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Dr. Gabby
Dr. Gabby, Veterinarian
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Experience:  15 years working as a full time veterinarian
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I have a 7 year old Medium sized Rat Terrier that has just

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I have a 7 year old Medium sized Rat Terrier that has just bitten my 23 year old daughter. Queenie was sleeping next to her on the couch and my daughter put her hand down and touched her back paw. The dog woke up and grabbed onto her hand and would not let go. This just happened. Queenie has bitten me and my son while sleeping next to us. Always unprovoked but it is always when she awakes suddenly. I am not letting her on the couch or on the bed as this is more than I can take. She has a very nice life here and we all love her but this is getting too much. I have another 12 year old, much smaller Rat Terrier, and Queenie is submissive to her. I got Queenie at 4 months of age from a chaotic home but she did adjust well after a few months. When she does not sleep in the bed or couch, she sleeps under my bed. Any other suggestions? Should I consider putting her down? She does not seem aggressive towards other dogs and this only happens when she wakes up suddenly. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Hello. Thank you for asking your question. My name isXXXXX will try to help.
Does it only happen when she is woken up from sleeping?
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Yes--she has only done this if she is sleeping.

Thank you,

The most likely cause is a sleep disorder. It is called a "rapid eye movement" disorder in dogs because that is the part of the sleep cycle in which the disorder occurs. When she is attacking you, part of her brain is turned off so she does not know what she is doing. Dogs with this problem, can be very aggressive, and bite, when woken up.

During dreaming, the brain is electrically very active This includes the portion of the brain that controls movement. During this stage of sleep, a region in the brain stem actively paralyzes motor neurons to prevent that activity in the motor center from causing movement. The exception to this are the motor neurons that control breathing and eye movements. That's why you see the rapid eye movement (REM) during certain stages of sleep. In some patients, this active paralysis of motor neurons fails. This results in excessive, sometimes violent motor activity during dreaming. In some cases this is associated with vocalizations such as growling and even biting/attacking movements. The dog is basically acting out his dreams.
The main risk is the dog hurts themselves or hurts anyone or anybody nearby. Management consists of having the dog sleep in a confined, well-padded area, such as a crate to prevent any injury.

There are two medications, clonazepam and bromide, that can be used to treat it. Your vet can prescribe those medications for you.

Seizure activity can cause this type of behavior as well.

If it is seizure activity, you can not wake the dog up during a seizure.

If you google "REM sleep disorder" you can see some videos, on YouTube, of dogs and people with this problem which may help you tell the difference.

You will need to video tape a couple of episodes so your vet can see what is going on and to help your determine the cause as well as a treatment.

Your vet will want to do blood work, and a urinalysis, to make sure there is not an underlying medical cause as well.

I hope this helps.

If you have additional questions, please click "reply."

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Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Queenie does alot of moving and pseudobarking when she is in a deep sleep. I will take this under advisement and contact my Vet. I think you may be correct with this as she doesn't seem to know what she is doing when she bites. Thank you for your time.

You are very welcome. I have a feeling she is a sweet girl and can not help it.