We have all noticed our dogs and cats making noises, moving around, “running”, pawing the air, growling, barking, sighing, purring or yelping in their sleep.
Most people presume, their dogs are chasing rabbits in their dreams. Cats, well, cats could not be bothered chasing mere rabbits, cats are just too important thinking mainly about themselves!
Have you ever wondered what is going on in your sleeping pet’s head? Dogs and cats have more complex brains than other creatures, like rodents, but do they dream?
Yes they do! Researchers say that there is enough evidence to support this theory. During a study using electroencephalogram (EEG) scientists were able to study canine brain activity during sleep and concluded that they experience different stages of sleep much like humans. During the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep is when they are believed to experience dreams.
What is REM?
REM sleep is necessary and very important as it offers the brain an opportunity to process the day. REM is a restorative stage of deep sleep, where the brain organises and processes events, memories and thoughts.
The brain moves through five different stages of sleep. The first and second stage would be classified as light sleep, the third and forth are known as deep sleep and the lastly REM.
Humans experience REM within the first 90 minutes of falling asleep. As the sleep cycle repeats throughout the night REM will occur several times. About 20 percent of an adult’s sleep cycle, and over 50 percent of an infant’s is taken up by REM sleep stage. Dogs and cats are slightly different as their REM cycles are shorter and more frequent.
The first phase of REM sleep lasts about 10 minutes, with each stage getting a little longer. The sleep cycle begins with non-REM sleep, before moving into the REM sleep stage. In dogs and cats their REM cycle starts about 20 minutes into their sleep and lasts about 3 minutes at a time.
During REM sleep, the body and brain go through several changes, including:
Rapid movement of the eyes, an increased heart rate and blood pressure, fast and irregular breathing as well as changes in body temperature and an increase in oxygen consumption by the brain.
REM sleep is also often associated with very vivid dreams due to the increase in brain activity. The part of the brain that is connected to dreaming is called the hippocampus, which is also responsible for memory, learning and moods. At this stage, the muscles are immobilised but the brain is very active. This stage of sleep is sometimes called paradoxical sleep.
People dream about experiences and it is believed that during sleep their sub-conscientious plays a part too. Since a dog is not able to tell anyone what he has dreamt of, we can only guess! Who knows, YOU might make up most of your dogs dreams!
Cats lie quietly through most stages of sleep, and become active during REM, often doing activities they would do while awake.
Mice and rats sleep for much shorter times than dogs and cats. Scientists have proven that both mice and rats have the same brain wave activity while asleep as they do while awake, indicating that they do not dream. Any animal which experiences REM, has the capacity of dreaming!
Author of “Do Dogs Dream?”, Stanley Coren, proposes that animals not only dream but they likely dream more than we do from the sheer fact that they sleep more than humans.
He also affirms what most pet owners suspect, that the dreams of cats and dogs are probably based on a complex retrieval of activities, like a daily dog walk to the park, playing and memories within their scope of behaviour.
Make sure your pets have happy days and nights, thereby giving them many happy dreams.