Are Dogs and Cats Dreaming?
Science doesn’t know exactly whether or not Dogs & Cats dream, but for sure it is difficult to imagine that they don’t. We’ve all observed our pets show behaviours in their sleep that look like what they do in a fully awake state. Whining, moving legs, barking, chewing jowls, shaking tails, and twitching noses inspire us to wonder what our pets are dreaming about.
What we know about pets and dreams?
While our knowledge on this topic is very limited, the following known information helps us believe that dogs do indeed experience dreams. According to MIT News, Matthew Wilson, a professor of neuroscience at MIT, and Kenway Louie, a graduate student in 2001, have studied the relationships between sleep, dreams and memory. They discovered that when mice were trained to run along a circular track for food rewards, their brains created a characteristic firing pattern of brain cells (neurons).
The scientists repeated the brain monitoring while the rats were sleeping. Low and behold, they observed the same signature brain activity pattern associated with running whether the mice were asleep or awake. In fact, the memories played at almost the same speed for the period of sleep as when the mice were awake.
Can we apply this to dogs?
Can we take what is well-known about dreaming in mice and humans and apply the information to dogs?
Wilson believes that we can: “My guess is — unless there is something special about rats and humans — that cats and dogs are doing exactly the same thing,” he said.
It is known that the hippocampus, the portion of the brain that collects and stores memories, is wired much the same way in all creatures.
According to healthday.com, Professor Wilson says, “If you compared a hippocampus in a rat to a dog; in a cat to a human, they contain all of the same pieces.” He believes that as dogs sleep, replaying images of past events existing in their brain, much the same way people recall experiences while dreaming.
In people it is known that most dreams occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, according to the National Institutes of Health. Dogs and cats also experience periods of REM sleep. Psychology Today’s website says that during REM their breathing becomes more irregular and shallow. There may be muscle twitching during REM and, when one looks nearer, rapid eye movements behind closed eyelids can often be detected. It is during REM sleep that behaviours thought to be associated with dreaming (vocalizing, legs paddling, twitching, etc.) are most usually observed.
What we want to believe about dog dreams
When we observe our dogs or cats as they sleep, it’s just about impossible to imagine that they are not dreaming. Just like the mice studied by Wilson and Louie, it is attractive to believe that our four-legged best friends are re-enacting their fresh experiences; playing at the park, sniffing in the woods, chewing on a treasured bone, chasing a mouse or squirrels.
The National Institutes of Health says that Sigmund Freud (WIKIP.) had a theory that dreaming was a “safety valve” for our unconscious needs and desires. May be he is right, and, when our pets sleep, they dream about catching the neighbour’s pesky cat (dogs), or chasing a mouse in the garden (cats).
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian — they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.