Sometimes my patients ask if animals dream or have sleep disorders like them. The answer is yes! Just watch a sleeping dog for a few minutes and you will see their eyes moving from side to side, just as human’s do during REM sleep.
Dogs and cats have many of the same sleep disorders as humans including sleep terrors, nocturnal seizures, narcolepsy, cataplexy and limb movements.1
Narcolepsy is known to occur more frequently in certain breeds of dogs, including Doberman pinschers, poodles, Labrador retrievers, beagles and dachshunds. Horses can also be affected. This disorder is usually inherited from the parents. Animals with narcolepsy also tend to have cataplexy when they are excited, for example when the feeding bowl arrives. It is treated much as it is in humans, with stimulants and anti-depressants.
It appears that most mammals and birds have REM sleep. It is questionable as to whether reptiles have REM sleep based on one study with turtles.2 Brain structures are different than in mammals and birds, so it is difficult to say absolutely.
You may be wondering, which mammal has the most REM sleep per day. The platypus ranks number first, getting about eight hours of REM sleep.3 The ferret, armadillo and possum also have high amounts of REM sleep daily. The giraffe and horse have the least at about 0.5 hours.
I hope you’ve found this information fun and interesting. The next time a patient complains of sleep difficulties, tell them they are not alone. They have only to look around their home to see how sleep affects their pets.
Sharon M. O’Brien, MPAS, PA-C, works at Presbyterian Sleep Health in Charlotte, N.C. Her main interest is helping patients understand the importance of sleep hygiene and the impact of sleep on health.
- Schenck, Carlos. Sleep: A Groundbreaking Guide to the Mysteries, the Problems, and the Solutions. New York: Penguin Group. 2007. pp. 258-263.
- Zepelin, Harold. Siegel, Jerome. Tobler, Irene. Chapter 8. “Mammalian Sleep”. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine Fourth Edition Philadelphia: Elsevier Saunders, 2005. pp. 91-100.
- Siegel, Jerome. Chapter 10. “REM Sleep”. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine Fourth Edition Philadelphia: Elsevier Saunders, 2005. pp. 120-135.