Your dog is hanging halfway on your lap and halfway spilling out over the couch. They’re impossibly cute. Then your dog starts twitching in their sleep –- their paws are moving, or their teeth are chattering. Are they dreaming? What are they dreaming about? Is this normal?
Yes, all of that is normal. We might not have all the answers to what exactly your dog is dreaming about, but we’ll take you through everything research has found so far.
Dog dreaming facts to tell your friends:
- Small dogs tend to dream more often than larger dogs. But larger dogs dream for longer.
- Puppies and senior dogs dream more than middle-aged dogs.
- Dogs can have nightmares.
Do Dogs Dream?
Yes. Dogs dream! In fact, all mammals and some birds dream. Research investigating animal dreaming habits all started with rats. Scientists monitored the rats’ brains during REM sleep and found that certain parts of their brains lit up, signifying that they were dreaming. Now, a dog’s brain is more complex than a rat’s. So researchers have since assumed that dogs can dream.
A dog’s sleeping cycle is actually pretty similar to ours –- they cycle through stages of REM sleep, NREM sleep, and wakefulness. The vast majority of dreaming takes place during the REM cycle.
What do dogs dream about?
The research investigating rat dreaming activity found that the parts of the brain that lit up when they ran through the maze were the same that lit up when they were dreaming. Which they concluded meant that they were dreaming of running in the maze. Makes sense, right?
The same concept translates to dogs. Like us, dogs likely dream about normal activities –– like running, walking or playing fetch—pretty much doggie things. We don’t know this for sure, but we expect their owners to make an appearance in their dreams.
Does your dog’s breed affect how they dream?
Dreaming habits vary by person. The same goes for dogs. Smaller dog breeds have more frequent dreams than larger dogs –– a new dream comes along as often as every 10 minutes during REM sleep. Larger dogs may dream less often, but the dreams they do have last longer than smaller breeds.
Your dog’s breed also will determine what they dream about. Like we said, your dog is going to dream about what they do in their lives. If your dog doesn’t like to play fetch, they’re not going to dream about chasing tennis balls through the yard. Pugs or Bulldogs who don’t play much in the park won’t dream of chasing their friends in the dog park. However, if you have a Lab that loves to hike with you, it’s likely that will pop up in their dreams.
Can dogs have nightmares?
Unfortunately, your dog can have nightmares. Often you won’t be able to tell, and your dog won’t be able to communicate that it happened. That said, when you can tell, it can be hard to watch, and your instinct might be to wake them up.
In general, the rule is that you shouldn’t wake your dog up. We know they are so cute, and you’re scared. But sleeping is important for your dog too. Waking them up during a REM cycle can be starling –- just like humans. Unlike most humans, an unintended bite might come out of waking your dog up.
Additionally, there are consequences if your dog isn’t getting enough sleep –– a risk of illness, obesity, a weakened immunity. If your dog is not getting enough sleep, you’ll notice:
- Forgetfulness of basic commands and performing tasks
How to Tell Between a Dog Dream and a Medical Emergency
That said, if your dog is prone to seizures or other health issues, it might be alarming to see them twitch in their sleep. The movements associated with dreaming are brief and last less than 30 seconds. On the surface, it can look similar to a seizure. However, there are a few key distinctions that you should keep in mind:
- If your dog is seizing, its limbs will be rigid and stiffer.
- The movements will be more violent.
- A dog who is experiencing a seizure cannot be easily awakened.
- Afterward, they may pant, drool or urinate.
If you think your dog is having a seizure and is not dreaming, make sure they are not able to knock into anything or fall off the couch and get hurt. Always contact your vet if your dog ever has a seizure.
Too Long, Didn’t Read?
Your adorable pup dreams. And while we’re not researchers, we are willing to bet you make an appearance in their dreams pretty often. Your dog’s breed, size, and lifestyle will impact what they dream about and how long they dream. And while we might never know all we want to know about what goes on inside their brains, we think dog dreams are pretty cool.