Adult cats can spend up to 18 hours a day asleep, a fact that takes the term “cat nap” to a whole new level. With so much time spent sleeping, it begs the question — do cats dream? If so, what do they dream about?
While we can’t ask them directly, sleep research can help us make an educated guess about what goes through their minds when our cats are asleep. It has much more in common with human sleep than you might think.
Do Cats Dream?
Humans have been fascinated with dreams for centuries, but less attention has been paid to our furry friends’ unconscious experiences. Unfortunately, we can’t just ask our cats if they dream (or what they may dream about). However, we can apply what we know about sleep science from years of human study to our feline companions.
It all hinges on one distinct phase of the cat’s sleep cycle — REM sleep. REM is short for rapid-eye movement, a stage of sleep where the brain lights up with electrical activity. Research has shown that cats (and most mammals) cycle between REM and NREM (non-REM) sleep like we do.
Although most sleep is spent in the non-REM sleep stages, the REM stage clues us into what may be happening while our cats lazily sleep on the sofa. During REM sleep, brain activity actually increases (although we’re still not consciously aware of the world around us).
This phase is also where dreams happen, so researchers have surmised that because cats experience REM sleep, they can and do dream.
What Do Cats Dream About?
Research may tell us that cats have the potential to dream, but technology has yet to be invented to can tell us exactly what they dream about. However, if we apply what we know about human sleep to our cats, we can reasonably assume that their dreams are similar in structure to ours.
With a few exceptions, most dreams involve places we experience in real life. For instance, if you went to the grocery store and then out to dinner, you can expect similar scenarios to appear while asleep. Although they may be strange sometimes, most of the players and situations in our dreams are essentially the same as those we encounter in our day-to-day life.
Let’s apply that same logic to our cat. If our dreams are just re-enactments of our day, that likely means your cat is dreaming about the exciting things that happened before falling asleep — the bird they saw from the living room window, the treat they got before bed, or even how good it felt to be cuddled on your lap while you watched TV.
Unfortunately, that also means that your cat can have a bad dream, which you may be able to determine just by watching them. Their movements and actions in their sleep can tell you a lot about what they might be dreaming about (and how they are feeling about what’s happening in dreamland).
But why does this happen? Sleep is non-negotiable for physical health, but it also plays a crucial role in memory. When we (and your cat) enter the sleep phase, our brain works hard to categorize, store, and process information absorbed during the day. Dreams are just one way that your cat’s brain does this.
How Can You Tell if Your Cat Is Dreaming?
To tell if your cat is dreaming, just pay attention to them. Take some time to watch them sleep. Not only can this tell you whether or not they’re dreaming, but it can also help you keep a closer eye on their overall health.
While it may be subtle, one sign that your cat is in dreamland is that they’ll be twitching somewhere on their body. Eye movements, for example, are linked explicitly to the REM phase of sleep.
Many believe that the twitching correlates directly to what they may be dreaming about — if their jaws are twitching, they may be thinking about finally catching and eating the squirrel they keep seeing out the back door. If you watch closely, you may even notice their whisker twitching!
Some pet owners get nervous that those tiny cat twitches are a sign of a larger problem, like a seizure disorder. While dream twitching and seizure movements may have some things in common, they look very different.
For one, a cat having a seizure will not be rousable and will likely have repetitive jerking movements instead of occasional, minor muscle twitching. If you’re concerned, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to rule it out.
Making Small Sounds
Although it’s not as common in cats as in dogs, you may hear your pet making small sounds as they dream. Like with twitching, these noises can give us a little insight into what they may be dreaming about.
They may squeak, chatter, purr, or even quietly meow. Remember, when your cat is dreaming, they are in a state of deep sleep where their brain is highly active. Everything your cat can do awake, they can mimic in their sleep.
Moving Their Paws or Tails
There’s no question when a dog is dreaming; just a glance at your canine friend from across the room makes it apparent. However, like in most things, cats aren’t nearly as obvious with their behaviors.
However, cats tend to move their paws and tails like dogs when they dream. Depending on their dreams, you may briefly see them appear to be running or wagging their tail, even though they’re deep asleep.
Not all movements mean they’re dreaming, though. Some pets experience a slight jerking when they enter into REM sleep. Seeing your pet moving their paws, especially just for a second, could indicate that they’re about to start dreaming.
How Can You Help Your Cat Sleep Better?
Sleep is just as vital for our feline friends as it is for us. Sleep is when your cat can rest, recharge, and allow their body to heal, protecting their immune system and overall health.
Unfortunately, although it may seem that way, sleep doesn’t always come easily to cats. Cats can develop many of the same sleep-related issues humans have, including sleep apnea. However, because they can’t tell us that their sleep isn’t going as well as it used to, it’s up to us as pet parents to keep a close eye on it for them.
Luckily, it’s not all that difficult to watch our pets sleep for two reasons — they sleep a lot more than we do, and they are crepuscular, which means they are most active during the twilight hours (from dusk until dawn). These factors give us far more opportunities to catch them sleeping.
When you monitor your cat’s sleep, pay attention to a few factors, like how long they sleep and if they seem to be entering the REM phase when they nap. You’ll also want to note if they’re snoring (especially if they snore excessively).
Keeping a sleep journal for your cat, even for just a few nights, can be a game-changer for identifying patterns. You can also bring this journal with you to the veterinarian, which provides them with another piece of the puzzle to help keep their health at an optimal level.
The next step is providing your cat with a low-stress environment to sleep in. Don’t feel bad if you don’t let your cat sleep with you! It doesn’t matter where they sleep; it’s important they have a place they can get away without being bothered, especially if there are other pets in the household.
Cats prefer warmer places to sleep, but you don’t have to invest in expensive bedding to keep them comfortable. Just something supportive and easily washable works great. They should also have easy access to a litter box.
Does your cat seem to be restless or stressed out? Are they having trouble relaxing, and is it causing problems with their sleep cycle? In addition to creating a safer sleeping environment, adding a CBD + CBDA oil or paste can help create a low-stress internal environment for your cat.
Giving your cat the support they need to manage their stress more effectively can also help improve their sleep, improving their overall health.
The Bottom Line
Do cats dream? Although we can’t ask them conclusively, the fact that research has proven they enter REM sleep leads us to believe that they do. It’s no secret that cats love a nap, sometimes sleeping up to 18 hours in a single day, so it’s comforting to think they’re enjoying themselves just as much asleep as they do awake.
And don’t forget that supporting your cat’s sleep habits (and seeking care if you notice an issue with their sleep) is essential to pet care.