If you’re a pet parent, then you’ve likely seen your dog or cat adorably twitching—or even running or howling—in their sleep. That probably has made you curious about whether your dog or cat dreams at night or while napping—and if they dream of you.
Ahead, we’ll explore everything pet parents need to know about whether your furry friend dreams while they sleep.
Do dogs dream?
So, do dogs have dreams? According to Candy Akers, veterinarian, they most certainly do.
“Anyone who has watched a sleeping dog twitch, move its paws as if running, or make soft whimpering sounds has likely seen evidence of a dog’s dreams,” she says.
The science behind this observation comes from understanding the structure and function of the brain during sleep.
“Dogs, like humans, have a sleep cycle that includes periods of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep,” explains Akers. “REM sleep is the stage in which dreaming occurs in humans, and there is good evidence to believe it’s the same for dogs.”
During REM sleep, you might notice your dog twitching or moving as if they’re reacting to something in a dream, she adds. Sometimes, this can be accompanied by barking or other vocalizations.
The duration of a dog’s dream can vary based on multiple factors, including the dog’s age, breed, size, and overall health.
“However, according to studies, on average, dogs spend about 10% to 12% of their total sleep time in the REM stage, which is when dreaming occurs,” says Akers.
What do dogs dream about?
You might be wondering, “Do dogs have dreams about their owners? Do dogs have bad dreams?”
“While we cannot definitively know the content of a dog’s dreams, scientific understanding combined with observational evidence allows us to make educated guesses,” says Akers.
She notes that based on the principle that animals dream about familiar activities, it’s likely that dogs dream about “doggy daily life.” According to Akers, these scenarios in their dreams may include:
- Daily activities: Dogs might dream about things they did during the day, such as chasing a ball, playing with other dogs, going for walks, or interacting with their human family members.
- Instinctual activities: Dogs could dream about activities tied to their evolutionary history and instincts, like hunting or scavenging for food.
- Positive and negative experiences: If a dog had a particularly exciting or frightening experience during the day, then they might replay that scenario in their dreams, just like humans often do.
- Training or tasks: Working dogs or those undergoing training might dream about their tasks, whether it’s herding, searching, or any other specialized activity.
- Social interactions: Dogs are social animals. They might dream about their interactions with other animals and humans, both positive and negative.
“It’s also worth noting that, just like humans, dogs might have dreams that are not directly related to their daily activities,” adds Akers. “Just as we sometimes have strange, surreal, or abstract dreams, dogs might also experience dreams that don’t have an apparent connection to their waking lives.”
And yes, it’s likely that your pup dreams about you.
“While we can’t definitively answer what dogs dream about with certainty, given the strong bond between dogs and their owners and the significant amount of time they spend together, it is quite plausible that dogs dream about their human family members,” says Akers.
But they unfortunately also have nightmares.
“Dogs, like humans and other animals, can experience stress, anxiety, and traumatic events,” says Akers. “As with humans, where traumatic or stressful events can lead to nightmares, it’s possible that dogs might also have dreams that reflect negative experiences or fears.”
Akers adds that observationally, some dog owners have reported behaviors in their sleeping dogs (like whining, twitching, or growling) that might suggest the dog is experiencing a distressing dream.
Do cats dream?
Now that we’ve discussed dogs, do cats have dreams?
“Yes, cats, like dogs and many other mammals, also dream,” Akers says. “Observationally, if you’ve ever watched a sleeping cat twitch its whiskers, move its paws, or even ‘chatter’ softly, then you’re likely witnessing the physical manifestations of a dream.”
Cats, like dogs, progress through various stages of the sleep cycle, including light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. It’s during the REM stage that dreaming primarily occurs.
“The duration of a cat’s dream varies and depends on the length of the REM phase during their sleep cycle,” explains Akers. “Cats can have variable lengths of REM sleep depending on whether they are taking a brief nap or a longer, deeper sleep.”
On average, during a longer sleep, cats might enter REM sleep roughly every 15 to 30 minutes. This REM phase can last anywhere from a few minutes to nearly 15 minutes. During shorter naps, the REM phase might last only a minute or two.
What do cats dream about?
Do cats dream about their owners? It makes sense that they would, considering how much time they spend with you.
But as Akers reiterates, while we can’t directly access or visualize the content of a cat’s dreams, we can make educated guesses based on our understanding of their daily lives, behaviors, and the neuroscience of dreaming in mammals.
Akers speculates on what cats might dream about, based on an understanding of their behaviors:
- Hunting sequences: Cats, even domestic ones, retain strong hunting instincts. They might dream of stalking, pouncing on, or playing with prey—even if their “prey” in real life is just a toy or a laser dot.
- Exploration: Cats are curious creatures. They could dream about exploring their environment, climbing, or hiding in spots around their living space or outdoors.
- Social interactions: Cats may dream about interactions with other animals, whether they’re other cats, household pets, or even humans. This could involve playing, fighting, grooming, or simply observing.
- Self-care activities: Common behaviors like grooming, scratching, or stretching might also feature in their dreams.
- Threats or fears: Just as humans might have nightmares or anxiety dreams, cats could potentially dream of situations that evoke fear or stress, such as encounters with predators, aggressive animals, or other perceived threats.
- Past experiences: If a cat has had significant life experiences, either positive or negative, they might replay these in their dreams, much as humans often do.
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What do dogs really dream about?
Although it’s just conjecture at this point, experts have made guesses on what dogs dream about through observing their behaviors. Dogs can dream about what they did during the day, instinctual activities like hunting for food, scary experiences, training, and social interactions with animals and humans.
How do you tell if your dog is dreaming or having a nightmare?
Akers says dogs that twitch, move their paws as if they’re running, or even whimper in their sleep are signs that they may be dreaming.
Do cats have dreams and nightmares?
Akers says that yes, cats also experience dreams and nightmares while sleeping.
What do cats’ dreams look like?
Experts speculate that cats dream about hunting prey, exploring indoors and out, interacting with humans and other animals, grooming themselves, stressful experiences, and things that have happened in the past.
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