A puppy nursing in sleep is usually not anything to worry about. In fact, it’s quite a common behavior that many new puppy owners will witness, even after bringing their puppies home at 8 weeks. In rare cases, it can be a sign that something is wrong with your puppy. But, usually, it’s simply a case of self soothing, puppy dreams, or even hunger.
Have you noticed your puppy suckling during their sleep recently? If you’re seeing this behavior and wanting to know what’s going on in your little dog’s mind, read on for more information about the possibilities!
Is my Puppy Nursing in their Sleep?
If you haven’t seen puppies nursing before, it can be hard to recognise the behavior! Especially if you have a flat-faced breed like a Pug. Often, these breeds are noisier in their sleep, since they can struggle to get air through their shortened nasal passages. So, what does puppy suckling look and sound like?
Many puppies nursing in sleep will suckle on their air itself. So, you will usually see their little mouths moving. Sometimes their paws will also move – mimicking their newborn actions to find their mom’s teat. And, occasionally puppies will nurse on their bedding. For instance, if they sleep on blankets, you might find that your puppy is suckling on the blanket to get to sleep, or just whilst they are asleep.
Why Do Dogs Suckle in their Sleep?
Now you know what the behavior looks like, why do our puppies nurse in their sleep? Of course, we can’t ask them. But, there are a number of potential explanations that dog behavior experts believe. These include:
- Self soothing
- Or, as a symptom of a health problem
Nursing or suckling is a natural behavior in puppies – one that helps them to survive when they are first born. It’s entirely possible that your puppy nursing in their sleep is doing so to help them feel more relaxed and calm. Moving to a new home away from their mom and siblings will be stressful, even with the best new owners. It’s natural for your puppy to feel a little unsettled and anxious. So, they may suckle in their sleep to calm those feelings of worry and anxiety.
If this is the case, some puppies may stop the behavior after a few days or weeks, once they are feeling more settled into your home. However, others may carry it on for longer. Particularly since it is an instinctive, unconscious behavior!
Why Does my Puppy Bite their Blanket to Sleep?
As we learnt earlier, most puppies nursing in sleep will suckle on their air itself. However, some will nurse on the bedding around them. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can have its dangers. You may want to monitor your puppy if they suckle on their blankets to ensure that they never choke or suffocate in their bedding.
Sucking on their bedding whilst sleeping is also very different to biting or sucking on bedding during the day. If your dog seems to have a compulsive habit to chew on or suck on things, such as their bedding, or even themselves, this can be a sign of a larger problem. Your dog may have pica – the compulsive desire to eat non-food items. And this can be fatal if anything gets lodged in your dog’s throat, or digestive system. If you’re concerned that blanket suckling has become compulsive, speak to your veterinarian for more help.
Is my Puppy Dreaming?
Many researchers do believe that dogs dream. And, if you’ve seen a sleeping dog twitching, barking, and even running in their sleep before, you’ll probably believe the same! In humans, dreams are often linked to the activities that you do in your waking life. So, if puppies are dreaming, it’s entirely possible that they’re recalling nursing on their moms. Especially if they’re dreaming in those first few days after you bring them home.
As time goes on, you may find that this sleeping behavior is replaced by other actions. Such as running, barking, or just general twitching. This could be because your puppy’s dreams change as their life experience increases! Perhaps now, instead of dreaming of their mom and siblings, they’re dreaming of playing a fun game of fetch with you!
Is my Puppy Hungry?
Of course, nursing as a puppy is a way to get food. So, there’s a chance that a puppy nursing in their sleep is hungry. Puppies have a lot of growing to do. Although the length of time this takes will depend on their adult size! Smaller breeds can be fully grown in as little as 6 months, whereas some giant dog breeds can take years to reach their adult size.
Hungry puppies will often show signs of their hunger in waking life too. And, you can always check in with the veterinarian if you’re worried your pup isn’t getting enough food, or the right nutrients. It’s always a good idea to make dietary changes under the supervision of your vet. They will be able to monitor your puppy’s weight, and make sure they stay healthy.
Does my Puppy Miss their Mom?
Another common concern when owners see a puppy nursing in their sleep is that the puppy could be missing its mom and siblings! Especially if they haven’t been with their new family for long. Is this possible? Can puppies even remember their moms when the leave for their new homes?
Well, puppies can remember important lessons taught to them by their moms, so there’s a chance that they can definitely remember their moms too! However, memory in dogs is a difficult subject to study, so there’s a lot of speculation about just how much dogs and puppies can remember! You can read up on dog memories more in this article. And, if you’re at all concerned about your puppy feeling sad and anxious in their new home with you, why not get started on some positive training to keep their minds occupied?
Is my Dog Healthy?
In rare cases, suckling or nursing in their sleep can be a sign that your puppy is unwell. For instance, noisy sleeping can be a sign that your puppy is struggling to breathe in certain positions. This is common in brachycephalic dog breeds. But, it can happen to any dog. So, if you’re ever concerned that your puppy is unwell, make sure to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. They will be able to diagnose the problem and help you with a solution to aid your dog’s sleep.
Puppy Nursing in Sleep – A Summary
There are many reasons why you may see your puppy nursing in their sleep. But, usually it isn’t a sign of a serious problem. In most cases, your puppy will be dreaming, or simply self soothing.
Have you ever noticed your puppy suckling in their sleep? We would love to hear your theories about this behavior in the comments! Do you think your puppy is dreaming of their mom?
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References and Resources
- Houpt, K. ‘Normal Behavior – Dogs’, Small Animal Veterinary Psychology (2021)
- Arteaga, L. (et al), ‘Smell, Suck, Survive: Chemical Signals and Suckling in the Rabbit, Cat, and Dog’, Chemical Signals in Vertebrates 12 (2012)
- Moon-Fanelli, A. (et al), ‘Blanket and Flank Sucking in Doberman Pinschers’, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (2007)
- ‘Development, Communication and Social Behavior in the Dog’, Lecture Notes
- Roedler, F. (et al), ‘How Does Severe Brachycephaly Affect Dogs’ Lives? Results of a Structured Preoperative Owner Questionnaire’, The Veterinary Journal (2013)
- ‘What Causes Pica in Dogs?’, Pet MD (2018)
- Coren, S. ‘Do Dogs Dream?’, Psychology Today (2010)
- Holloway, S. ‘Do Dogs Have Memories?’, The Labrador Site (2020)
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