Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Dreaming cats and dogs? Did you know ...

As our pets seem to settle down at night and wake up with us in the morning it is tempting to assume that they must sleep the same way as we do, surely?

There are indeed similarities in sleep between cats and dogs with us humans, but there are also huge differences that can become significant when our animals are stressed.

Why do we need to sleep? Sleep has two key functions one can be termed sleep of the body and the other sleep of the mind. The sleep of the mind happens during a stage of sleep termed REM or ‘dreaming’ sleep. In cats and dogs, this dreaming sleep happens when they are lying on their side with legs stretched out. Breathing and heart rate may change and rapid eye movement is observed (hence the name of this type of sleep!) It is this stage that is essential for processing the events of the day, learning is consolidated.

Dogs need at least 12 hours sleep each day, cats at least 16 hours a day!

Studies show that unlike cats, dogs have about 23 bouts of sleep/wake cycles, lasting about 20 minutes over each 8 hour night. Each cycle consists of about 16 minutes of sleep and 5 minutes fully awake. Also, groups of dogs show unsynchronised sleep/wake cycles. This means that in the wild, one or two dogs will always be alert while the others sleep and so able to watch for danger. Clever really!

The same studies also looked at the effect of moving cats and dogs to new locations - how does rehoming or moving house for example, affect the sleep patterns of our pets? They found that all the cats and dogs studied failed to achieve REM sleep on the first night and the length of sleeping bouts halved. Another interesting observation was in dogs that slept close to their owners were observed to go straight into REM sleep, indicating that they were secure and fully relaxed.

Animal in as their ability to cope with a new home is affected by poor sleep.
Just like us, if we have had a bad nights sleep, we less able to take in new information and adapt to a different situations. This is the same for our animals, whether we want our new cat to learn about the cat flap or settle quickly in their new home, or wanting our dog to learn the ‘sit’ and ‘wait’ quickly, we need to make sure they have had a good nights sleep.

So with research in mind here are a few handy hints to improve the sleeping patterns of your cat or dog, whether he or she is new into the home or not ...


A choice of bedding kept away from food bowls or litter trays
A variety of ‘hideaways’ (cardboard boxes are sufficient)
A variety of high up spaces for the cat to ‘hide’ and feel safer
Bed spaces that are large enough for stretching out
Warn spots (hot water bottles wrapped in fleece blankets or special ‘heat pads’)
Remember you will need the above per cat in the home.


Make sure the bed is large enough for the dog to lie flat out
Keep the bed in a quieter area of the home
Keep the bed away from radiators, fridges,freezers, washing machines as these can all disturb sleep cycles
If your dog isn’t using your bed, think about why this is happening; is it the location, bed type, disturbing objects that are interfering in your dogs sleep?

Remember at least 70% of behaviour problems are darastically decreased by improving our animals' sleep patterns! Happy dreaming!

Katie Bristow-Wade


Empson, J (2002) "Sleep and dreaming" Palgrave, Great Britain

Adams, G and Johnson, K (1993) "Sleep wake cycles and other night-time behaviours of the domestic dog Canis familiaris" Applied Animal Behavour Science, 36: 233-48

Simpson, H (2008) "Teach yourself dog" NAC Library, Carmarthen

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Mutually beneficial relationships

With the stresses and strains of everyday life more and more people are noticing the potential positive affects that animals can bring to adults and children alike.

As pet owners, we know that when we have had a bad day at the office, there is nothing better than being greeted by our animals. Whether we are riding our horses, walking the dog, or just cuddling up on the sofa with the cat, there is an increasing amount of research indicating the true value that our pets have on our health and well being.

There are various ways that animals can help people, and it is categorized in so many different ways - Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT ) , Animal Assisted Activity (AAA), Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI) .... the list goes on.Essentially, with all the above, the aim is to bring an animal into the world of an individual, where he/she becomes a fundamental part of a person's treatment. It is designed to improve the physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning of the patient, as well as provide education, build life skills, and develop motivation.

To give you an example, a child with autism may be finding it difficult to cope in a world as it can seem extremely unpredictable and therefore frightening at times. This often causes a child to breakdown (having what is often called a “tantrum” or “meltdown”.

Now, I could go on about the research involved in this area, how it is thought that dogs help children affected by autism, but as I have been involved in a project of this kind, I would rather mention the firsthand accounts as to how dogs provide comfort and reassurance, really changing the lives of these children and families so dramatically in such a short space of time.I have witnessed the transformation of a 12 year old girl affected by autism, very withdrawn, terrified of leaving the home, simply through the presence of a dog, she became more confident, learning how to care for the dog and understand its own potential fears, and overcame her own anxieties over time.

I have also experienced a boy of 7 years old talking for the first time, he first day that his puppy arrived at the home, that motivation to speak to a person that is non-judgment.This is wonderful, the building of positive relationships between person and animal for improved health and well being. Indeed, this is an area that is fast developing within the UK, and will increase in time.

However, it is vital that these relationships are positive for all involved, both the person and the animal. We do not want stressed animals - whether in the form of a horse who is fearful of people, a cat that is stressed being passed from pillar to post, or a dog that may snap at any moment. We want animals who are full of character, feel confident in themselves, and positive about the world.

So perhaps this area is not as simple as it sounds after all? It is not a matter of simply paring an animal with a person and hoping that it goes to plan, its about raising confident animals in positive environments, to build truly therapeutic relationships between people and animals for the future.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Vote now! Equine Social Media Awards 2011

Hi all

As some of you may already know, I have been nominated for the 2011 Equine Social Media Awards.

Voting is now open, and it's up to you guys to decide who wins. Click here to vote I am listed under 'Category 5'

Feel free to contact me directly if you have any queries at all.

Take care