If you own a dog or cat, chances are you’ve found yourself wondering what your pet dreams of when they’re asleep.
It’s something that has always fascinated humans for as long as we’ve kept animals as pets. Even the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote about it, saying ‘dogs show their dreaming by barking in their sleep’.
We’d like to imagine that typically a cat or dog’s dream is filled with playing, fun encounters with other pets and most importantly of all, quality time with us.
But what do cats and dogs dream of really? And do they even dream at all?
We’ve taken a close look at the latest research to try and answer these questions for you.
If you ask any pet owner their answer to this question, most will say they believe their dog or cat does dream whilst sleeping. Some may say their pet dreams every day - and even every time they sleep.
The reason many pet owners feel so confident about this is because they have seen their dog or cat move and make noises during their sleep, as if playing out actions they do when they’re awake.
For example, a dog might kick his legs and quietly bark with their mouth closed, just like they do at the park when chasing a ball. Similarly, a cat might twitch and move their paws as if playing with one of their favourite toys.
Another reason we might suspect that our pets dream is because they spend so much time sleeping - probably even more than we do.
Of course, we can’t ask our furry friends, so we need to rely on scientific research for concrete evidence of whether these nap or nighttime behaviours are really a result of them dreaming.
The phase of sleep in which humans dream is called REM sleep (rapid eye movement), and it is characterized by a fast movement of the eyes under the eyelids - just like the name suggests.
In this phase of sleep, part of your brain switches itself off to stop you from acting out your dreams - which is why not many people talk or move in their sleep, and very few regularly sleepwalk.
Scientists have conducted sleep studies on a wide range of animals and have found clear evidence of REM sleep in almost all of them - from dogs and cats to chameleons and dolphins.
During this phase, these animals showed similar brain activity to dreaming humans, indicating that they also dream during at least some of the time they are asleep.
This is a question that most pet owners have found themselves asking. Do cats dream about their owners? Can dogs have nightmares?
A groundbreaking study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted some time ago concluded that animals actually have complex dreams in which they play out their daytime experiences.
Researchers recorded brain activity produced in rats whilst they performed a series of tasks, such as running on a circular track. They then continued to record brain activity whilst the rats slept.
The researchers then examined the brain activity, and found some astonishing results. During REM sleep (the phase of sleep in which dreaming takes place), the rats had the same brain activity as when they were awake running around the track.
This pattern of brain activity so closely matched that produced when they were awake that the researchers were able to even ascertain the section of the track each rat was likely to be dreaming about at a particular time - and if the rat was standing still or running in their sleep.
Since rats have similar brains to other mammals like dogs and cats, this study strongly suggests that your dog or cat really does dream about real life experiences - just like we do.
However, it’s worth noting that their dreams will not be exactly like human dreams. Dogs, for example, only see in muted colours, so it’s likely that their dreams are not anywhere near as vibrant as ours.
We hope you’ve enjoyed taking a closer look at the answer to the question ‘do cats and dogs dream?’.
If you’re curious about learning more about cat behavior, check out how do cats purr and why?.
You might also be interested in how to calm down an anxious dog.
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