Have you ever woken up startled and sweating from a nightmare in the middle of the night? We all have, haven’t we?
But have you ever witnessed your furry friends having a nightmare? Could dogs even have a nightmare? Yes, they can and they go through similar emotional stress as humans. How can you help them through these nightmares? In this post, we’ll address all these questions and more.
Are dogs capable of having dreams and nightmares?
It might come as a surprise to some, but a dog’s sleep cycle is not all that different from humans. Just like us, their sleep cycle is also divided into REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM sleep. And in the REM sleep phase, their brains also produce stories and images that make up dreams. Because the stories and images produced by the brain during sleep can be considered random at best, it is entirely possible for your furballs to have both good and bad dreams,. But can dogs tell good dreams from bad ones? Would you? Let’s find out!
Is your dog having a nightmare? Here’s how you can tell
Being able to tell when your pet is dreaming is an art all pet parents learn with time. However, when they’re going through a particularly bad dream, or a nightmare, the signs of distress are both common and visible.
The following signs indicate that your pet is having a nightmare:
Twitching eyes, whiskers, and paws
Whimpers, growls, barks
Sweatiness, particularly in their paws
If the nightmare is stressful or scary enough, you might even find them jerking awake all of a sudden, much like ourselves.
Helping them through the nightmare: Is waking them up a good idea?
When you do recognize what’s happening, you must have wondered, “Is there any way I can help?”? Fortunately, there are. The first and most important rule is not to wake them up; doing so will only startle them and could even lead to them snapping or biting you. Whenever you find them in a nightmare, do absolutely nothing for a couple of minutes because most nightmares are brief and would end before that. However, if they’re still struggling afterward, you can wake them to end their misery, but not with your hands. Try to call out their name softly, slowly growing louder if need be. If they seem startled even after waking up, which is quite normal, play soft music in the background to calm them down. After they’ve been awake for a while, you can stroke or pet them gently to put them back to sleep.
Preventing nightmares in dogs: tips and tricks
In all honesty, there’s no absolute method you can use to prevent nightmares in your dog. Much like our own nightmares, they’re a product of their subconscious mind and, thus, can’t be controlled. That being said, there are some activities that soothe them right before and while sleeping, thereby decreasing the chances of a nightmare. These include diffusing essential oils (lavender, cedarwood, and bergamot) in their sleeping spot and playing soft tunes to help them sleep calmly. In some cases, these nightmares are the consequence of a tiresome or dreadful experience throughout their day, such as a trip to the dog spa or falling into the pool. When such a thing happens, spend some quality time with them before bedtime so that they’re calm and content when they sleep. On the off chance that your pet’s nightmares have been consistent, it points towards a possible trauma, and you must consult your vet about it. Nightmares might not be a serious problem among dogs. Or it could be a REM sleep disorder. Whichever it is, with the right knowledge, you can make sleeping the relaxing activity that it is, for them.