Do pets dream? Sleep cycles of cats and dogs

December 15, 2020 4 mins read
Do pets dream? Sleep cycles of cats and dogs

We’ve all marveled at our fur-child’s ability to sleep soundly, anywhere. We’ve watched their twitchy paws and swishing tails as they’re fast asleep, and wondered, are they dreaming?

Cat parents may disagree with us because cats are not bothered by silly human things like dreams. But dog folk will undoubtedly be up there nodding their heads that our woofs are dreaming of chasing squirrels (or balls), getting cuddles, and knowing that they’re a “good boy.”

But do our special pets actually dream? Let’s find out.

Pets have sleep cycles

As it turns out, our pets have the same sleep cycles as we do. Just like we enter into rapid eye movement sleep (REM) so do our pets. REM sleep is an important sleep stage that gives your brain the opportunity to process the day’s activities and emotions, helping the brain organize and process memories and thoughts. As humans, we experience REM within the first 90 minutes of falling asleep. And because sleep cycles repeat every 90 minutes or so we will enter REM several times.

Dogs and cats are slightly different as their REM cycles are shorter and more frequent. Puppies spend around 18 hours a day snoozing, and adult dogs spend between 12-14 hours, but only 10% of each sleep cycle is spent in REM sleep.

If you’re a cat person, you’ll well know that your feline home-owner will most likely sleep for 15 hours a day. But did you know that the phrase, “cat nap” comes from the sleep cycle of a cat? Even though a cat may seem to be asleep for most of the day, they are in fact polyphasic sleepers and are sleeping in short bursts, frequently throughout the day with small waking hours.

The average cat will sleep for around 80 minutes and be awake for 15-25 before entering into another long sleep, with around two cycles of REM sleep being reached in each “nap,” until the night time that is.

As nocturnal beings, they’ll still take a nap here and there but they will be much shorter and more unlikely to reach stages of REM. So if you want to catch your cat in a dream, it will most likely be during the day.

Do pets dream?

Yes, they do. When we enter into REM sleep we are much more likely to have vivid dreams due to the increase in our brain activity. The hippocampus, the part of our brain connected to dreaming, is also responsible for memory, learning, and our moods. (This is why we dream about experiences and concoctions of our emotional subconscious). Pets, as they too experience REM, are more than likely to be dreaming too.

Dog dreams

As we’ll never quite know what a dog is really dreaming about, their behavior while sleeping could provide some clues. If you see your dog “sleep barking,” he might be thinking about the dreaded postman or taunting squirrel.

Other signs that your dog could be dreaming are:

  • Twitching
  • Quivering
  • Murmuring
  • Barking
  • Sleepwalking or running

Did you know that the size of your pooch can play a part in his dreams? Small doglets and pups dream very fast and more often. It’s said that they could even have 60-second dreams every 10 minutes. On the other hand, larger hounds dream for longer and less often, with a 5-minute dream and then an hour of sleep with no dreams.

Cat dreams

If you watch your kitty sleep, you’re most likely not going to see any signs of dreams, as cats lie quietly through most stages of sleep. However, they can become quite active in short bursts during REM sleep, mimicking activities they would be doing during the day, like stalking lizards, and swatting away tummy tickles.

Other signs your furball could be dreaming are:

  • Twitching whiskers
  • Deep purrs
  • Running paws
  • Swishing tail

You can only speculate what your pet is dreaming about… but we like to think in most cases, they’re dreaming of their favorite thing. You.