Cats spend the majority of their days lazying about and sleeping. Truthfully, the majority of the pictures that I take of my cats have been while they were sleeping, because that’s just how much they do it!
Whether your cat loves to sleep by your head or your feet, it’s hard not to question whether or not they dream. What kind of dreams do they have? Are they dreaming about chasing butterflies? Are they having dreams of you bringing them food? Do they dream about each other?
It’s evident that both of our cats dream, especially Kalista. When she’s sleeping in her bed or cat tree we often see her kneading. As soon as you wake her up she stops and gets startled. Beau, on the other hand, doesn’t knead but has pretty obvious rapid eye movements (REM), but that doesn’t prove that he’s sleeping.
So let’s break things down on what vets know about cat’s sleeping and dreams.
DO WE KNOW FOR SURE IF CATS DREAM?
It is believed that cats dream based on comparisons made to humans when they dream. What do I mean by that? Well, studies have been conducted to compare the electrical activity that takes place while cats sleep and they’ve shown that the patterns are very similar to other mammals.
The tests included studying and focussing on the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain connected to memory. It is believed that this is the part of the brain that dreams come from as well as when humans, dogs and cats sleep it becomes active.
DO CATS EXPERIENCE A REM CYCLE?
Yes, they do, though it does not last the same amount of time as it does for humans.
When a cat is experiencing their REM cycle their eyes will begin twitching and their muscles may begin to spasm. These spasms often take place in the lower back and are completely normal and natural for a cat to experience.
It is believed that during REM cats will dream, similar to humans. It is also believed that cats will have their most vivid dreams during REM sleep and will have fragmented or impressionistic dreams during non-REM sleep.
SO WHAT DO WE ASSUME CATS DREAM ABOUT?
From what we understand about human dreams, we do not dream about things we do not know. We dream about locations that are familiar, with people who are familiar with, and about activities that are familiar.
So if this is true for humans, it is believed that cats are similar, since again they have similar electrical patterns in their brains while sleeping. That being said, it is assumed that cats dream about playing, catching animals (like birds), or even you!
As mentioned since the majority of dreams happen during REM sleep, or deep sleep, we may never be able to tell what it is our cats are actually dreaming. Cats will often remain still, minus the odd twitching/spasms that naturally occur.
DO CATS DREAM IN COLOUR?
It is uncertain whether or not cats dream in colour. Similar to what cats dream about, there is no way to be absolutely certain about what colours cats dream in.
Since cats can’t see colours like red, it is believed that they also cannot see these colours in their dreams.
WHO DREAMS MORE KITTENS OR CATS?
It is assumed that kittens dream more often and vividly than adult cats do, simply due to the fact that kittens enter REM sleep more frequently and longer than adults do. This is simply due to the fact that kittens require more sleep than adults do.
DO CATS HAVE NIGHTMARES?
It is believed that yes kittens, similar to humans have nightmares. This will depend on the memories that are called upon during the REM Cycle.
Cats who are experiencing nightmares may jolt when they wake up or may shake in their sleep (not to be confused with a seizure). This is fairly common for cats who have been subject to abuse, have recently lost a family member/sibling or have gone through a number of traumas while on the street.
Cats may also howl in their sleep or growl if they are experiencing a nightmare. So, don’t be surprised if you hear your little one making some noises while they sleep and always remember to comfort them when they are awake.
MY CAT WALKS SLEEP WALKS, IS THIS NORMAL?
Sleepwalking is not considered normal for cats and often calls for alarm. It is believed that sleepwalking is only caused by lesions on the brain or other forms of brain damage.
Cats who experience sleepwalking will act normal when they are awake, however, as soon as they are in deep sleep they will re-enact their dreams. These cats will also never experience deep sleep, may stalk “prey” in their sleep and may jump or attack imaginary toys.
If ever you notice your cat sleepwalking it is highly recommended that you see a vet and get some tests done.
SHOULD I EVER WAKE UP MY CAT FROM A NIGHTMARE OR SLEEPWALKING?
No, it is highly recommended that you never wake up a cat who is having a nightmare or sleepwalking. The main concern is that waking up a cat in either state can cause the cat to become alarmed. This may result in the cat scratching you or becoming terrified from their awakening.
Nightmares are harmless, and quite frankly don’t usually last very long. As for sleepwalking, as mentioned it is best that you take your cat to the vet to diagnose what the cause of it is in hopes of finding a solution.
Although cats look and act quite different than us, we do have a number of similarities. Dreaming just so happens to be one!
Though we can’t be completely certain what it is cats dream about, we can safely assume that they are dreaming about the things they know. Eating treats, chasing birds, cuddling with you, and playing with their favourite toys.
Cats, also similar to you, can fall victim to having nightmares or even sleepwalking. While nightmares are safe for your cat to experience, it’s highly recommended that you take your cat to the vet if you suspect that they are sleepwalking. Sleepwalking is often a sign of brain damage and although cats may act completely normal while awake, they may harm themselves in their sleep.
As for whether or not cats always dream, it’s believed that cats mostly dream when they are in a deeper sleep called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This is when a cat’s dreams are vivid, although they may also dream of sporadic images when they are not experiencing REM.
So pet parents, what do you think your cat is dreaming about? Let me know in the comments below.