Do Animals Dream?

ThinkStock/Erin McCarthy
ThinkStock/Erin McCarthy / ThinkStock/Erin McCarthy

If you’ve ever seen a cat wiggling around in its sleep, or come across three different-sized beds after eating porridge in a bear family’s inexplicably furnished home, you’ve probably wondered if animals are capable of dreaming. Theirs might not involve Beyonce, your third grade classroom, and a radiator that turns into a snake for some reason like yours do, but some animals do have dreams.

Most land mammals experience the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep where dreams mainly occur, but since they don’t keep dream journals—at least not where we can find them—scientists tested rats to see what was going on in their brains when they slept. According to a 2001 report, MIT researchers Daniel Bedore and Matt Wilson placed trained rats on a track and monitored their brain activity while they moved towards their edible reward. They then monitored the rats’ brain activity while they were in a REM cycle. After examining the data, they saw that some activity in a sleeping rat’s brain matched some of its waking activity. The identical patterns led the scientists to believe that not only were the rats dreaming, they were dreaming about running on the track.

Dr. Stanley Coren, a psychology professor and neuropsychological researcher, writes in his book How Dogs Think: Understanding the Canine Mind, that dogs also dream. Like rats, pooches dream about common scenes they have experienced in their waking lives. Dr. Coren also notes that the smaller a dog is, the more it will dream:

A small dog, such as a toy poodle, may dream once every ten minutes, while a dog as large as a mastiff or an Irish wolfhound may spend an hour and a half between each dream.

Mammals aren’t the only critters that dream, though. Neuroscientists Amish S. Dave and Daniel Margoliash of the University of Chicago have found that the sleeping brain activity of older male zebra finches can fall into patterns that are identical to those observed when the birds are singing. And since the male zebra finch uses its songs to attract a mate, they win our completely made up award for most interesting animal dreams.