To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
I have no doubt that dogs dream. I’ve caught every one of my pooches "running" and "barking" in their sleep at one time or another, but what exactly are they dreaming about? Most of the time, it appears to be something good — chasing bunnies, I frequently call it. But every now and then, one of them appeared to be distressed. The yips change in pitch and frequency and all of a sudden it looks and sounds like they’re running from something rather than after it. I’ve even heard stories of dogs that seem to have very disturbing dreams after having been rescued from less than ideal situations — the canine equivalent of PTSD, perhaps.
I’ve often had clients bring up their dog’s "weird" behavior while sleeping during an examination. Many are worried that their pets are experiencing seizures. When they describe what is going on and I answer that it sounds like a typical doggy-dream, some are shocked at the notion that dogs could dream, which invariably leads to a discussion about what the dogs could possibly be dreaming about.
I can’t imagine how we could ever have a definitive answer to that, but I’d love to know the canine equivalent to the "I was halfway through X, Y, or Z when I realized I was naked" dream, or my personal favorite (even though I’ve been out of school for 13 years), "What do you mean the final exam is TODAY!"
And what about cats? I can’t say I’ve witnessed any activity while my cats have been sleeping that is obviously associated with a particular dream activity — the occasional twitch as they pounce on a mouse, perhaps — but I’d still bet they dream. Isn’t it just like cats to be more mysterious than dogs even in sleep?
Horses are more like dogs than cats when dreaming. When mine have lain down and fallen into those brief periods of deep sleep that they enjoy, their ears will start flicking and their legs start moving; sometimes the whole body gets into the act. Looks to me like they’re enjoying a good run.
What are your thoughts? Have you ever watched your pet dream and been able to put together a convincing narrative as to what might be going on inside his or her head?
Dr. Jennifer Coates