Our dogs look peaceful and adorable when they sleep until we hear them growling. You’ve probably seen it happen because all dogs do this.
They’re in deep slumber and suddenly let out a scary growl as their legs twitch.
What could be the cause of your dog growling when sleeping? For one, it could be because they are having a nightmare.
We share with you if it’s normal for dogs to growl when sleeping and whether dogs do dream.
We also discuss sleep startle reflex in dogs and what to do when your dog is growling when asleep.
Is It Normal for Dogs to Growl When Sleeping?
Yes, it is perfectly normal for dogs to make noises such as growling when they are asleep.
Aside from growling, they may also be whimpering, barking, snorting, making licking and chewing noises, and howling as signs of dreaming.
Aside from vocalizations, they may also show gestures that indicate dreaming. These include twitching their legs, moving their legs, flickering eyes, wagging their tail, and an increase in breathing.
Both vocalizations and physical manifestations are considered normal when they are dreaming.
It’s alright to wake them up if it seems like they are under a great amount of distress due to a nightmare.
You also want to wake them up when they start acting weird while they are sleeping just to make sure they are safe.
Do Dogs Dream?
Dogs sleep similarly to the way we humans sleep.
They do dream. And they have both good dreams and nightmares, replaying everyday activities like chasing, eating, and playing.
They enter a deep sleep stage where their breathing becomes more irregular and they have rapid eye movements (REM). This is when dreaming occurs.
It should also be noted that some dogs dream more than others, depending on breed and age.
However, dogs do not experience sleep paralysis. This condition is usually caused by sleep deprivation, one which is very rare in our furry friends.
In sleep paralysis, we get conscious before the brain “switches on,” resulting in our inability to move. Thankfully, our furry friends won’t have to experience this horror!
Sleep Startle Reflex in Dogs
When your dog growls in their sleep and wakes up immediately, this is called sleep startle reflex. It’s instinctive in animals because of their tendency to react quickly to dangers.
Dogs always assume that the disturbance is an enemy rather than a friend since being wakened up could mean a matter of life or death for them in the wild.
It’s normal for domestic dogs to carry wild traits like this. They can suddenly bite you when they are startled by your touch, so it pays to be careful if you need to wake your dog up.
This is also normal since dogs enter into REM quicker than humans. They also sleep more than humans do.
Like us, they cycle through stages of wakefulness, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and non-rapid eye movement sleep.
Studies also show that dogs can spend 44% of their time alert, 21% drowsy, and 12% in REM sleep. They also spend 23% in the deepest stage of non-REM sleep, called slow-wave sleep.
It’s impossible to know how deep your dog’s sleep is, so their startle reflex can be surprising.
In normal cases, your dog will come to their senses in a second or two and stop any sudden aggression.
You should take note this aggression is not a conscious attack. They don’t mean to harm you, it is just their instinct.
What to Do if Your Dog Is Growling When Sleeping
Here are some things you can do to help your dog when they are growling in their sleep.
Wake Them Up Gently
If you have to wake your dog up, call their name or clap your hands so they wake up before you even touch them.
Then, lightly tap them. You can do this with your hand if they’re already awake, or with a stick.
Lastly, throw them a treat. This will allow them to wake up more peacefully every time.
Make Sure Your Dog Gets Enough Sleep
Dogs need about 14 hours of sleep daily to be active and healthy. As much as possible, don’t disturb their nap time.
Otherwise, it could ruin their sleep cycle.
Let Your Dog Sleep in a Separate Room
If you sleep with your dog and they growl every time they dream, it might be time to put them in a separate room.
This will help you stay safe from sudden bites at night in case you touch them intentionally or unintentionally.
It’s also better for them if they are light sleepers and get interrupted easily with your movements.
You can also crate them at night. Make sure their crate is big and comfortable enough, like this Life Stages Folding Crate, because this is their safe place.
Do Not Punish Them
Your dog’s growling and sleep startle reflex cannot be resolved by shouting, scolding, or even being physical.
It will just create more anxiety and fear in them which they may exhibit when they are both asleep and awake.
Again, when they growl in their sleep, just call their name calmly and quietly.
Go to the Vet
If your dog seems to be in huge distress when they are asleep, it could be because they have anxiety, cognitive dysfunction, or are in pain.
Fears and aggression can be a result of a traumatic event in their lives. On the other hand, your dog may also be growling at night to protect themselves from further physical pain.
As dogs age, they also develop cognitive dysfunction that disrupts their sleep cycles. They can be more alert, nervous, and aggressive because of it.
Go to your vet so they can determine if there is a physical or cognitive reason behind the growling in their sleep.
Your Dog Isn’t Aggressive!
It is normal for dogs to growl in their sleep because they are simply dreaming. Like us, dogs can have good dreams and nightmares too.
Getting woken up and being aggressive for a second or two is also normal for dogs.
If you wish to wake them up, you must be incredibly careful. Call their name before touching them. And gently soothe them.
You can also manage this by moving them to a crate or another room. This helps them get uninterrupted sleep while you stay in bed without worrying about being bitten by your dog.
If your dog seems to be in huge distress while sleeping or if the behavior is ongoing then seek the advice of your vet.