Sputter, growl, snore, lick, kick, shake, jerk, snooze – oh, the joys of watching your pooch nap!
Many pet parents have contemplated the eternal question, Can my dog dream? They’ve wondered if their Pug will snore, and have thought twice about whether they’re willing to promote their pooch to the “people bed.” They’ve even sat about and watched their dogs nap for hours on end, and jealously questioned whether so much sleep was normal.
A dog’s sleeping patterns are a mystery to many; without any direct access to our dog’s mind or thoughts we truly have no definitive answer to what’s going on in there when they’re sleeping. Despite this, studies proving the similarities between dogs and humans can give us a lot more insight than we might have anticipated.
Does My Dog Dream?
The short answer: Yes, your dog dreams. Hooray! The age-old question is answered. Well, not exactly. Rover can’t wake up from a long nap and dish about that crazy dream he had where he chased Pokey the hamster. But similarities between humans and dogs, says Dr. Nicholas Dodman for PetPlace.com, make it possible to make a very educated and pretty much close-to-accurate guess that dogs do indeed dream.
“We’re 95 percent identical genetically and physically,” says Dr. Dodman. “Because of this blueprint similarity, you might expect a lot of the inner workings to be the same – and they are. Our brains are similar, our neurochemistry is the same, and our reflexes and memory are ‘wired’ in like manner.”
One theory suggests that a dog’s brain works much like a human’s while sleeping, in that the brain most likely uses dreams to process the day’s data as well as for memory storage. The dream state is a time for the mind to refresh itself, much like a computer – it needs time to reorganize and “reboot.” Though this is one possible answer, there are those who disagree that dreams serve this particular function, even in humans. Whether or not this is the case, the good thing is humans can speak up with words instead of woofs. A human can assure us all that they had what’s called a “dream,” and if dogs are 95 percent similar, then chances are they dream as well.
When researchers study the brain waves of dogs and compare them to those of humans in a dream state, the results are similar. As Dr. Dodman explains, dogs have two stages of sleep identical to that of humans: slow-wave sleep (SWS), followed by rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Slow-wave sleep occurs just as a dog is dozing off on that cushy cushion. At this stage, the dog experiences “sleep of mind” when “mental processes are muted but muscle tone remains.”
Following SWS is REM sleep. It’s at this stage that the dog’s body sleeps, while the mind goes into that dream stage identifiable by sputtering jerks and the dog’s darting eyes. An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a brain wave, and a fast brain wave pattern indicates a lot of mental happenings, which points researchers straight to identifying the activity as dreams, says Dr. Dodman.
Just as humans may talk in their sleep or jerk a leg during REM sleep, so do dogs. They might bark, twitch, paw at the air, and look like they’re running on their sides. And just like their human counterparts, adult dogs spend about 10 to 12 percent of their dog naps in REM sleep, explains Dr. Dodman, while puppies snooze away for a much longer time, “no doubt compacting huge quantities of newly acquired data.”
But not all dogs are the same when it comes to how much or how little they sleep. Different breeds and dog lifestyles exhibit different sleep patterns.
Is My Dog Sleeping Too Much? Too Little?
We all wonder what our pooches do while we’re away at work. Yet what they’re doing might not be so mysterious. Chances are that with an empty house and without his usual playthings (i.e., humans), your dog spends the majority of his time basking in the sun and enjoying a nice, long nap.
A dog’s physical characteristics (age, size, etc.), personality, and environment determine just how much he will sleep.
Puppies require quite a bit of nap time. In fact, pet parents may even have to make sure that a puppy doesn’t experience too much exercise or stimulation by implementing nap and/or rest times. A frisky Jack Russell Terrier might definitely need a lesson or two in taking a break.
Later in life, sleep patterns come around almost full circle. Elderly dogs tend to spend the majority of their time sleeping or dozing, and rarely can be bothered to sprint around the house. This can be due in large part to illnesses associated with aging dogs, such as arthritis or hip dysplasia.
In adult dogs, sleeping patterns will most likely be dependent on the age of the dog and his environment. “Counting little naps and longer snoozes, most dogs sleep about 14 hours a day,” says Virginia Wells for PetPlace.com. “Some very large breeds of dogs, like Newfoundlands, Saint Bernards and Mastiffs, often spend a great deal of their lives sleeping – perhaps up to 16 or even 18 hours a day.”
Though it may seem that yours is a “lucky” dog because he gets to sleep 14 hours a day, the truth is that many dogs wake from sleep more often than we humans do. A difference in lifestyle will also affect a dog’s sleeping patterns. Dogs that don’t get enough exercise or activity during the day will nap out of boredom, and their pet parents will find it difficult to get their dog to fall asleep at bedtime. Dogs that spend their days chock full of activities that include opportunities for prolonged socialization (which results in mental stimulation) will be happily begging for their doggie beds.
