Dog Breathing Fast While Sleeping? Do Dogs Sleep Like Humans?

dog breathing fast while sleeping

Is your dog breathing fast while sleeping?  Do they make small noises and movements as well?  Could it be that your dog is dreaming in their sleep?

Hi my name is Mike and I train dogs.  This website was developed to help other dog owners answer some of the most common dog training and lifestyle questions out there.  Today we will be discussing dog sleep patterns and looking at the specific question, “Is your dog breathing fast while sleeping?”.  Dog’s sleep an awful long time each day but do they dream like us?  Let’s explore shall we?

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Dog Breathing Fast While Sleeping

If you’ve owned a dog for a while, I bet you have watched them sleeping once or twice.  Dogs look very peaceful when they sleep and when they are puppies, it could be the only time you actually see them sitting still!  If you watch your dog enough, there will come a time when you observe your dog breathing fast while they are sleeping.  If so, this is not in an of itself a reason to panic.  Your dog is probably just having a vivid dream.  Yes dogs can dream and while it may not happen the same way it does for humans, it has been studied and stages of deep sleep have been discovered in our furry little friends.

The most common cause of your dog breathing fast while sleeping is a vivid dream but there could also be other reasons as well.  The two most common things that come to mind are seizures, or other neurological reactions.  There could also be a bad reaction to a medication or environmental issue as well but this is less common.  Before we dive deeper into these issues, lets take a look at a dog’s sleep cycle and compare it to our own.

Dog Sleep Cycle Explained

So now that we have established some of the basics about dog sleeping, lets take a deeper look at their sleep cycle in general.

Dog’s can sleep a lot and during this sleep they have the potential to dream a bunch as well.  The average amount of time a dog sleeps per day will vary by dog type, breed, size, activity level etc.  Generally speaking, we are looking at anywhere between 12-20 hours of sleep per day.  The way dogs sleep is similar and also different to the way humans do as well.

Humans will sleep from 7-9 hours per day and stay awake between 12-16 hours afterwards.  Dogs will sleep almost double that but they will do it in short nap windows.  A typical dog day would work something like this:

  • Dog wakes up, goes out and gets something to eat and drink.
  • Dog goes back to sleep for several hours
  • Repeat this process on loop with variables added in from time to time depending on your schedule.

This is basically what a dog sleep schedule will look like.  The way they enter and exit rem sleep can tell us a bit more as well.

Dogs and REM Sleep.

REM sleep or deep sleep is the time where both humans and dogs will do our dreaming and recharging.  For dogs these cycles are much more abrupt compared to humans and they are able to easily wake up from one where we would be much more groggy and slower to rise.  This entire process for a dog from sleep to semi consciousness takes about 16 minutes.  Your dog will then wake up again briefly and restart the process.  Because this REM process is so short, scientists believe dogs use the extra sleep time to achieve an adequate rested state.

In short, dogs will sleep for longer overall duration each day because their REM sleep cycles are much shorter than ours and they need the extra time to achieve an adequate amount of restful sleep.

why do dogs sleep differently than we do

Why Do Dogs Sleep Differently Than We Do?

A lot of it has to do with how we evolved differently.  Dogs are descended from wolves and as a predatory hunter animal, they would spend most of their time looking for food to eat.  When they found this food, they would expend quick bursts of energy to feed and then follow it up with a long period of sleep to recharge and expend much less calories.  As they slept, these animals would still be able to hear and react to what was going on around them.  They could then be alert and active in an instant if needed.

These wolves developed over time into the domesticated animals we have today.  Even though the purpose and feeding methods of our dogs have changed, their genetic wiring has remained when it comes to sleep cycles and overall alertness.  Essentially this means that our dog’s have shorter sleep cycles but the ability to sleep much longer because of the way their ancestors evolved.  This is also one of the reasons they can be awake and alert in an instant.

Another important thing to note is that dog breed and activity level can effect this greatly as well.  For example, if you have a very active work dog like a collie out in the fields with you all day, they will sleep much less than a small chihuahua that sits at home doing nothing.  More active dogs will tend to adopt a shorter overall sleep time each day but will take in an increased amount of calories when they do eat compared to a smaller dog with a sedentary lifestyle who sleeps all day.

Dogs And Breathing During Sleep

For the most part, your dog should assume a slow and controlled breathing pattern when they are sleeping.  There are some exceptions to this rule however and It’s time to explore each of them in a bit more detail.

Vivid Dream

if your dog is actively dreaming during their REM sleep cycle, they may begin to breathe faster and twitch their paws and bodies back and forth.  I always imagine it’s because they are chasing a bunny in a field somewhere!  This kind of activity is completely normal.  You may even hear your dog bark or whine a bit as well.  Those are all common activities during your dog’s dream state and you may observe all or none of these activities from time to time.


