Pets

Dreamin’ of Snausages? Maybe so

It’s an age-old question: Do pets dream when they sleep?

I’ve often wondered, when Reba is woofing in her sleep, what she’s woofing at. And earlier this year, a couple of months after Ella joined us, I took her to the vet because she seemed to almost hyperventilate in her sleep and was told that she was probably having a nightmare. I was relieved it wasn’t a medical problem, but sad to think of my puppy reliving her days before being rescued.

Well, it turns out pets do dream, and there’s science to back it up from researchers at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

While humans may have some really whacky dreams that come from an over-active imagination, pets’ dreams are primarily replays of past events. So says Matthew Wilson of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory in Cambridge, Mass.

Wilson, an associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences, explains in a recent Associated Press article that the part of the brain involved in memory is basically wired the same in humans and other mammals.

The professor decided to settle the age-old question by taking a peek in the sleeping brain of animals. He used electrodes to record brain activity of rats while they ran a track and while the slept. What he found was the sleeping rodents appeared to replay images of being track stars; about half of 40 recorded REM episodes repeated the unique signature of brain activity the animal had when it ran.

So, with that settled, a question remains: What do pets dream about?

Interesting older studies, done decades ago in cats, watched sleepwalking cats doing things they would normally do when awake. And according to Stanley Coren, author of several books, including “How Dogs Think: Understanding the Canine Mind,” similar research has shown the same holds true for dogs. “Pointers point at dream birds, and Dobermans growl at dream burglars,” Coren said.

If you want to read the whole article, visit the “Paw Print Post” at www.usatoday.com/life/lifestyle/pets/2010-06-29-dogs-cats-dream_N.htm.

M.K. Means, Herald copy editor, can be reached at 745-7054.

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