This mostly applies to dogs in urban cities with pet parents who spend much of their time at work. These pets tend to live in the human lap of luxury where cozy beds are their only daily solace. Other dogs, particularly those on farms, spend their days in the canine lap of luxury. They have free range of land and usually have an important job to do. These dogs, unlike their urban counterparts, go to work with their humans, and not just because it’s dog-friendly Friday! They’re working a full-time job, just like their humans.
Urbanite dogs must be simulated with runs, hikes, games, toys, dog park visits, and more. If a dog doesn’t receive this kind of exercise and mental stimulation, a pet parent might find himself with a dog suffering from insomnia. This is one of the “most common dog sleeping problems,” says VetInfo.com.
Insomnia may occur for several reasons, but the easiest reason to rule out is lack of exercise. If your dog seems to be awake at all hours of the night, increase his exercise regimen and invest in some puzzle dog toys to get his mind tuckered out. Depending on the dog’s needs, he should have between 30 minutes to an hour of daily exercise. A dog should also have scheduled daily play time with you and/or other dogs to tire him out.
If making changes to the dog’s exercise routine doesn’t do the trick, then the problem might be due to health issues. One particular possibility for insomnia is that a dog may be suffering from stress, says VetInfo.com. The cause of stress can come from any number of sources — from the neighbor’s kooky cat to the cuckoo clock in the den. Or, a dog might be suffering from an ailment that’s causing him stress. Find the source of the problem by consulting with a veterinarian. Once your vet has ruled out any ailments and has given your dog a clean bill of health, move on to consulting with an animal behaviorist. Someone with this expertise can help you determine what may be causing the problem.
My Dog Snores. Does This Mean He Has a Problem?
Insomnia’s not a walk in the park for most humans, but when a pet parent has a pooch that snores through the night, getting some shut-eye can be just as difficult. Those who own brachycephalic dogs are most likely all too familiar with nightly doggie snoring. According to the Mar Vista Medical Center, brachycephalic literally means “short-faced,” and includes a number of breeds like the Pug, Boxer and Bulldog.
These dogs are physically bred in this manner and can suffer from any number of ailments, such as stenotic nares (narrowed nostrils) and tracheal stenosis (narrowed windpipe). Pet parents who own these breeds should not only prepare for the many health issues the breed encounters, but should also prepare for long nights of snoring by purchasing some ear plugs!
Always consult with your veterinarian, but for those breeds that aren’t brachycephalic, it’s important to find the root cause of your pooch’s snoring, since it may be a sign of a health problem. The reasons for snoring are numerous, but one obvious possibility is pet obesity.
In a recent article on FindAVet.us, correspondent Paula J. Owen noted that “About 7.2 million dogs are estimated to be obese and 26 million are overweight, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Journal of Nutrition.”
According to VetInfo.com, “Obesity or extra weight can cause the soft palate of the dog’s mouth to collapse.” The soft palate separates the nasal passage from the oral cavity. If the flap collapses, which usually happens at night while sleeping, then snoring will result. What’s the best way to put an end to those long nights with your eyes wide open? Get your dog onto a healthy regimen that includes sufficient exercise and a balanced diet. In losing weight, your overweight dog may be able to correct his snoring issue.
The following are some tips for managing your dog’s weight from VetInfo.com:
Adopt a low-fat diet
Add fiber to the diet (such as canned pumpkin, supplements or fiber-rich natural dog food)
Eliminate or minimize dog treats, and increase water intake (always make sure your dog has fresh water)
Exercise your dog daily (at least an hour every day)
Other causes of snoring may not be due to a dog’s weight, but could still be related to their diet. Many dogs, like humans, have food allergies that often go unnoticed. Snoring might be an indication of such an allergy. Foods that cause allergies can lead to “respiratory problems, mucus build-up, irritation of airways, and even throat swelling,” says VetInfo.com.
The best way to find the source of your dog’s allergies, or if he has allergies at all, is to take him to a veterinarian. Your vet will perform blood tests (either a radioallergosorbent [RAST] test or an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay [ELISA] test) to determine whether your pooch has allergies. Make sure to consult with your vet to better understand this process.
If you’re concerned about the cost of doing blood tests, you may want to start by removing some of the most common allergens from your dog’s diet to see if you notice a difference. VetInfo.com suggests eliminating the following foods:
Oils and fats
If none of the issues above seem to be the cause of your dog’s snoring, other environmental problems may be the culprit. Smoke and dry air, says VetInfo.com, are common causes of snoring because they can aggravate your dog’s nasal passages and respiratory system.
“Dry air in the home affects the membranes of the nose, throat and bronchial tubes,” says VetInfo.com. “It can cause congestion … make the throat feel dry and it can cause or aggravate respiratory ailments.”
Try to reduce smoking in your home and purchase a humidifier to increase the humidity in the air.
Next to eating, playing, and barking, sleeping is a dog’s absolute favorite thing to do. Indulge this love by making sure your dog is in tip-top shape so he can enjoy his daily, and nightly, dog snoozing.
What are your dog’s unique sleeping habits? Tell us about them in the comments below.