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Do Dogs Dream of Real Sheep?

Do Dogs Dream of Real Sheep?

               If you ever catch your dog or cat in a deep sleep, you may see their eyes moving, facial muscles twitching or even their legs moving as if they’re running. Some dogs and cats may even vocalize while sleeping. Puppies or kittens may make a suckling noise and movement while sleeping.  It turns out, nearly all animals including birds and reptiles experience a deep REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep.  In people, this is the time we dream.  Researchers have been studying prospective dream states in animals for decades.  The verdict? Yes, animals do dream!

               This begs the question, if animals dream, what are they dreaming about?  This remains somewhat of a mystery since our pets cannot verbalize what they are seeing, and, it’s thought that they may not realize or remember that they’re dreaming.  However, a 2001 MIT study concluded that rats dream about their daily activities.  In the study, rats’ brains were monitored when running a circular track to collect a food treat.  A certain pattern of neurons fired in the rat’s memory center when it was running the track.  Researchers studied the same area in sleeping rats during the REM phase of sleep and found that about half the time, the same unique pattern of neurons fired correlating to whether the rat was running or standing still in the maze. Essentially, the rats’ brains were recreating the experience of running the track during sleep.

               While we’d like to think our pets may be having fanciful adventures in their dreams like chasing rabbits in a vast field or running with lions on the Serengeti plains, dreaming in animals is most likely more mundane.  It is theorized that dreams in animals may represent a way to organize, interpret and store information. 

               Whatever the reason, it’s pretty cool that we share the trait of dreaming with most of the animal world.  Next time you see your pet dreaming, think about what activity from the day his or her mind may be experiencing!

               This blog brought to you by the Patton Veterinary Hospital serving Red Lion, York and the surrounding communities.