Dogs have many peculiar behaviors, and some of them seem surprisingly human. Crying or whimpering in their sleep is one of these. It suggests a rich, inner dream life.
But what are the reasons why dogs cry while sleeping? There are several reasons why dogs cry in their sleep. Dreaming is the most common explanation, but not the only one. It’s also important to rule out medical conditions like seizures or pain that may cause them to cry in their sleep.
This article will explore the various reasons why dogs cry when they’re sleeping and, if necessary, offer advice on what to do about it.
8 Reasons Why Dogs Cry While Sleeping
There are various reasons why dogs cry when they sleep. Here are the most common causes of this strange canine behavior.
Your Dog Is Dreaming
What do dogs dream about when they cry? Dogs can’t share dreams the way people do, but that doesn’t mean they don’t experience them. Evidence suggests that dogs dream, and sometimes, they dream vividly.
Scientists base this on the fact that dogs’ sleep cycles closely mimic humans. Like people, dogs experience slow-wave-sleep cycles before transitioning into REM. Usually, this is accompanied by feet-kicking that looks like chasing squirrels while asleep. It’s possible crying while asleep points toward a particularly vivid canine dream.
Dogs and Nightmares
Also, like humans, not all dog dreams are pleasant. Another reason dogs cry when they sleep is that they are experiencing nightmares. It takes a bit of practice to tell dog dreams from nightmares, but it’s possible. You can recognize a nightmare from a dream about rabbit chasing if they:
- Jerk awake
Experiencing a Seizure
If your dog does wake suddenly, keep an eye on them. In certain breeds, this can trigger seizures. Dog breeds prone to seizures include:
However, waking without warning isn’t the only thing that can cause a canine seizure. It’s also possible that the reason why dogs cry while sleeping is that they are experiencing seizures.
- Excessive twitching
- Drool or foam in the mouth
- Rigid, straining back
- Overextended forepaws
Pain or Underlying Illness
Seizures aren’t the only condition that explains why dogs cry when they’re asleep. If your dog does this but doesn’t have seizures, it’s also possible they are experiencing pain or have another underlying condition.
Illness is a common cause of sleep-induced crying in older dogs with arthritis. If joint pain flares up while they are sleeping, they may whimper or moan without waking up.
Another common illness that makes dogs cry in their sleep is bloat. Bloat can be a medical emergency, so it’s imperative you call the vet immediately if you suspect it’s the reason why your dog cries in their sleep.
Bloat symptoms include:
- Swollen/distended abdomen
- Sensitivity to abdominal palpation
- Panting/rapid breathing
- Inability to vomit
Bored Dogs Bark More, Even Asleep
It’s also worth remembering that sometimes a dog that looks asleep isn’t. Dogs have an incredible ability to go from sleep to wakefulness quickly, and sometimes we think they are crying in their sleep when in fact, they are bored.
Bored dogs naturally bark and cry more because inactivity doesn’t suit them. Healthy dogs need to expend a certain amount of energy, and if they aren’t able to do that, they become frustrated, which leads to behavior like barking and whimpering.
One way to compensate for this is by giving your dog more to do during the day. Long walks with you or a dog walker can be helpful. Another solution is to encourage independent play. Using environmental enrichment, like puzzle toys, can mitigate board or anxious barking.
Another reason why dogs cry when they’re asleep is separation anxiety.
This behavior often occurs in dogs that used to be part of a bonded pair since bonded pairs do everything from sleep together to groom each other.
But it’s also symptomatic of a dog that recently lost a favorite human.
Signs of separation anxiety include:
- Whining and circling before humans leave the house
- Inappropriate elimination
- Destructive behavior
Dogs with separation anxiety may also cry or whine in their sleep the first few nights after the death of a companion.
There are many ways to treat separation anxiety, but one of the most effective is through pheromone dispensers. These increase the number of scent markers a dog senses in their environment and help calm them down.
Insufficient or Ineffective Training
Yet another reason why dogs cry when they’re sleeping is a lack of training. Crying is normal behavior in dogs new to crate training.
A dog that hasn’t slept alone may cry or bark in its sleep to signal anxiety about being alone or discomfort in its crate.
It’s tempting to respond to this by ignoring the dog or getting frustrated. But the best thing you can do is let the dog out and immediately take it outside to see if it needs a bathroom break.
You want your dog to feel safe and comfortable in their crate, and they can’t do that if they are underexercised, understimulated, worried, or anxious.
Finally, one reason why dogs cry when they’re asleep is that they’re puppies.
Even asleep, puppies are energetic and prone to:
Partly, this happens because puppies need more attention than mature dogs. But it’s also because a puppy’s brain is still developing, and the messages it sends muscles to relax are less effective in puppyhood than in adulthood.
The good news is that if your puppy cries or barks in its sleep, it will outgrow the behavior.
Should I Intervene When My Dog Cries in Their Sleep?
By now, you realize there are many reasons dogs cry in their sleep. Intervention is only necessary if you sense they are crying because of a health- or stress-induced situation.
If your dog’s sleepy musings look like nothing worse than an especially active dream about ratting, you can leave them be.
Why do dogs cry when they’re sleeping? There are many different reasons. Some are innocuous, like dreams or puppy antics. Others may cause more concern. Call your vet if you suspect your dog has a health condition like:
- Chronic seizures
They can even help you tackle more cerebral canine problems like separation anxiety.
But at the end of the day, dogs can be strikingly human. They dream, become anxious, and they grieve their losses. The best thing you can do for a dog that cries while asleep is to know what’s normal for your dog and react accordingly.