- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Wondering if your cat dreams during all those hours of cat naps? We asked a panel of cat-loving experts and they agree—cats dream when sleeping. Like other mammals similar in brain structure and activity, your cat goes deep into REM sleep cycles. It’s during these short cycles that your cat might twitch and chatter their way through kitty dreamland. Signs your cat is dreaming include snoring, twitching, or your cat sleeping in a funny position.
What do cats dream about? Mikel Delgado, a cat behavior consultant and postdoctoral fellow at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, has a guess. Here’s everything you want to know about what your kitty dreams about and if their dreams could be causing those silly little twitches.
How Do We Know Cats Dream?
There are two types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. Most dreaming occurs during REM sleep, a phase of random and quick movements of the eyes under closed eyelids. Dreams that occur during REM sleep are usually detailed, long, and sometimes imaginative.
“We see patterns of brain activity including low-amplitude, high-frequency patterns and physical behaviors that suggest cats are in what is called paradoxical sleep, or REM sleep.” This, Delgado says, suggests that cats are capable of dreaming.
Considering the hours they spend snoozing, you might expect your cat to have many more dreams than us humans. Maybe, but not all catnaps lead to restful sleep. “Unlike humans, cats are always ready to attack prey or defend themselves against a larger predator,” Delgado says. Your cat might appear to be asleep but they’re merely enjoying one of many rest periods.
What Do Cats Dream About?
Dreaming is an important tool for the human brain. Dreams allow us to process information, form memories, and understand new experiences. Delgado says the science isn’t there for us to know if dreams provide the same benefits for cats. But, she adds, it’s a likely guess that dreams play a similarly important function for our feline friends.
Do Cats Dream About Their Pet Parents?
If the thought of starring in your cat’s dreams makes your heart melt, Delgado has some good news. “I would assume that cats dream about their experiences in their daily lives, and that would likely include the humans or other animals they live with.” But, like us, if cats are capable of dreaming about the good stuff in life, they likely can experience nightmares too.
Do Cats Dream In Color?
While we can’t know for sure, it’s safe to assume that when cats dream, they do so in color. However, cats don’t see color the same way as we do. Since they are colorblind, cats only see shades of blue, gray, green, and yellow. Given this information, it’s likely cats only dream in variations of those four colors.
4 Reasons For Cat Twitching In Sleep
Do your cat’s paws bat clumsily at invisible toys while asleep? During REM sleep, a cat might twitch, show paw movements, or move her mouth as though nursing or grooming. But why exactly does this happen and could twitching during sleep be a sign of something more? Here’s what the experts have to say.
Thankfully for us and our cats, the brain restricts the movement of the body during REM sleep. “Like us, cats appear to experience cycles of paradoxical sleep, where there is a loss of muscle tone, preventing us and cats from moving much,” Delgado explains. As much as your cat can dream about climbing the curtains, their brain only allows so much as a little paw to twitch here and there.
2. Muscle Spasms
Scientists know that REM cycles are shorter for cats than for their human counterparts. What role do these short cycles play in movement during sleep—scientists can’t say for sure.
What we do know is like humans, cats can experience hypnic jerks when entering the sleep phase. Aka that weird, sudden muscle spasm that some call a “sleep start”. These spasms are common in humans and aren’t known to be an indication of underlying health conditions. Scientists say the spasm is likely a last jolt before your brain switches into sleep mode for the night. Likewise, the American Veterinary Medical Association confirms these spasms can occur in otherwise healthy cats—although less commonly reported than in humans.
3. Allergies or Irritants
Although uncommon, twitching could be due to physical discomfort says Dr. Gary Richter, Rover’s resident veterinarian on The Dog People Panel. If your cat has a history of skin allergies, fleas, or another skin irritant, they may attempt to scratch in their sleep. But, Dr. Richter says, it would be more common for your kitty to wake and scratch or reposition.
“Seizures can look like a lot of things,” Dr. Richter says. “The “traditional” seizure is exactly what you might expect—muscle contractions and convulsing.” In this scenario, the entire body would contract, typically with the head cocking back and involuntary urination, defecation, or drooling.
But, Dr. Richter adds, “seizures can manifest as muscle twitches or even just episodes of being “zoned out” for a few minutes.” Like seizures in dogs, you can recognize a seizure from normal sleep twitches in a few ways:
- A change in behavior before a seizure including nervousness and/or confusion
- Shivering or stiffness of the body
- A loss of wakefulness or change in mental awareness
- Excess drooling
- Falling to one side
Lastly, Dr. Richter says a seizure typically lasts two to three minutes. During this time, remain calm and write down all observations during the suspected seizure, including start and stop times. Call your vet immediately, scheduling an appointment to rule out poisoning, trauma, or another underlying health condition.
Should I Wake Up A Sleeping Cat?
One of your cat’s favorite activities is getting a lot of sleep; in fact, cats need, on average, 15-20 hours of sleep per day. Given the importance of good sleep for your cat, you’ll want to avoid waking them up while their in the REM part of their sleep cycle. Disturbing a cat during their REM cycle can cause them to wake up irritable or still tired.
Scientists are certain that observed brain activity and physical twitches are signs that cats dream. Until we teach our felines to keep a dream journal, we may never know what they dream about. But for me, the thought of my cats chasing mice, cuddling me, or giving themselves a luxurious bath is enough to make me feel all warm and fuzzy.
Like you and me, your cat might experience normal, dream-induced twitching. Unless your cat shows signs of other unusual behavior, a twitch now and again shouldn’t cause alarm. It’s likely just their brain reducing their couch-claw-sharpening dream to a mere paw twitch.
If your cat frequents dreamland, you can sleep well knowing you’ve provided your cat with a safe and comfortable home. But, if you’re looking for ways to up her good dreams, we might suggest one of these cozy cat beds.