Do Our Pets Dream?

If you have ever seen your sleeping pet’s feet move, you may have assumed that they were dreaming—and you would be right about that. While many pets do not show outward signs of dreaming, experts assure us that all mammals dream. No one really knows the purpose dreams serve, but experts seem to agree that dreaming is essential for our well-being. 

The brains of our dog and cat companions are structurally very similar to our own. During sleep, their brain wave patterns demonstrate the same stages of electrical activity observed in humans.

The first phase of sleep is called light slow wave sleep. During this stage, we are not fully relaxed and can be easily roused. Next comes deep slow wave sleep when we become progressively more relaxed and harder to rouse. Finally, we reach the rapid eye movement or REM stage of sleep during which our brain waves become extremely active again while the body becomes completely relaxed.  Waking is most difficult during this stage of sleep. Humans awakened from REM sleep report that they have been dreaming.

Cat and dog sleep patterns follow these same stages, though most sleep more than we do—10 or more hours a day with up to 20% of that sleep being REM sleep. Some people say that they observe eye movement in their sleeping pets, a sure sign that they are in REM sleep and their brain is busy dreaming.  

During what we call a catnap, the cat is in light slow wave sleep. Their mind is resting, but their bodies are not fully relaxed. They are able to keep their limbs tucked and they are not dreaming

Dogs, cats and rabbits have different sleep habits than people; they tend to be crepuscular, meaning that they are naturally most active at dawn and dusk. We humans are diurnal, most active during the day. Dogs often adjust their own sleep habits to match ours.  

The subject matter of dreams seems like it would be harder to ascertain, but researchers have assessed this too by comparing brain waves from dreams with waking experiences. The results show that animals often have dreams associated with the activities of their day, just as people do.

While it is easy to focus on the differences between animals and people, in so many ways we share much in common, including our dreams.

Events that Help Homeless Pets:

Adopt a Lovable but Less-Adoptable Pet: Adopt a shy, older, sassy or special needs pet and adoption fees are waived through April 8 at Nevada Humane Society. Nevada Humane Society is open 7 days a week for pet adoption. 775-856-2000.

“Why Does My Dog Do That and How Can I Get Him to Stop?” Presentation April 5, 5:30-7:00 pm by Kelley Bollen, MS,  Certified Animal Behavior Consultant at Nevada Humane Society, 2825 Longley Lane in Reno. Requested $5 donation.

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