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Where Do Pets Go When They Dream?
Date:6/25/2010

og or feline is dreaming by looking for these clues: whisker twitching, paw tremors, irregular breathing and -- in dogs -- occasional high-pitched yips.

But what do our pets dream about? Researchers believe they know the answer. Older studies, done decades ago in cats, involved temporarily releasing the suppression of motor activity that happens during REM sleep so they'd act out their dreams.

What researchers witnessed is sleepwalking cats doing things they'd normally do while awake -- walking, swatting their forepaws, even pouncing on imaginary prey.

Similar research showed the same held true for dogs.

"Pointers point at dream birds, and Dobermans growl at dream burglers," Coren said.

Those experiments were not a demonstration of actual dreaming, said MIT's Wilson, but do suggest that in REM sleep the brain is functioning the same way it behaves during normal wakefulness. As early as 2001, he decided to find out if animals did in fact dream by eavesdropping on the sleeping brain.

Wilson used electrodes to record the brain activity of rats as they ran a circular track and later as they slept. He discovered, by examining more than 40 REM episodes recorded while the rats slept, that the sleeping rodents often appeared to replay images of navigating the track in real time. About 50 percent of the episodes repeated the unique signature of brain activity created as the animal ran. In fact, because records of the neural signals in both the sleep and waking states were so similar, Wilson said he could reconstruct where the dreaming rats were on the track and whether they were standing still or running.

This human-like ability to dream about actual experiences almost certainly applies to pets, he said.

"My guess is -- unless there is something special about rats and humans -- that cats and dogs are doing exactly the same thing," he said.

In the scientific community, animals are often thought of as reflex machines, oper
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