Can Cats Dream?

Our cats seem to spend most of their lives asleep, so it's only reasonable for us to wonder, do cats dream? Find out what your feline thinks about when they drift off to dreamland with Purina.
cat dreaming in hammock
cat dreaming in hammock
cat dreaming in hammock

Cats are known for being notorious nappers. They seem to spend most of their lives asleep, either curled up on our laps or hidden in their favourite secluded place. It may surprise you to learn that they sleep twice as much as humans and on average spend around 15 hours per day asleep, but for extremely tired cats this can easily be up to 24 hours.

With so much time spent resting, it’s reasonable to assume that they dream just like we do. But is that true? Keep reading to discover whether cats do dream and what it means when your cat twitches in their sleep.

When do dreams occur?

For humans, dreams occur during the REM sleep state, usually starting 90 minutes after you drop off to sleep. During this time, signals are sent to your brain which are important for learning and memory, but some of these signals are random, and it is these signals which are responsible for dreams. When your brain tries to interpret these signals and piece them together, it results in your brain creating a sort of story of sorts – in other words, it creates a dream.

Do cats dream?

Yes, it’s believed that cats can dream. According to Michel Jouvet in the 1960s, cats also experience REM sleep so it’s extremely likely that they enter dreamland in a similar way that we do.

Jouvet proved that cats have a similar low voltage of electrical activity in the brain, tend to twitch their eyes and have a relaxed muscle state, which are all the characteristics associated with REM sleep in humans. Where this doesn’t completely answer the question of do cats dream, the evidence clearly suggests that there’s something going on in their brain during sleep.

Interestingly, the amount of REM sleep your cat experiences will decrease as they get older, therefore it’s assumed that kittens are much more likely to dream than adult cats. This could also be due to the fact that kittens have a lot more to learn about the world around them, therefore they have a significant amount of information to process and more signals will be sent to the brain.

sleeping kitten

What do cats dream about?

According to veterinary neurologist, Adrian Morrison, when cats experience REM sleep, they tend to move their heads as though they’re following or watching something. So, it’s likely that when our furballs are curled up snoozing, that they’re probably dreaming about their favourite pastime – hunting.

Research in the USA also suggested that cats may dream about things that have happened that day or in the distant or recent past, similar to the way that dogs dream. Cats might dream about snuggling with you on the sofa, hunting a bird or mouse or may be dreaming about an incident that occurred with another cat or dog.

Do cats have nightmares?

While it seems likely that cats can dream, we don’t know anything about whether they can have bad dreams or nightmares. However, anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that cats can wake up and appear frightened, indicating a bad dream.

According to T.J. Banks writing for Petful, your cat probably can have nightmares. Banks wrote that sometimes her rescue cat would jolt awake out of a deep sleep with wide eyes and appear frightened. Additionally, there are other incidents where cats have been through traumatic events and would make stressed sounds whilst sleeping and would suddenly wake up and display noticeable signs of distress.

If your cat is extremely anxious when they’re awake too, read our article on how to spot and treat cat anxiety for valuable help and advice.

The cat sleep cycle

Cat’s will experience two sleep cycles, REM sleep and deep sleep.

1. REM sleep

The REM phase is when cats are mostly likely to dream. They’ll display certain behaviours such as squeaking and twitching of their eyes, ears and maybe even tail. Despite all this twitching they’ll also experience a loss of muscle tone, known as atonia.

2. Deep sleep

Deep sleep occurs for the rest of the time your cat is sleeping. This is a crucial stage as it’s responsible for the rebuilding and repairing of the body.

It’s important that when your cat is sleeping that you don’t wake them – you should leave them to rest as much as possible. It’s usually a good idea to provide them with cosy, secluded spaces that they feel safe enough to enter the deep sleep phase.

young woman and cat on bed

Why do cats twitch in their sleep?

Sometimes when your kitty is sleeping you may notice them twitching, stretching, snoring or even making unusual squeaking noises. It’s usually nothing to be concerned about as they’re all things associated with REM sleep. When your cat twitches in their sleep it’s generally just due to signals being sent to their brain during the ‘dreaming’ phase.

Some people worry that this twitching is a kind of seizure, but these are very unlikely to occur during sleep, and generally there will be additional signs, such as their entire body stiffening, lethargy, loss of appetite or vomiting. If your cat is also experiencing these symptoms it’s important to take them to your vet as soon as possible.

If you’d like to find out more about understanding cat behaviours, take a look at our content hub for plenty of useful guides and advice.