A seizure is much different but one of the warning signs can be panting or fast breathing.  Seizure’s are a neurological disorder that both dogs and humans can face.  In simple terms, think of the brain as a computer that temporarily crashes and has to reboot.  That is essentially what a seizure is.  During the time of the episode, your dog may shake, breathe heavily, foam at the mouth, roll their eyes and be completely unresponsive to verbal commands.

The best thing to do during a seizure is to make a safe space for your dog on the floor and keep them from harming themselves.  Do not try and stick your hand in their mouths as their jaw may open and close abruptly as well.  Just keep them in a clear zone and let them hear the sound of your voice.  Once the episode is over, contact your vet for next steps.  Your dog may also be very dizzy and disoriented when they come out of the event.  Just be there for them and contain them until they regain their normal balance.

Allergic Reaction

This one is much less common but it does happen.  Certain medications and foods can cause reactions in our animals.  One of these reactions could be fast breathing or panting while they are awake or sleeping.  If this is the case, monitor your dog and look for other warning signs.

Are they in pain?  How are they acting?  What are their energy levels like?  If any of these things are abnormal, there could be some type of negative reaction going on here.  The best way to deal with this would be to contact your vet and ask for advice.  They may tell you just to keep an eye on it or advise you to stop giving your dog certain medications altogether.  If this is the case, their rapid breathing or panting should go back to normal fairly quickly after that.

Heat Stroke

Heat can be a good thing but too much of it for your dog can be dangerous.  Dog’s don’t sweat the same way we do.  They lack the pores that humans have which we use to cool ourselves down.  For a dog, they use their tongue and panting in general to help cool themselves off.  If you notice that your dog is panting a lot and there doesn’t seem to be anything else affecting them, they may be overheated and dealing with a mild case of heat stroke.

If this is the case, you want to make sure that you are removing them from the heat and contacting your vet for next steps.  Don’t try to feed them any ice cubes or anything.  Just call your vet and follow their advice.  Every dog will respond differently to overheating and your vet should have specific information about your dog that will make it easier to diagnose and treat.  Get them out of the sun and give your vet a call!


Anemia is another reason that dogs may be panting or breathing heavily while they are asleep and awake alike.  In this case, they have a lack of oxygenation in the blood.  To compensate for this, your dog will begin to breathe heavier in an attempt to correct that imbalance.  Obviously your dog is going to have a hard time telling you that they are feeling anemic so keeping an eye on them is the best way to figure out it.

If you notice your dog is breathing heavily more than usual, you should keep an eye out for other warning signs.  Fatigue and a general lack of energy usually go hand in hand with anemia.  If you are noticing this and an increased amount of sleep, schedule an appointment with your vet.  They have blood tests that can more accurately diagnose the situation and get your furry little pal some relief.

dog sleep

Heart Failure

Heart failure can be another reason for rapid breathing and panting.  In this case your dog’s heart is having a tough time circulating blood.  Other systems in the body can try and overcompensate for this.  One of the main things you may notice is an excessive amount of rapid breathing or panting.  If this is the case, observe your dog and see if their are any other warning signs.

A lot of warning signs for heart failure are linked to anemia.  If your dog is displaying symptoms like lethargy and oversleeping, they will probably need to be seen and diagnosed by a vet.  There are tests that can give a much better idea of what is going on with your dog and how to properly treat them whatever the case may be.

In this case as well as many others, your powers of observation are going to be your best friend.  Keep an eye on your dog and their body language will usually give you a good idea of what needs to be done next.

Dog Breathing Fast While Sleeping Concluded

So there we have it.  I believe we have adequately addressed the “Why is my dog breathing fast while sleeping?” question.  We have also looked at a dog’s sleep cycle and how it differs from our own.  In general dogs sleep more overall hours but get about the same amount of deep sleep as we do because their REM cycles are much shorter than our own.  This happens because they evolved differently than we did.  While dogs may sleep longer, they can also be awake and alert much more readily than their human counterparts.  Dogs are also able to use sleep to conserve their energy for use in short and quick bursts.

There are many reasons why dogs may breathe fast in their sleep.  The most common one is definitely dreaming but seizures and allergic reactions can also be a factor as well.  If you suspect your dog may have an issue with one of the categories discussed above, I suggest reaching out to your local vet and getting some feedback from them.  Nothing beats a professional opinion from a vet who knows your dog.  They will be able to give you the information you need to make an informed decision and decide on next steps if any are warranted.

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