Do dogs have nightmares?

Mister Winston, an Old English Sheepdog from Valparaiso,

Mister Winston, an Old English Sheepdog from Valparaiso, Ind., competes at the 103rd Detroit Kennel Club Dog Show. (March 1, 2009) Photo Credit: AP

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Q: My Old English sheepdog seems to have horrible nightmares. He whines and twitches and jerks his legs, and yet he never wakes up while all this is going on. When he does wake up, he is happy and acts as if he had the most relaxing sleep in the world. Should I wake him up while he is having these nightmares or just leave him alone? --Eve Cohen, Lawrence

A: Science has proved that many species of animals experience REM sleep -- that is, the stage in sleep when dreams occur. In my lifetime of watching animals sleep -- a boring job at best -- I have noticed dogs doing more in REM sleep than just moving their eyes under closed lids. I have never seen a cat or a bird or any other animal carry on the way some dogs do.

The issue here is, what are they dreaming about? Is it really a nightmare? My dogs are all happy and adjusted and, even when something happens to them that may be a disappointment, such as a squirrel they are chasing gets to a tree in the nick of time, they just shrug it off and look for something else to do. Even after they experience something fearful, such as going to the vet, it seems to have no lasting impact -- so what could they possibly be having nightmares about when they have such an easy life?

We do not have to know everything that goes on in the world. My suggestion is to let sleeping dogs lie.

Q: I have had a 20-gallon aquarium now for the last year, and the same fish have lived in it all this time. I have two gourami and four giant danios. I just bought two small red parrot fish from a pet store and they died after they were in my tank for only an hour. The pet store was not very nice about the situation and said they would not replace the fish unless I brought in some water to be tested. My question to you is, how can my water be bad when my six fish have lived in it for a year now? --Skip Jones, Uniondale

A: First of all, you have to understand that you did not buy these fish from a shady character in some dark alley who handed them to you in a brown paper bag. You saw all the fish in the pet store tank that the parrot fish were in. You pointed to the two you wanted, and those are the fish you took home. There was obviously nothing visibly wrong with the fish, or you would not have chosen them. So, since the fish died so quickly when put into your water, the change from one environment to the other is what most likely killed them.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

In any aquarium, the pH of the water will naturally drop and get lower over time. If the pH of an aquarium gets too low, the water will kill certain fish. That is why acid rain is so harmful to some native fish in lakes and ponds. If the drop in pH is gradual, then certain hearty fish that are living in the water will acclimate to it and live just fine -- just as your six fish have done. However, a fish living in a neutral pH will die very quickly when put into this water, and this may have been the case here.

You will not have the answers until you get the water in your tank tested.

Q:  My cat loves to eat my ferns and other house plants. However, they make him sick. A few hours after he eats the leaves, he vomits. I know cats are carnivores -- so why does he eat the green leaves, even though they make him sick? Is there anything I can spray on the plants that will keep the cat away from them? --Gail Draper, Huntington

A: Plants are just another item on the list of odd things cats like to eat, such as plastic, paper and wool. They are eating them only because they like the texture of the leaves and not because of any nutritional need. They cannot digest the leaves and, if the pieces the cat swallowed are too large to come out in the litter box, then the cat vomits them up. Some people think cats eat the leaves because they feel sick and want to vomit, but cats really do not need much help at all in regurgitating things.

Since some house plants are toxic to cats and eating the leaves is not really good for the cats or the plants, I have tried different pepper and garlic sprays to deter them. I've had little success with that.

Get the scoop on events, nightlife, day trips, family fun and things to do on Long Island.

Now what I do is plant pots with rye grass seed, and I leave them all over the house. The cats seem to prefer to eat the grass over any of my other plants. Since the blades of grass are small and soft, they pass right through the cat into the litter box and the vomiting issue is not a concern anymore.

You can get rye grass seed at any garden center. It sprouts in about three days and is tall enough to attract the cats in a week or so.

Get the scoop on events, nightlife, day trips, family fun and things to do on Long Island.

Comments now uses Facebook for our comment boards. Please read our guidelines and connect your Facebook account to comment.

You also may be interested in:

More coverage

Bulldog Rosie splashes along the Long Beach, Calif., Pet health