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Yes indeed, dogs and cats do dream!

by Therese on June 28, 2010

in Cats, Dogs

I love it when scientific studies finally come out and validate what pet owners know to be fact long before science says it’s so. A recent study showed that cats, dogs, and rats all dream. (but I’ll bet you already knew that!)

How many pet owners have gotten a chuckle out of watching their dog sleep while its paws race frenetically in place? Many figured that Rover was romping somewhere in dreamland, and scientists say they were right: Pets do dream while sleeping.

As dogs and cats doze, images of past events replay in their minds much the same way humans recall experiences while dreaming, said Matthew Wilson of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory in Cambridge, Mass. That’s because the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory, is basically wired the same way in virtually all vertebrates and mammals, he said.

“If you compared a hippocampus in a rat to a dog; in a cat to a human, they contain all of the same pieces,” said Wilson, an associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences.

Like people, pets go through multiple stages of sleep, from periods of slow wave sleep to REM (rapid eye movement), where most dreaming occurs.


In dogs, research shows the frequency and length of dreams is linked to their physical size, said psychologist Stanley Coren, author of several books including How Dogs Think: Understanding the Canine Mind.

For example, he said, mastiffs and Great Danes might dream every 45 minutes for about five minutes, compared to their smaller canine cousins that enter a dream state every 10 minutes with episodes lasting less than 60 seconds.


But what do our pets dream about? Researchers believe they know the answer. Older studies, done decades ago in cats, involved temporarily releasing the suppression of motor activity that happens during REM sleep so they’d act out their dreams.

What researchers witnessed is sleepwalking cats doing things they’d normally do while awake – walking, swatting their forepaws, even pouncing on imaginary prey.

Similar research showed the same held true for dogs.

“Pointers point at dream birds, and Dobermans growl at dream burglers,” Coren said.

Read the rest of Dogs dream of past experiences.

One thing I found really interesting is that bigger dogs dream for longer periods of time than smaller dogs. Since both of my dogs are about the same size, I can’t test that theory, but I do know Lydia has more active dreams than Archie. She twitches, whimpers, and lets out little yips while Archie tends to keep his dreaming to himself.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

vicki holt June 29, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Oh, I feel so vindicated by this research. I’ve always known animals could dream. Like other pet owners, I just had to endure the ignorant condescention of scientific types who were sure I was anthropomorphizing.

In January I adopted a 14 1/2 year old deaf itty bitty poodle whose lifelong mom had died. He seemed to accept his new family well by day — no visible signs of sadness — but at night in his sleep he would cry. It was heartbreaking, as I knew he was dreaming about his former mommy. After about three months he had bonded enough with me that he almost never whimpers in his sleep anymore. Now he busies himself chasing squirrels.


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