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