Animal Biology: Do dogs and cats dream?

The first time I pondered the question, ‘Do dogs and cats dream?’ was back when my oldest cat, Tank, was a kitten. It had been a quiet afternoon and the family (Tank, Brian and I) were all happily doing our thing. I was pretending to read, Brian was fiddling with his phone and Tank was sleeping. Then, outta nowhere, Tank woke up, wide-eyed and thrashing, and proceeded to go batsh*t crazy.

I’d been watching him for a while* and he had been spread-eagled on his back with his paws in the air and his whiskers twitching. Every now and then his back paws would kick out and he’d wiggle like he was running through a field. Absolutely adorable. But also … kind of peculiar.

Shortly after that, Tank bolted upright, stared at me as though I’d murdered his first-born son**, and then sprinted up and down the hallway like a furry ball of fury.

‘Hey, do you think dogs and cat dream?’ I remember asking Brian.

Brian had glanced up from his video game.

‘Of course.’ He’d responded.

Of course? Well. Of course I think my partner is an absolute genius***, but still … I’d say it’s about time to back that certainty up with a little factual evidence.

Do dogs and cats dream? What science has to say.

In an article with USA Today, Matthew Wilson from MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, said: “As dogs and cats doze, images of past events replay in their minds much the same way humans recall experiences while dreaming.”

He continued: “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. If you compared a hippocampus in a rat to a dog; in a cat to a human, they contain all of the same pieces.”

Wilson then went on to explain that just like us, our pets travel through multiple stages of sleep including slow wave sleep through to REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is where the majority of dreaming occurs.
Okay, so our dogs and cats dream. Of course.
So, naturally, my next question was:
Cat sleeping: Do dogs and cats dreams?

What do dogs and cats dream about?

Well, while we can’t say for certain, University of Chicago biologists Amish Dave and Daniel Margoliash studied the brains of zebra finches and discovered something interesting: when the birds were asleep, the electrical activity in their brains and the precise firing of certain neurons indicated that not only were they dreaming, but that they appeared to be practising songs that they’d learned while they were awake.

Curious and curiouser.

What do you think? Have you seen your pet dreaming? And if so, what do you think they were dreaming about? 

*While my cats are totally used to me watching them creepily while they sleep (they don’t even flinch when they open their eyes and see me peering at them), my guests think this makes me a total weirdo. What can I say? I like watching my pets sleep. 

**Tank’s baby-making privileges were sadly revoked and he doesn’t have a first-born son. But he does have a teddy that he’s pretty intimate with, so … same thing.

*** Brian sometimes reads my blog. Not that I don’t think he’s a genius. Smiley face, smiley face. 

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