After a long day of playing fetch at the local dog park or after a particularly lengthy walk, it's common for dogs to fall into a deep slumber. While sleep is necessary for all living things, some pet parents have noticed a few human-like aspects to their dog's sleeping habits, like snoring, twitching and yes, even sleep talking — or should we say sleep barking. These have led many pet parents to ask themselves: Can my dog dream while they sleep?
The answer is a resounding, enthusiastic "yes!" at least, according to Dr. Lori Green, DMV, a veterinarian specializing in house calls and emergency relief in California. Just like humans', dogs' sleep pattern cycle starts with "slow wave sleep," or "SWS," which begins once you (or your pet) first fall asleep. Dr. Green explains that "mental processes are quiet" at the beginning stages of rest when your dog appears asleep but can easily be awakened.
The next phase is called the "REM" sleep stage, aka the "rapid eye movement" stage.
"REM is when brain waves are faster and more irregular." Dr. Green said. "While muscles are more relaxed than in SWS, the mind is more active." During this time, your pup isn't fully conscious, and the dreams begin to occur. These dreams are often vivid (regardless of which species is experiencing them), but even if it "feels real," nothing experienced during the REM stage is actually causing any physical effects.
While humans have been observed to sleep talk or even sleepwalk, dogs during this phase often breathe faster, yip, whine or vocalize in other ways — with some dogs going so far as to paddle their legs and twitch their bodies as they dream. Dr. Green noted that her dogs, in particular, tend to howl as they dream.
Now that we've established that dogs can dream, this begs the question: What exactly is my pooch dreaming about? Do they fall asleep dreaming of counting sheep or flying off to space in a rocket ship?
Well, not exactly, but what they do dream about is just as adorable!
"Dogs very likely dream about their daily activities — running, chasing a ball, barking at strangers and other adventures they experienced during their waking hours." Dr. Green explained.
Some pet parents may get a little concerned when they notice their dog is unusually twitching while they nap. While this isn't a completely unfounded fear, don't stress too much — your pet is probably fine.
"If your dog is truly sleeping, there's no need to disturb them," Dr. Green said. But, she did want to warn parents that a dog twitching as it sleeps is a very different circumstance than a dog that twitches while it's awake.
"Twitching and tremors when awake can be medical symptoms of underlying diseases or toxicities."
If you notice your pup is twitching unusually outside of nap time, it may be time to take your dog to the emergency clinic. Epilepsy, various viruses and parasites, a sudden drop in nutrients, heatstroke and poison can all cause tremors or seizures in dogs of any age. Brain tumors or inflamed brain tissues may also cause sudden twitching. If these symptoms aren't immediately addressed, the aftermath could leave your dog with lifelong injuries or even lead to an early death.
For our senior dog friends, you may notice shaking as they stand up and move around, which is caused by muscle fatigue due to their advanced age.
Luckily, no evidence proves that dogs have nightmares. Even so, Dr. Green sympathizes it can be distressing to witness your pets whimper or twitch while they snooze. However, Dr. Green still strongly cautions against waking a sleeping dog unnecessarily. After all, would you appreciate an unsolicited wake-up call in the middle of your nap?
Here’s the thing: While we can’t exactly prove that our canine best friends have dreams about us while they sleep, we can’t prove that they don’t. Dr. Green likes to think that her two rescue pups, Kwela and Boo Radley, known to cuddle up with the doc as she sleeps, dream about her. The jury is still out here, but just between us, we’re inclined to side with the vet on this one!
This one is a toughie. Of course, hearing your pet whimpering is enough to make any concerned pet parent immediately run to investigate the cause. However, if you find your dog snoozing but whimpering, it’s best to follow the age-old advice and let sleeping dogs lie. Your dog isn’t actually feeling anything while he sleeps, so it’s OK to relax.
This is because your dog is probably having a great dream!
“Dogs relive their adventures from the daytime when they sleep — whether your dog is chasing cats, mailmen, butterflies or balls — their limbs may mimic these activities,” Dr. Green said.
Absolutely not! Not only could you be interrupting the REM sleep cycle phase, which is important for your dog to get a good night’s sleep, but it could also lead to unintended and painful consequences for whoever made the mistake of attempting to wake up your pup.
“Approximately 60% of dog bites in children occur when the child wakes a sleeping dog,” Dr. Green warned. So it’s probably a good idea to talk to your children about why they should let the furriest family member get some well-needed shut-eye.
Here’s the best thing you’ll read all day: Yes, it’s true — puppies can dream. As if puppies couldn’t get any cuter, now we can all sleep soundly with the knowledge that all those adorable lil pups have dreams just like us.
“Puppies dream more than adult dogs,” Dr. Green said. This is because they have more sleep cycles and have to process more new information as they grow each day!
If this news isn’t enough to make you smile, we don’t know what will!
The Dig, Fetch by The Dodo’s expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too. Fetch provides the most comprehensive pet insurance and is the only provider recommended by the #1 animal brand in the world, The Dodo.
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