Note: Thank you to Dr. Susan Wright for sharing her knowledge on dogs and dreaming.
We’ve all seen our dogs twitch, yelp and paddle their feet while they’re asleep. We usually have a chuckle and imagine them dreaming of chasing rabbits through the fields. Do dogs in fact have dreams? Do they have nightmares? And if so should you wake them up?
You may be interested to know that your dog’s sleeping patterns aren’t a lot different to your own.
Our dogs experience two types of sleep, and no doubt you’ve already heard of them: REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep occurs during most of your dog’s sleep time. This is the stage when his mind is relaxed, but his body still has muscle tone.
REM sleep is the deep sleep during which dreaming occurs. Even though your dog is deeply asleep, studies of brainwaves show his brain is just as active as when he is awake.
His body is most relaxed (almost paralyzed) in REM sleep to prevent him from sleep walking or otherwise acting out his dreams.
Dogs only spend about 10 percent of their sleep time in REM sleep, which is about half the time that humans spend in REM sleep – but they also sleep a lot more time sleeping so we end up spending about the same amount of time in dream land.
Now, back to the topic of dreams. The REM stage of sleep is when you’ll see your dog’s eyelids flickering as his eyes move quickly back and forth.
He may also wag his tail, move his feet and growl or yelp during this stage of sleep. Most veterinarians agree it is reasonable to think that your dog is dreaming while he’s doing this, because this is the same type of activity that occurs when people dream.
Can dogs have nightmares?
It’s also a fair assumption that if your dog can dream, he is also capable of having nightmares, especially after experiencing a fight or other scary event. If he is deeply asleep and you notice his eyes are twitching, what should you do?
The best advice is to leave him be. We do not recommend trying to wake him up! He is likely to be startled when he is woken from REM sleep and may snap at you. Let him come out of the dream gently, and don’t rush to console him. A quick reassuring pat is all he will need to realize that it was all just a dream.
Dog sleep disorders
Dogs can also suffer from the same sleep disorders that occur in people. They can have narcolepsy, where they are excessively sleepy during the day. As with people, the treatment for narcolepsy is hit and miss. Vets have been unable to find a reliable solution to the problem.
There have also been documented cases of dogs suffering from sleep apnea. Bulldogs, pugs and other short-nosed breeds are more prone to this condition because of the shape of their faces. Obesity is also a risk factor for sleep apnea.
Older dogs often have the same sleep issues as older adults. Dementia, arthritis and other age-related health conditions may prevent your dog from getting all the sleep he needs. On the other hand, an under-active thyroid gland may cause your dog to sleep too much. You’ll need help from your veterinarian to properly manage these disorders.
How much sleep your dog needs depends his age, breed, activity level and even his owner. Puppies need about 16 to 18 hours of sleep a day (just like human babies!).
An adult dog’s requirements are higher than normal if his days are very active. Sometimes, dogs just don’t get enough sleep, and again, this is similar to us.
Hunger, a noisy sleeping environment and an uncomfortable spot to sleep in will all affect how much sleep your dog gets. But, most adult dogs will sleep about 14 hours a day if you tally up all the little naps.
How much does your pup sleep, and do you notice him dreaming?