Any owner of a feline friend will know that cats sleep. A lot. You’ve probably seen your cat twitching in its sleep and perhaps even making noises whilst it’s dozing.
With that in mind, it seems perfectly reasonable to wonder whether cats have dreams and nightmares just like we do. So what exactly is going on?
The good news is that it’s nothing to be worried about. Almost all cat owners will have observed their cat ‘fitting’ whilst asleep.In fact, almost all pet owners will have seen their animals do something similar.
Speaking as a dog owner, I’ve seen my dog twitching and even yapping in his sleep more times than I can remember.
The answer is that yes, of course, your cat is dreaming. Like human beings, it’s thought that cats can have pleasant dreams as well as bad dreams and nightmares.
In this article we’ll discuss what might be going on inside the mind of your furry friend as they sleep.
How Do We Know Cats Dream?
Cats certainly have a lot of opportunities to dream. Kittens sleep on average for about 20 hours a day, whilst even fully grown felines rack up an average of 16 hours a day asleep. But how do we know they dream?
Well, most animals dream, and cats are no exception. Research done in the early 1960s by Michel Jouvet found that cats experience REM sleep just like humans do.
Jouvet demonstrated that all the characteristics of REM sleep in humans were also present in cats; rapid eye movement, a relaxed muscle state, and low voltage electrical activity in the brain.
As REM sleep is when human beings do most of their dreaming, it’s likely that cats also find themselves in dreamland whilst having a nap.
It is thought, however, that a cat’s propensity to dream decreases as it gets older.
It’s not known exactly why, but it’s thought that since kittens have a lot of learning to do, they will therefore have a lot of information to process, some of which will happen whilst asleep.
What Do Cats Dream About?
We all know that human dreams can be pretty random, often seemingly without any coherent narrative tying any of them together. But what do cats dream about?
Researchers have shown that cats tend to move their heads during REM sleep in a way reminiscent of watching or following something.
That makes it likely that your cat is dreaming about one of their favorite things in the whole world when they have a snooze- hunting!
There is also evidence to suggest that cats dream about things that cats dream about past events, in much the same way as dogs do.
They may dream about something that happened that day, or something that may have occurred much longer ago.
For example, a cat might dream about cuddling up with you on the sofa, or they might recollect meeting the neighbor’s cat while they’re asleep.
Do Cats Have Nightmares?
There’s no cast-iron evidence that cats are prone to nightmares, but it is thought to be highly likely.
Any creature that has the capacity to dream is likely to have bad dreams. Anecdotally, many cat owners will tell you that they suspect their cat has occasional nightmares.
For example, some cat owners have reported that their cats will suddenly jolt awake from sleep with their eyes wide open, as if terrified.
Noticeable signs of distress upon waking seem like a good sign your cat was having a bad dream.
Cat nightmares seem likely to be your cat reliving unpleasant experiences, such as a bad run-in with a dog or neighboring cat.
They may also have nightmares about separation anxiety, or even falling. After all, falling is one of the most common nightmares among humans, and often jolts people awake.
Signs Your Cat Is Dreaming Or Having A Nightmare
The saying has always been ‘let sleeping dogs lie’, but you should avoid waking your cat up, too. That is particularly true if you believe your cat is having a nightmare or dream.
They’ll wake up in a confused and startled state, and may be likely to lash out at you with their teeth or claws before they’ve even realized what they’ve done.
But how can you tell if your cat is dreaming or having a nightmare? The following signs can all help to give you an idea:
Dream Or Nightmare?
Unfortunately, there’s no foolproof way to judge whether your cat is having a nightmare as opposed to a regular dream.
Having said that, you can occasionally get a sense of when your cat is having a nightmare.
From time to time, your cat will seem distressed whilst it is asleep, and may cry out or twitch more violently than usual.
You know your cat better than anyone, so if a dream seems particularly vigorous or out of the ordinary, there is a good chance that your cat is having a nightmare.
Cats have nightmares because like us, cats do not only have positive experiences in their lives.
They also have traumatic experiences and bad memories, and these are often processed by your cat whilst they are asleep.
What Should I Do If I Think My Cat Is Having A Nightmare?
As we said previously, do not wake your cat if you can avoid it.
The shock of being awoken in the middle of a nightmare might even be enough to induce cardiac arrest in older cats. Instead, keep an eye on them to make sure they do not hurt themselves whilst twitching.
You can also reassure your cat even whilst they are asleep, as during REM sleep external stimuli may still register.
Try saying their name gently, or putting something with a familiar scent within smelling distance.
Like humans, cats can dream, and if they can dream they almost certainly have nightmares.
If your cat is twitching or seems to be in distress whilst it’s asleep, don’t worry- it’s not a seizure! It’s probably just a bad dream.
At Love4Cats, our practice involves consistent collaboration with licensed veterinarians and reputable industry experts. However, it's important to note that the content provided on Excited Cats is not intended as veterinary advice. While we strive to enhance your understanding of feline care, the information presented on this blog should not replace professional veterinary guidance.