Do Cats Dream? Feline Sleep And Dreaming Explained

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Do Cats Dream

We all know that people dream, but how about our cute feline friends? Our dear cats just love to nap. In fact, they sleep 12-16 hours a day.

But what happens to them once they fall asleep? Sometimes, we see our cat’s paws and whiskers twitch, and at times they even purr. Do cats dream?

Dreaming is universal – for humans at least. However, confirming if cats (and other mammals) dream is a bit tricky. Since they can’t tell us if they actually dreamt of something like humans do, we don’t know for sure. 

Then again, there’s a good chance that animals (dogs and cats included) do dream, and we’re here to reveal the whats, whys, and whatnots behind cats and dreaming. 

Dreaming: What It’s All About

Once the body shuts down, the subconscious kicks in, and the mind starts to go haywire. And it is at this time that dreams appear.

A dream can elicit different emotions – from happiness and excitement to fear, sadness, and anger. It can also stimulate our creativity and improve our problem-solving skills.

What Are Dreams? 

According to Sleep Foundation, dreams are images, which is often visual but can also involve all the other senses (think taste, sound, and smell). 

Sleep & Dreaming

Like food and water, sleep is also a basic human need. This natural state of reduced consciousness and voluntary muscular activity helps us energize our bodies, recharge our minds, repair our body systems, and keep our bodies healthy.

When we sleep, our bodies often go through two types of sleep, namely:

Non-Rapid Eye Movement (non-REM sleep). This type of sleep is composed of three stages. People under the higher stages of non-REM sleep are harder to wake up. These stages include “dozing off” and deep sleep.

Rapid Eye Movement (REM sleep). This type of sleep is characterized by the rapid movement of the sleeper’s eyes. During this stage, the person sleeping experiences heightened brain activity. 

Interestingly, while the eyes show tons of activity, body movement is shut off. Also known as atonia, our muscles undergo temporary paralysis during this stage. This momentary loss of muscle strength has its use – it helps us to prevent acting out our dreams. 

When Do Dreams Kick In & Why Does It Happen? 

Dreaming occurs at any stage during sleep, but dreams during REM sleep tend to be longer, more detailed, and vivid. 

But why do we even dream? Experts have a couple of theories on why this happens, and here are some:

  • It’s nothing but a simple brain activity.
  • Dreaming helps us form memories.
  • It helps us manage and process emotions.
  • Dreams allow us to process experiences by enabling us to rewind and replay recent life events.
Do Cats Dream? Feline Sleep And Dreaming Explained 1

Do Cats Dream?

Now, what happens to cats when they hit the snooze button? Does a sleeping cat wander off to dreamland during its cat nap? 

Cats are nocturnal creatures. This is precisely why you’ll often see your cat sleeping during your waking hours. And just like human babies, young animals spend more time sleeping than older ones.

Experts are nearly convinced that cats dream the same way humans do. The same goes for other animals like dogs, birds, and rats. And here are a few good reasons why:

  • According to Professor of Veterinary Medicine Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a human’s and a cat’s brain show similar behavioral and physiological characteristics when dreaming. 
  • To back this up, Clinical Psychologist John Cline writes about cats having low voltage EEG or electrical activity in the brain and loss of muscle tone while in their REM sleep. And like humans, a cat’s eyes also twitch behind their closed eyelids.
  • MIT professor Matthew Wilson and biology graduate Kenway Louie’s experiment shows significant similarities between a rat’s brain activity while asleep and their brain activity while awake.

So, do felines dream? Most likely. What we do know, though, is that cats experience REM sleep. Cats go through REM sleep three times more often than people do.

Cat Dreams: What They’re Like

Since there’s a great chance that cat dreams when they are asleep, you probably want to know what they’re dreaming about. And you know what? Most likely, cats are also forming memories. In other words, your cat might also be replaying the events that happened to them.

So, if you find your furry friends’ paws are twitching and their eyes are moving like crazy, it’s safe to assume that your cat is also dreaming. 

And since domesticated cats sleep without having to worry about dinner, work, and laundry, they’re most likely dreaming about their next hunt (not like the type of hunt they do in the wild). If not, they’re possibly dreaming about the relaxing massages you give them every now and then. 

Do Cats Have Bad Dreams?

Unfortunately, yes. Since cats dream about certain life events, they can also have stressful, traumatizing nightmares. 

Like humans, an animal also tends to process emotions (including fear and stress) through their dream after a stressful situation. 

Is Your Cat Having A Bad Dream? What To Do

If your cat looks distressed while sleeping, should you wake them up?

Older cats with ailments often have bad dreams. And since stressful events can also trigger nightmares, you can expect cats who have gone through a traumatic experience to have the same. However, as much as you want to comfort them, it’s better to withhold the urge.

Waking them up while sleeping is a bad idea because you might just end up having scratches or bites. The best course of action is to just let them sleep and give them the comfort they need once they’re awake. Sleep, after all, helps them quickly restore any lost energy. 

Do Cats Dream? Feline Sleep And Dreaming Explained 2

Cat Sleep Disorders

Yes, you read it right. Cats can also have trouble falling asleep, and they also experience problems while sleeping. Here are a few:

Sleep Deprivation. Both humans and animals can be sleep-deprived. And when they are, the lack of sleep can affect the mood of your kitty. It can also have a negative effect on their cognitive ability and health in general.

Sleep Apnea. One reason why your kitty friend is sleep-deprived is sleep apnea. Apart from affecting your cat’s breathing, this condition can also set your cat’s nervous system on high alert while asleep.

Sleepwalking. Yes, cats sleepwalk, but this rarely happens. If you know of any furry friends who have this, it’s best to take them to the vet. This condition CAN mean that the cat has a brain injury.

Final Verdict

Do cats dream? Presumably, yes, and most dreaming happens during REM sleep. So, if you see your cat twitching, most likely, your cat has a dream.

Sleep, like food, is necessary for survival. So, don’t keep them awake when it’s time for their nap. Like humans, cats are happier when they get enough sleep.

Should you wake a dreaming cat?

If your cat is in REM stage, you probably want to let them sleep to allow them to restore their body's immunity. Kittens especially need sleep to allow them to build their bones and muscles – so avoid waking them at all if possible.

Do cats have dreams and nightmares?

Cats spend a good portion of their day asleep, so it's no wonder they have a lot of dreams and, occasionally, nightmares. We know, thanks to researchers who do find the oddest, most fascinating things to research, that most animals dream.

Should I pet my cat while sleeping?

Petting a sleeping cat has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety, depression, and stress. Strengthens the bond – Cats who sleep with their humans are closer to them. This comfortable snuggle helps them feel more trust and safety with their owners.

Why does my cat whimper in his sleep?

During this type of sleep the kitten will kick, jerk, move her legs, tail, torso, head, and she may cry or whimper. These motions help her develop muscle strength as she's sleeping. This type of sleep is healthy and common in kittens but gradually fades away as the kitten matures.

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