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Can Cats Have Nightmares or Bad Dreams?

You’ve likely been relaxing on the couch or maybe using your laptop on the sofa with your cat lying beside you, sleeping comfortably. Suddenly, your cat’s leg starts twitching, then the other legs jump in. You can see your cat’s face is twitching as well, and you’re wondering what exactly is going on with your cat! Is something wrong? Should you be worried? Is your cat having a nightmare?

This is actually a rather common phenomenon that almost all pet owners experience, not just cat owners. Thankfully, your feline friend is just fine, and there’s no cause for worry when you see this behavior. It’s just your cat dreaming! And sometimes, just like for humans, those dreams are the opposite of cheery and joyful. Yes, it’s believed that even cats can have nightmares and bad dreams.cat face divider 2

How Do We Know Cats Can Dream?

Researchers are always looking for the next interesting thing to study, and it turns out that cat dreams have been studied for a long time. The study that first introduced us to the reality of cat dreams was performed way back in the early 1960s by Michel Jouvet. He determined that cats enter a dreamland state that’s quite similar to humans, and it happens when they’re in the REM stage of sleep.

cat sleeping
Image by KatinkavomWolfenmond from Pixabay

Signs Your Cat is Dreaming

If you believe your cat is dreaming, you should avoid waking them up. Your cat could wake up in a startled and confused state, which may lead them to bite or scratch you before they’re fully aware of their reaction. But how can you know when your cat is dreaming?

The following signs while your cat is sleeping can all indicate that your cat is currently in a dream or nightmare:
  • Thumping tail
  • Rapid breathing
  • Crying or making other vocal noises
  • Limbs twitching
  • Twitching of the face
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Mammals and REM Sleep

All mammals enter REM sleep, and it tends to be when they dream. The more time a mammal spends in REM sleep, the more likely they are to dream. That is because the brain acts very similarly during REM sleep as it does when it’s awake. However, you don’t usually move because your body is in a paralyzed state during this stage of sleep.

Though humans get a lot of REM sleep, many animals get more than we do. Platypuses, for instance, get more sleep than any other animal! They often spend as much as 8 hours each day in REM sleep.

Cats are, of course, mammals as well. They can enter REM sleep easier even than we can.

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Image by: Cat sleeping by photochur, Pixabay

What Do Cats Dream About?

Humans dream about all sorts of things, and dreams can often seem like random assortments of events with no real plot. But what do cats dream about? It’s a question that many cat owners consider, especially when they see their cat twitching and crying out in a dream.

Researchers have provided us with a window into the mind of cats during dreams. Once again, it’s Michel Jouvet we have to thank for this knowledge, but it wasn’t easy to come across. During his research, they removed part of the brainstem on the cats they were testing. This part of the brainstem prevented them from moving while in a dream. With it removed, the cats’ bodies would move while they were still asleep, allowing Jouvet’s team to determine what they were dreaming about.

It turns out that cats usually dream about hunting. The cats would often be stalking prey in their dreams, pouncing when they had it cornered.

Do Cats Have Bad Dreams?

While we know that cats can dream, we aren’t as positive about bad dreams and nightmares. Still, the anecdotal evidence definitely points to a yes. Many times, when cats awake from particularly active dreams where they were moving around a lot in the real world, they wake with wide eyes and terrified expressions, leading many to conclude that they were experiencing a nightmare.

But what would a cat have nightmares about? It’s hypothesized that they could be dreaming of falling after missing a leap to a piece of furniture, perhaps even reliving a time that truly happened. This doesn’t seem so different from what humans have nightmares about. Falling is one of the most common nightmares that humans experience.

Cats could also have bad dreams about their owner leaving and experiencing separation anxiety. They could also be having dream memories about a stressful time in their life, such as a time when they were on the street or when they were injured.

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Conclusion

You’ll probably never be able to understand your cat’s thoughts from their point of view. Still, we can speculate on what cats are dreaming about, thanks to the extensive work done by scientific researchers on the subject. When your cat is sleeping but still twitching, kicking, crying, or displaying other strange symptoms, it’s likely that your cat is just dreaming, so don’t wake them up, because they might scratch you or bite you, and it will be your own fault!

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Featured image credit: Roy Buri, Pixabay

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