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Dr. Wally
Dr. Wally, Dog Veterinarian
Category: Dog Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 673
Experience:  Emergency Veterinarian with 20 years of experience in the veterinary field.
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What causes my dog to scream while asleep? My 13 year old

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What causes my dog to scream while asleep? My 13 year old pekinese has recently begun screaming while apparently asleep. It sounds like someone or something is really hurting him, but then he gets up, shakes himself and acts perfectly normal. It's been happening about 6 months now, several times a week, day or night, and lasts 1 - 15 seconds. It's very unnerving for us but doesn't seem to bother him at all.

He is dreaming. You'll find he also paddles his feet as if running. This is normal.


Customer: replied 8 years ago.
I know what you mean, but I don't think that's the answer. There is absolutely no other movement, eyes, paws, anything. He occasionally does 'run' and woof or whimper and i know that is a dream.

Do you think he's having a 'night terror' type of dream? When he screams, I mean it is a blood-curtling scream that will bring everything to a halt and wake the household from a sound sleep. Is there anything I can do to help him or stop it? If we have guests they really freak out.

I'm a nurse, and i thought maybe he was having muscle spasms or arthritic pain but I don't see any other evidence of that. I would think it was a seizure, but he is not incontinent and doesn't seem to be post-ictal.

That doesn't sound normal. If he is not conscious, and you can't get him to respond when it happens, my guess is that this is a seizure. Ask your vet to do a full neurologic exam. At this age, sudden onset of seizures or neurologic signs like this could indicate a brain tumor.


Have you noticed any other problems lately with walking or eating? Blindness, deafness? Is his face symmetrical or does one side droop? Is he circling to one side when he walks or is there a head tilt?

Customer: replied 8 years ago.
He has cataracts and limited vision (responds to light/dark and big hand/arm movements), and has been essentially deaf for a year. I thought those were part of his aging process, but maybe not? No face droop, asymmetry, no difficulty walking or with balance.

When he 'screams' he has no tonic/clonic motions. They always start when he appears to be asleep, and he usually opens his eyes while he is screaming. But it really doesn't appear that he is alert until after the screaming stops.

I don't want him to suffer, and will not prolong his life unnecessarily, but he is eating, voiding and stooling, alert and interactive other than this screaming. It doesn't seem to affect him - but it sure affects me! Is it time for a Vet visit and maybe some medication like Valium?

I'd say absolutely bring him to see the vet. It sounds like a partial seizure. Your vet should check his cranial nerves and do a neuro exam on his feet and legs to check for something called proprioception. Some vets can give you a script for valium to give rectally at home when seizures happen to break the cycle. Ask about this. Other than that, your dog might benefit from anti-convulsant therapy such as Phenobarbital. They are sleepy on it for a while, but then they get a tolerance for it and behave normally. It will hopefully suppress these episodes, which as you describe them seem quite disturbing.


I have to apologize for my first answer. We do get many questions about the dreaming/yelping. Please take no offense by my initial interpretation of your question. I shouldn't have assumed (you know what they say about assuming), as this is genuinely a very serioius concern.


-Dr. Wally



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Customer: replied 8 years ago.
Thank you! I know what direction to go now - to the vet!
You are certainly welcome. I wish you both luck!