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Can Cats Have Nightmares?

calico cat sleeping

When you own a cat, you get plenty of time to watch them sleep as they can spend 12–16 hours per day catching up on their rest. You will also see them shaking and twitching as they sleep, and their eyes will move back and forth quickly like humans sometimes do when they are sleeping. Many owners believe that this is a sign they are dreaming, and they often ask if a cat can also have nightmares. The answer is that, since we know cats dream, we can assume that they also have occasional bad dreams, or nightmares. Keep reading while we look at the scientific facts and discuss how you can help your cat recover from a bad dream when it happens.

hepper cat paw dividerHow Much Do Cats Sleep Each Day?

Studies suggest that cats sleep an average of 12.1 hours each day, slightly more than half the day, and some cats can sleep as much as 16 hours. With all of this time sleeping, there is plenty of time for dreams to occur as well as nightmares.

black and white cat ball sleeping
Image Credit: Dan Gold, Unsplash

REM Sleep

REM sleep only occurs in mammals, like humans, cats, and dogs. Many experts believe that REM sleep is when dreams occur because the brain is extremely active during this time, almost as much as when we’re awake. Breathing can become fast and irregular, which will deliver more oxygen to the brain, and the eyes will begin to move back and forth rapidly. Some humans can even act out their dreams during this time, and cats can do the same, often swatting their paws at the air or even meowing. It may also make other strange noises, and they may scrunch up their face.

Other symptoms of REM sleep include increased blood pressure and body temperature, and sexual arousal in both males and females. The cat may also experience temporary paralysis as the brain can signal the spinal cord to turn off the arms and legs, most likely in an attempt to protect them from damage due to acting out dreams.

Non-REM Sleep (NREM)

Like humans, cats also experience NREM sleep, where the body heals itself and replenishes energy stores. There are four stages of NREM sleep, each lasting from a few to several minutes.

Stage 1 NREM

In Stage 1 of NREM sleep, your cat is between sleeping and awake. It may look like it’s sleeping but will open its eyes at the slightest sound and will quickly get up if there is something of interest.

kitten sleeping in bowl
Image Credit: Danny Chang, Pixabay

Stage 2 NREM

In Stage 2 of NREM, the cat is more asleep and is less likely to stir when it hears a noise or senses you’re moving through the room. Cats in this stage will experience a drop in body temperature, and their heart rate will slow down too.

Stage 3 and Stage 4 NREM

Stage 3 and 4 of NREM are when your cat is in a deep sleep, and it is repairing its body and replenishing its energy supplies. Some experts call it slow-wave or delta sleep, and your cat must experience it so its body can release an important hormone that allows the repairs to occur. As the cat ages, the duration of Stage 3 and 4 NREM shortens as it does for humans.

orange kitten sleeping stretching
Image Credit: Alena Ozerova, Shutterstock

Benefits of REM Sleep

Many experts believe that REM sleep helps improve memory and mood, and it might help with brain development in infants. These same benefits can also be seen in our feline friends.

Cats Nightmares

As long as a cat can dream, there is a chance that it can have a nightmare, just like what can occur for humans. The dreams your cat is having might not always be pleasant, and it might be having a dream about being chased or getting into a fight, and it can wake up feeling tense, excited, frightened, and angry. These cats may have wide eyes, a fluffy tail, and they may run around or start clawing and biting.

cat sleeping in sun

Which Cats Have Nightmares?

Any cat that dreams can have a bad dream, but owners report a much higher frequency of what they perceive as a bad dream occurring in cats with a traumatic experience in its past, like being hit by a car, getting into a bad fight, or living in a shelter. These cats have the life experience the brain can draw on to create a nightmare experience for your pet.

How Can I Help a Cat That Has Had a Nightmare?

If you are worried that your cat has had a nightmare because it woke up agitated, the best thing you can do is provide comfort. In many cases, a soothing voice and a gentle backstroke will help your cat get back to reality. However, if it’s running wild, we recommend waiting a few minutes before attempting to touch it. Sometimes providing food and water can also help. In any case, your cat will likely return to normal in a few minutes once it realizes it is home and safe. Resist the urge to wake your cat up by touching it if you think it’s having a nightmare, as it may be in attack mode and respond violently to be shaken awake.

hepper cat paw dividerConclusion

While no one can be 100% sure, there is good evidence that cats dream and are also capable of having nightmares. In our experience, when cats have nightmares, they twitch for a few minutes while they are sleeping before waking suddenly and looking confused. In many cases, the hair will be fluffy when they are afraid, but they go back to normal pretty quickly, and there are no lingering side effects.

We hope you have enjoyed reading over this short guide, and it has answered your questions. If you feel like you understand your cat better, please share our look into if cats can have nightmares on Facebook and Twitter.


Featured Image Credit: biglinker, Pixabay