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D2007-37

Dear Daisy Dog

When she’s sleeping, our dog, Kindi, whimpers and twitches her face and legs, almost like she’s running and barking. Is this normal?

Daisy Responds

If Kindi’s like me, she’s dreaming of chasing rabbits and barking at the dog next door.

Her behavior is a normal part of REM sleep, the phase of sleep when most dreams occur.

REM sleep, named for the rapid eye movements that characterize it, is associated with substantial brain activity, almost as much as when we’re awake.

During this phase of sleep, the brain paralyzes most of the body’s muscles -– except the muscles of the eyes and those that control vital functions, such as breathing.

Often, only partial paralysis is achieved, and we dogs act out our dreams by twitching and whimpering.

Under rare circumstances, when the body’s muscles are not adequately paralyzed, the dream movements become violent. This isn’t a seizure, but a sleep disorder.

Even more rarely, the opposite happens: Paralysis occurs while the dog is awake. The condition, called cataplexy, is associated with a sleep disorder called narcolepsy.

But Kindi’s movements sound normal. So let her savor her dreams -– while you enjoy watching her and wondering what’s playing in the theater of her mind.

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