All is quiet on the home front, and all of a sudden, you hear some terrifying meowing from your cat. It wakes up and comes running to you for comfort, all while trembling. Did your cat just have a nightmare, and how can you tell?
You can tell if your cat is having a nightmare if they’re twitchy while awake and skittish when it’s noisy. Scientists think cats dream like humans, so it’s entirely possible that cats have nightmares. It’s best to let cats sleep during them, as waking them can negatively impact their health.
A lot about cat sleep behavior is conjecture. Even so, we’re going to discuss what the experts think is going on in your dozing kitty’s brain and how you can tell if they have a bad dream.
Can You Tell if Your Cat Is Having a Nightmare?
A possible indicator of a cat’s nightmares is skittishness at abrupt noises and twitchy, seemingly uncomfortable behavior. A cat may also become noticeably jumpy at the sight of small scurrying animals as well. Twitching while asleep may be a sign of night terrors, but it could also be a typical sleep movement.
You can tell if your cat is having a nightmare while they are awake. Jumpiness, twitchiness while awake, and a seeming fear of small scurrying animals are potential signs that your cat is having nightmares. Twitching while asleep, however, could just be signs of REM sleep.
One thing that we do know cats can suffer from is separation anxiety. An anxious cat may take to clawing at furniture and compulsive grooming. The latter can get so bad that they may suffer from bald patches.
Other indicators of anxiety are:
- Weight and appetite changes
- Increased lethargy
- Excessive meowing
- Not using the litter box.
You can watch this video for tips to help you with your cat’s separation anxiety while you’re away from home:
So now that you have some ideas on what could be nightmares or anxiety, are there any other tells that could indicate either? What about sleep twitching? Does that mean a cat is having nightmares?
Well, it’s possible that sleep twitching could be a sign of nightmares, but it’s more likely just REM sleep.
Like humans, cats move about during REM sleep, but this is just a result of signals being fired off to the brain while they dream. Their bodies twitch, and their eyes rapidly move behind their eyelids, so there’s a lot of physicalities happening.
A cat’s ears may swivel, and you might hear squeaking noises as well. Even with all the movement, cats experience atonia (lack of muscle tone) during REM sleep.
Cats and Seizures
Plenty of cat owners have expressed concern that all the twitching is a sign of seizures. I won’t say that sleep twitching isn’t a sign of episodes, as that would be irresponsible, but it’s not likely.
Truthfully, it’s not likely that your cat will ever suffer a convulsion of some kind, but seizing is more common in dogs. Trauma, tumors, infections, or low blood sugar are a few things that can cause feline seizures.
Signs that a cat might be having a seizure are:
- Excessive drooling
- Sudden bursts of activity
- Facial twitching
- Loss of muscle control
- Loss of consciousness
You can read this article for more information about feline seizures and what you can do in the event of one.
Let Your Cat Ride the Nightmare Out
Cats need sleep so that they can hunt and heal effectively.
If you wake your cat, especially from REM sleep, they can become easily irritated and lethargic. Kittens specifically need to be allowed to rest. When kittens sleep, they build their bones and muscles, so waking them should be avoided unless it’s an emergency.
It may sound cruel, but it’s probably best to let your cat sleep through the nightmare. If your cat wakes, you can comfort them, but letting them sleep would be healthier in the long run.
Do Cats Dream?
Scientists have discovered that cats experience Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep just like humans do. Also, just like humans, that’s probably where most dreams happen for felines. Kittens experience less REM sleep as they get older, so you can expect to see less movement while they slumber.
Cats do dream, and their dreams are similar to humans, as they dream about what they’ve experienced through the day. Although cats experience REM sleep, it occurs less as they become older. A cat will sleep up to 18 hours every day so it can conserve energy for hunting.
Cats sleep a lot. A cat will sleep for about ⅔ of its entire life and will sleep for approximately 16 to 18 hours a day. Although it’s not strictly required anymore, cats still have the instinct to hunt for their food, so they sleep to conserve energy to catch their meals.
A human and cat’s hippocampus, which is part of the brain that controls memory and learning, is structured similarly. Mammal hippocampus’ all work much the same where they consolidate memory and allow the mind to process what it’s learned during the sleep cycle.
Cats and Nightmares
No one is entirely sure if cats can have nightmares.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that says they’re capable, but it hasn’t been strictly proven if cats have bad dreams. Animals can be traumatized by horrific events like humans can, so it seems reasonable to assume that cats can have nightmares.
The fact, though, is that there’s no concrete way to tell if your cat has terrible dreams – at least while awake. Twitching while asleep is said to be a tell of nightmares, but as I’ll explain in a bit, movement during sleep can be incredibly misleading.
Reasons Cats Sleep So Much
Cats are crepuscular, so they are most active during dusk and dawn, which means that they’re not typically awake outside of twilight hours. When a kitten is born, it’ll sleep for almost 24 hours a day which lessens to approximately 18 hours when they’re older.
Once a cat is mature, the crepuscular sleep pattern becomes more apparent. House cats arrange their sleep schedule to spend time with people they like or eat, but sleeping all day is a holdover from primal big cat behavior.
Big wild cats spend plenty hunting and need rest so they can replenish it.
Cats also sleep a lot so they can keep cool in hot environments. Sleep is a defense mechanism against heat that allows them to conserve energy. Felines can regulate their body temperature while they rest.
They also sleep so much simply because they like sleeping.
Reasons Cats May Sleep Less
If your cat is around plenty of light, whether natural or artificial, they won’t sleep as much as cats usually do. Playing with your cat often may reduce their sleep activity, and feeding them less can result in less sleep.
Less food can result in irregular sleep patterns, though, so you have to be careful when reducing a cat’s food.
While it’s not precisely known if cats can have night terrors, we do know that they have REM sleep, so they can dream as humans can. A cat’s REM cycle is when their minds review the day’s events.
If your cat’s having a nightmare, a few tells are twitchy, uncomfortable behavior, and skittishness around loud noises.
However, it may also be that your cat either has separation anxiety or, less likely, is having a seizure. Signs of stress include lethargy, not using the litter box, and loud, excessive meowing. Symptoms of a seizure are excessive drooling and aggressiveness.
- Daily Paws: What Causes Cat Seizures (and How to Help Your Kitty)
- Cleveland Clinic: Sleep Basics
- Wikipedia: Crepuscular Animal
- Modkat: Do cats dream?
- The Dog People: Do Cats Dream? What Your Kitty’s Really Doing When They Sleep Meow
- Treehugger: What Do Cats Dream About?
- Animal Friends UK: Is It Bad to Move a Cat While It Is Asleep?
- Oakland Veterinary Referral Service: An Age-Old Mystery: Why Do Cats Sleep So Much?
- Modkat: How much do cats sleep, and how many hours of sleep do they really need?
- Mercury News: What’s Giving a Pacheco Cat Nightmares?
- Purina UK: Can Cats Dream?
- Science Direct: Sleep Related Movement Disorders (SRMD) and Parasomnias
- Purina UK: How to Spot and Treat Cat Anxiety
- Petful: Relax, Your Cat Is Probably Not Sleeping “Too Much” (Here’s Why)
- International Cat Care: Seizures/epilepsy in cats
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.