Remember that roommate you had in college that roamed through the apartment, eating bowls of cereal at 3 a.m. and then had no memory of his actions the next day? Well, he was probably a victim of sleepwalking.
Sleepwalking is a common phenomenon in humans but can dogs do it too? Now that you've ditched that nocturnal collegiate, do you have to worry about your dog roaming your halls and eating all the dog food while sleepwalking?
Do dogs sleepwalk?
The short answer is: maybe!
Dogs may have the ability to sleepwalk but not in the same way humans do. When a human is sleepwalking, an observer may not be aware of what's happening because the sleepwalker's behavior seems "normal." They move with regular coordination and often perform tasks that they would do while awake. Dogs, however, exhibit random, jerky movements while asleep. For example, dogs may paddle their feet as if they were running, or they might stand then flop to the ground while sleeping. Overall, their sleepwalking behavior will be clearly out of the ordinary.
Is my dog just dreaming?
Some argue that what looks like sleepwalking is really just a dog dreaming. When dogs dream, they exhibit similar behavior as what can be perceived as sleepwalking. A dreaming dog may growl, twitch, whimper and pant as if he's in the middle of a chase.
Like humans, dogs dream during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. Studies show that dogs operate out of more than just instinct. They learn, posses emotions, and the physiology of their eyes are very similar to a human's. The similarities in physiology lead scientists like Dr. Brian Hare of Duke University to believe both brain and eye activity in dogs mirrors activities taking place in humans. When dogs and humans alike fall into REM sleep, dreams are likely to occur. Like sleepwalking, there is not scientific surety that dogs dream but their sleep behavioral patterns are so similar to ours, leading experts to believe dreaming is possible.
Pet owners must monitor their dogs for abnormal sleep patterns. If a dog is moving around a lot or actually wandering the house, he may not be sleepwalking but actually suffer from a sleep disorder. Aging dogs can often experience senility which results in them moving through their environment aimlessly. A dog's sleep can also be affected by narcolepsy and cataplexy. These health issues may result in what's called REM behavior and periodic limb movement disorder. Because dogs don't exhibit the usual behaviors humans would associate with sleepwalking, it may be more likely that a dog has a sleep disorder and neurological examinations may be needed.
Seizures in Dogs
Seizures are a result of chemical reactions in the brain that produce complex electrical reactions, resulting in abnormal and uncontrollable behaviors. Often times, what appears to be sleepwalking in a dog is actually a seizure. Signs of a seizure in dogs include:
- Paddling his feet
- Slumping on the floor
- Dazed or disoriented
- Moving in circles
- Bumping into things
It is undoubtedly hard to tell if your dog is sleepwalking, dreaming, or indeed having a seizure. As hard as it is for pet owners, dogs also may not know what is happening to them when these unusual behaviors occur. If you notice any symptoms that look like sleepwalking, consult with your veterinarian for further instruction and perhaps a full neurological examination. Seizures in dogs must be treated right away. If your dog is actually just dreaming or sleepwalking, it's best to let the episode run its course. Just like with humans, it can be dangerous to wake a sleepwalking dog. You don't want him to be so startled that he attacks. You may try to gently lull him back to his bed but if all else fails, let nature take its course and call the vet in the morning.