Have you ever wondered if your dog, cat or any other pet dreams? Well many of us, including me, believe they do and it would seem science will back us up!
Scientists actually stumbled upon the findings that animals almost certainly dream back in 1965 when a researcher, Michel Jouvet, deliberately caused lesions in the area of the brain that helps keep animals (and our) bodies paralyzed when we sleep. When this area was damaged cats displayed behaviour such as walking, pouncing and even eating while completely asleep! This research was done to gain more information on human sleeping disorders, but potentially paved the way for further research into animal sleep patterns and dreams.
Many years on in the 90’s and 2000’s further research showed most animals have both REM and non-REM sleep cycles, just like people, and all animals (us included) displayed similar neuron activity when asleep. One exception to this rule is dolphins who have some very strange brain activity, but that’s something for another post!
So what do animals dream about? Well there is no way to know for sure but a study performed in 2001 by Wilson and colleagues at MIT suggests they dream about their daily life, just like humans. The researchers put rats through a maze, while watching their neuronal activity. Then when the rats were asleep they had some twitching and movement, while displaying the same neuronal activity as when they had done the maze. This suggested the rats were acting out the same behaviour again.
This theory is easily supported by our own observations of our pets. It is not unusual to see cats pawing in their sleep, or dogs running and even whimpering. It is important though to not wake sleeping animals if your concerned they are having a nightmare, just like some people they may lash out even though they don’t mean too!
We may never know for sure if animals dream like people, or what they dream about, but I certainly believe they are doing a lot more than we might give them credit for.