Pet Dreams

Your Pets Have Dreams Too…
By Angela Desimone

Have you ever watched your dog or cat twitch their eyes, face and legs while they are sleeping?  Does your dog bark, whine or growl when in a deep sleep?  Do you sometimes hear your cat quietly purring or meowing during at least one out of the ten hours that they are asleep daily?

Pet parents have long known that their pets are dreaming and in 2001 a study done by scientists at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) has confirmed the fact that animals do dream.

“No one knew for certain that animals dreamed the way we do, which can involve replaying events or at least components of events that occurred while we were awake,” said Matthew Wilson of MIT’s Center for Learning and Memory. “We looked at the firing patterns of a collection of individual cells to determine the content of rats’ dreams. We know that they are in fact dreaming and their dreams are connected to actual experiences.”

Wilson, associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT, and a biology graduate student Kenway Louie trained rats to run along a circular track for a food reward.

They then monitored the rats’ brain activity during the task and while they were asleep. While the animal ran, its brain created a distinctive pattern of neurons firing in the hippocampus, the area of the brain known to be involved in memory.

The researchers then examined more than 40 REM (Rapid Eye Movement) episodes recorded while the rats slept. About half repeated the unique pattern of brain activity that was created as the animal ran. The correlation was so close that the researchers found that as the rat dreamed, they could reconstruct where it would be in the maze if it were awake and whether the rat was dreaming of running or standing still!

REM sleep has long been associated with dreaming in humans and it has now been shown that warm-blooded animals do indeed dream when in the REM state.  Though our pets will never be able to actually tell us what they are dreaming of, there is one mammal who has been reported to do so.

Gorillas  have been taught to communicate and it is with our closest cousins in the animal kingdom that we get some interesting information. Ethnologist Penny Patterson reported dreams that two different gorillas, Michael and Koko, have had.  Being able to communicate with sign language they shared their dreams with Penny.

Koko describes fantastical events about people and animals in the morning after awakening,  more so than any other time of the day.  Michael sadly reports waking up in the middle of the night from nightmares of his mother being killed by poachers.

Amazing as it is that the gorillas were recounting first hand what was happening during their dreams, we still may never know for sure exactly what’s going on in our own animals dreams.  However, it is reassuring to know that we as pet owners are now supported by scientific studies in our theories of pet-dreams.

As I am writing this,  my dog Walter is contentedly snoozing on his chair.  Four absurdly furry feet are running and he’s yipping and growling as he goes. While I’ll never know where he is running to or what he is growling at; one thing is for sure, it’s definitely fun to watch!

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