Do dogs dream? What science tells us

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Do dogs dream? What science tells us - A beagle sleeping on a couch

Do dogs dream? It’s a tricky question to answer. Scientists speculate that yes, dogs dream and can have nightmares and sleep disorders like people do. Read on if you have ever wondered:

  • Does my dog dream?
  • What does my dog dream about?
  • Should I wake my dog from a nightmare?
  • Does my dog have a sleep disorder?

If you’ve ever seen your dog kicking, twitching, or vocalizing in their sleep, you may wonder if your dog dreams. This is a popular question among dog owners and researchers alike, and scientists have attempted to answer this question. So what do we know so far?

Do dogs dream?

Dogs enter rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is the deepest stage of sleep. REM sleep is associated with vivid dreams in humans. Sleep in both dogs and humans is a way for the brain to rest and store information from daytime experiences to remember later on. It’s not unusual to dream about that day’s events. REM sleep is a normal, healthy, and important stage of sleep.

The body has a clear physical response to REM sleep. Activity during this stage of sleep can include small movements, involuntary muscle twitching, and eye movement. This occurs in both humans and dogs. “It’s normal for your dog to twitch and vocalize in their sleep,” states Dr. Jo Myers, “and it may indicate they are having a dream.”

What do dogs dream about?

It’s impossible to know exactly what dogs dream about. Scientists speculate that, like humans, dogs frequently dream about their daytime experiences. If your dog had fun at the dog park that day, they may dream about playing with their friends or chasing squirrels and move during sleep in a way that correlates with these dreams.

Do dogs have nightmares?

If dogs dream, then they most likely have nightmares too. Your canine companion may be having a scary dream if they kick, growl, or whine in their sleep. Like humans, dogs may have nightmares about stressful situations they encountered recently, something they are afraid of, or a traumatic event.

Should you wake a sleeping dog?

You may be tempted to wake your dog from a dream, especially if it looks like a nightmare. However, dogs cannot control their actions in REM sleep and if they are woken abruptly, they may bite. Roughly 6% of dog bites occur while a dog is sleeping or when a dog is woken abruptly. It’s best to let the dream play out and allow your dog to wake up on their own to avoid an accidental incident.

Can a dog have a sleep disorder?

It’s rare for dogs to have sleep disorders, but it can happen. Sleep disorders in dogs include:

  • Narcolepsy - suddenly falling asleep while active
  • Insomnia - the inability to fall asleep
  • Sleep apnea - breathing suddenly stops and starts while sleeping, which jolts the dog awake

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that is typically inherited. Although it looks scary, narcolepsy in dogs is not a life-threatening condition. Insomnia and sleep apnea can be caused by an underlying health concern. Pain from arthritis in older dogs or due to an injury, itchiness from fleas, or anxiety can cause insomnia in dogs and reduce the number of hours they’re able to sleep. Sleep apnea in dogs typically occurs in flat-faced breeds and obese dogs, as extra internal fat or tissue blocks the airway. This interrupts the ability to breathe while sleeping and jolts the dog awake.

If you notice changes in your dog’s sleep, it’s a good idea to talk to a veterinarian to rule out any underlying health concerns. A virtual vet appointment is a great way to discuss changes in your dog’s sleeping behaviors and discuss concerns if they exhibit signs of a sleep disorder.

FAQ - Do dogs dream?

What do dogs dream about?

It’s impossible to know exactly what dogs see in their dreams. We don’t even know what people see in their dreams unless they tell us. However, scientists speculate that dogs dream about the day’s events and their likes, dislikes, and fears just like people do.

Why do dogs twitch in their sleep?

During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, both dogs and people have some movement and twitch involuntarily. Some movement during this sleep cycle is completely normal and may be an indication that your dog is dreaming.

Should you wake a dog from a dream?

No, you should not wake a dreaming dog. While it may be tempting to comfort a dog that may be having a nightmare, dogs cannot control their reactions in their sleep. About 6% of dog bites occur while waking a dog from REM sleep, so it’s best to let your dog wake up on their own.

How much sleep do dogs need?

Dogs need more sleep than humans. An adult dog needs about 11 hours of sleep per day. Growing puppies and elderly dogs will need to sleep even more. It’s important to allow your dog ample time to sleep uninterrupted every day.