Can dogs have nightmares?

April 13, 2012

You are watching your adorable fur ball calmly sleeping on your bed. The dog would twitch one leg… and then the other while making a soft snoring sound. Cute! Suddenly the dog is shaking the head, rolling the eyes, breathing laboriously and making a pitiful whining sound. Gosh, is the dog having a seizure… or is the dog having a nightmare? Various studies conducted on canine behavior have proven that dogs are thinking animals. As such they are capable of dreaming and of having nightmares.

Scientists tell us that everybody dreams. Some people would not really remember if they are dreaming or what they are dreaming about. Dreams are said to be the brain’s way of processing and consolidating information and experiences the sleeper has gone through. As dreams center on unexplainable themes at times, dreams are believed to be nothing more that the brain’s illogical and random activity.

Nightmares are pretty much the same as dreams. Both occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. However, unlike dreams that are oftentimes happy experiences, nightmares would commonly make the sleeper’s heart race. The nightmare would create fear, anxiety and a feeling of helplessness. Humans and dogs are believed to have striking similarities. Human and dog are believed to be about 95% similar in genetics. However, a dog’s nightmare may not be considered by the dog as an unpleasant experience. Although dogs are considered to be thinking animals, it is highly possible that the dog would not even remember what the nightmare is all about. Nightmares especially recurring ones would be harder on the pet owner rather than on the dog.

Concerned owners would try to understand what causes the nightmare. Owners would even try to know the possible ways to handle the nightmares in order to help the pet. Dogs, like humans would progress from light sleep or the non-rapid eye movement stage to deep sleep or the rapid eye movement stage of sleep. Dreams and nightmares generally occur in the REM stage although it can also happen during the other stages of sleep. Humans may know the reason for their nightmares. The bad dream may be associated with post traumatic experiences. Depression, anxiety, mental disorders can be the reasons why a person would have nightmares. What about a dog? Canines are intelligent creatures. Dogs are one of the most studied animals. However, no one would really know what runs inside the brain of man’s best friend. No one would know why dogs have dreams and nightmares. Surprisingly, bad dreams seldom occur in dogs with post traumatic experiences. Nightmares are seldom noticed on abused and abandoned dogs as well. Nightmares are more often seen on puppies and in older dogs. This refutes the theory that nightmare is caused by a post traumatic experience.

It may be heart rending to see the pet having a nightmare but it would not be wise to interrupt the sleep of the dog. Waking up the dog may create more confusion. In any case, it may be hard to awaken the dog that is on the REM stage of sleep. Calling the pet’s name or talking softly may help the pet snap from the nightmare. Recurring nightmare can be a manifestation of a medical concern. It would be best to take the dog to the vet for proper diagnoses. Although there are tranquilizers and anxiety medications that can help dogs with recurring nightmares, the medications must not be used unless prescribed by the vet.

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