming about, and it is hard to tell if they are having a nightmare. It is impossible to know what the dog is dreaming about, so you can’t know if it is a pleasant dream or not.

If a dog is asleep enough to dream, whether good or bad, that means he is in a very deep sleep. Dogs need this level of sleep to remain mentally healthy. Disrupting that sleep could startle the dog and he could bite you before realizing it is you that woke him up. Disrupting that sleep also deprives them of the deep sleep they need. 

How dogs sleep

Humans have five stages of sleep. Scientists believe dogs have only two levels but research continues and that idea could change. Dogs have NON-REM sleep and REM sleep.  The non-REM sleep is called a slow-wave phase. Brain wave patterns slow down, and many bodily functions also slow down. The heart and lungs continue to operate as normal to keep the dog alive. The brain also stays active, filing and sorting information.

The slow phase lasts 20 minutes or so. The REM sleep begins after that first phase ends. In the REM phase, the body repairs itself, nutrients are replenished. In this phase, brain activity speeds up. This is a deep sleep but, because the brain speeds up, we associate it with dreaming.

If the intensity of the dream is strong enough, the brain sends impulses through the body that can cause things like legs or feet to twitch. It can also cause the dog to appear to be crying or whimpering. The second phase can last for up to an hour. A cycle is a little more than an hour, and the dog may go through several of those cycles in a night. Humans do the same but we have more levels of sleep than dogs do.

Scientists can measure brain activity while a dog sleeps.  We can see pictures of scans of dogs’ brains that show waves with peaks and valleys. We can only tell the level of brain activity.

We are left guessing as to the content of the dreams. If your dog chased a squirrel earlier in the day, and you see their legs twitching and them making noise, they could be dreaming about chasing that squirrel.  It is possible dogs are just re-enacting the day’s events like we often do when we dream.

Signs your dog may be dreaming

  • Crying or whimpering sounds as he sleeps
  • Irregular breathing. Slow but systematic breathing. 
  • Muscles in the face twitching. This is a sure sign of REM sleep, and it is very possible the dog is dreaming at this point.
  • Carefully raise the dog’s eyelids, without waking him, and you will see rapid eye movement.

Dog messages

  • A dog crying or whimpering in his sleep could be just a dream, but even so, any kind of noise like that means something. The dog may be communicating something by his sleep pattern and noises made during sleep.
  • There could be some pain or discomfort that is being communicated. The dog could have an injury or infection you do not know about. Laying down and sleeping could add pressure to the sore area. If you think there is an issue, it is a good idea to see a veterinarian.
  • Another message could be one of submission. Dogs want to be submissive to the leader of the pack, and you should be the leader of your pack.  Whining is a way of saying they want to be submissive.
  • Noises like this could also be the dog feeling love or affection for his leader, or owner. It could be a sound of joy or excitement.

Whining is a symptom of dreaming but is not something to be concerned about. It is normal for a dog that is asleep. Some dogs whine when they are awake to get attention or to get something they want from their humans. If this works, they will keep doing it. It can be a hard habit to break if you give in to them in this case.  It is a good idea to not worry about a dog crying in his sleep. It is also a good idea to ignore, so as to not encourage, an awake dog who is whining for something he wants.