Pin It

What Do Animals Dream About?

Have you ever wondered what goes on inside an animal’s mind while it’s asleep? Well, you’re not alone―and the answers may surprise you.

In 2001, one of the first definitive studies to explore what animals dream about was published by a team of MIT researchers in the scientific journal, Neuron. By studying “firing patterns” in neurons located in the hippocampus (the brain’s memory center), the researchers were able to determine that rats, and by extension, other mammal species, have dreams that are linked to real-world experiences just like humans. “No one knew for certain that animals dreamed the way we do, which can involve replaying events or at least components of events that occurred while we were awake,” said Matthew Wilson, an associate professor for MIT’s Center for Learning and Memory.

During the course of the study, rats were trained to navigate a maze in order to find food. The researchers studied each animal; roughly half of the test subjects displayed the same unique brain activity while sleeping as they did during their time in the maze. This suggests that the rats were dreaming about events that occurred during the previous day.

Here’s where things get a little freaky: in 2012, i09 reported that Wilson and his team (no doubt inspired by the film Inception) were able to successfully control what the rats were actually dreaming about. The researchers used two specific sound cues to tell the rats where their food was located, namely to the left or right of their present location. Then, when the test subjects were napping, the scientists would play these audio cues once again. Not only did the rats display the same brain activity while sleeping as they did when navigating the maze, but the sounds prompted the rats to dream about the area of the maze related to the audio cue.

Other studies have explored the dream habits of different animal species. Dr. Stanley Coren, author of How Dogs Think: Understanding the Canine Mind, notes that the nature and duration of a pooch’s dreams will depend on its breed. “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,” he notes in the book. Amish S. Dave and Daniel Margoliash, a pair of neuroscientists from the University of Chicago, studied the dreams of non-mammals (zebra finches, to be exact) and came to the same conclusion. In fact, they found that the birds recorded the same brain activity while sleeping as when they were singing to attract a mate. The logical conclusion here is that zebra finches, and possibly other birds, have somewhat sexy dreams.

So next time you catch your dog or cat taking a nap, consider this: rather than a milk bone the size of a Cadillac or a pyramid of catnip, chances are your pet is dreaming about something it encountered within the last 24 hours.

like downlinens