Don’t you ever wonder if our canine and feline friends experience dreams the way we do? Did you ever wake up from your pets moving around the bed and sometimes even making noises (because, yes, it’s absolutely safe to sleep with your pet)? It is in motions and sounds like these that lead people to assume that in their sleep, our pets are dreaming. Although we can’t get a direct answer from our lovable pets, science has allowed us to figure out if and how animals dream.
Do Pets Dream?
Scientists believe that it isn’t unlikely that our dogs and cats dream given that animals with far less developed brains are able to do so. Structurally, the human brain and those of our mammal friends are quite similar. We as humans encounter dreaming in the sleeping phase called rapid eye movement (REM.) 90 minutes after we hit the hay, we enter REM sleep where our brain activity is comparable to that of our waking life. However, our limbs are paralysed because our pons, the communication centre of the brain, inhibits the sending of brain signals for movement preventing us from physically acting out the events in our dreams.
This sleep phase is not exclusive to humans because most mammals in general exhibit REM sleep leading us to believe that our furry friends are capable of having dreams. For our pets though, they reach REM sleep faster than we do. In a span of 20 minutes, our canine and feline friends are ready to embark their dream adventures. If you want to observe your dreaming pets, a noticeable change in breathing pattern — now more rapid — is a hint that our pets have reached REM sleep.
What do pets dream about?
REM sleep is also associated with storing memories and learning which is why some of our dreams have connections to what happened throughout the day. A study made in 2001 by Michael Wilson and Kenway Louie of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology compared the brain activity of awake and asleep rats. During the day, the rats’ brain activity was being recorded while the rodents journeyed inside of a maze. At night, when the rats reach their REM sleep, the same level of activity was present in the brain specifically the hippocampus, a part of the brain linked to memory storage. It was so similar to the point that the scientists could identify where in the maze the rodents were in their dreams. The two MIT scientists conclude that the rats were recalling their memories in their dreams similar to us humans.
In another study conducted by Michel Jouvet and his team in 1959, the brains of cats were altered to allow movement while they were sleeping. The neuroscientists discovered that once they reached REM sleep, the cats moved as if they were seeing real-time images. Their motions mimic things they do in their real life such as catching prey and moving their heads despite their brain patterns proving that they were in fact asleep.
Our Dreaming Pets
We have more in common with our lovable friends than we thought. Not only do all of us encounter REM sleep but collectively, we also recall memories of our day in our sleep as a by-product of storing these learnings for the long-term. If sleeping with your dreaming pets disturbs your sleep rhythm, you might want to consider investing in a mattress made to absorb motion so that you and your pet can have wonderful dream adventures together!