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Why is My Cat Twitching in Their Sleep? 4 Reasons For this Behavior

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By Nicole Cosgrove

calico cat sleeping

If you have ever witnessed a cat twitching while asleep, you have been lucky enough to see one of the cutest sights known to man. Whenever cats twitch in their sleep, the sight is downright adorable.

Luckily, most sleeping twitches are nothing to worry about, but there are times when you should worry about your cat’s health if the twitching is accompanied by other signs of illness.

If you are interested in learning the four main reasons why cats twitch in their sleep, read on.

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The 4 Reasons a Cat Twitches While Sleeping

Now that we have learned about the three and possibly four stages of a cat’s sleeping cycle, let’s learn the four reasons why your cat could be twitching while asleep.

1. Muscle Spasms

No matter what stage of sleep your cat is in, it may just be having muscle spasms. Spasms are caused whenever the body’s muscles contract and relax back and forth. Occasionally, muscle spasms can be caused by health conditions, but most muscle spasms are just a natural part of the sleeping cycle.

tabby cat sleeping outside
Image Credit: Ben Kerckx, Pixabay

2. Developing Nervous System

If you have a kitten who twitches a lot in its sleep, it could be developing its nervous system. As we learned above, kittens develop their nervous system through stage four or active sleep. During this time, kittens twitch a lot and may even cry or squirm while sleeping.

If the kitten is twitching a lot and making a lot of noise, it is most likely in stage four of sleep. The kitten should outgrow this stage once it fully develops its nervous system.

There is no need to worry if you think your kitten is twitching due to a developing nervous system. In fact, it is necessary to have a healthy and happy cat. Let your kitten continue twitching and enjoy the amusing sight.

3. Dreaming

Even though adult cats grow out of stage four of sleep, many still twitch because of stage three, or deep sleep. During the deep sleep phase, cats, humans, and many other mammals dream. Whenever dreaming, your cat may twitch as a response to what it is seeing in the dream. Twitching due to dreams will likely be much less pronounced than stage four twitching.

Note that even though only kittens can experience twitch due to stage four sleep, kittens can also twitch due to REM sleep. In kittens, you might be able to determine which stage your cat is in by looking at the pronouncement of its twitches.

If the twitches are only slight, the kitten is likely dreaming. However, the kitten is likely in activated sleep if the twitching is really pronounced or accompanied by noises.

Just as before, you don’t have to worry about your cat’s health if it is twitching due to dreams. This is completely normal, and even we twitch while we dream. Let your cat continue dreaming and wake up as normal.

Ginger kitten sound asleep
Image Credit: super-mapio, Pixabay

4. Having Seizures

Although the reasons above are completely safe and normal reasons for your cat to twitch during sleep, the twitching could be due to something more serious, such as seizures. Although twitches caused by seizures are much less common, it is still possible.

To an untrained eye, it can be difficult to differentiate normal twitches from seizures. Often, twitches are different from seizures in that seizures attack the whole body, not just parts of the body. For example, twitches typically only impact the tail, leg, or singular parts, whereas seizures make the entire body tremble.

Seizures are often accompanied by many other symptoms as well. Changes in appetite, grooming, and activity can all point towards your cat having seizures.

Understanding a Cat’s Sleep Cycle

Before we dig into the four main reasons cats twitch while asleep, it’s important to understand a cat’s sleep cycle. Just like us, a cat’s sleep can be divided into stages. Each one of these stages serves a different function in the cat’s well-being.

Stage 1 – Catnaps

The first stage of a cat’s sleep is often called a catnap. They are often very short, and the cat is still awake enough to respond to their surroundings. The most obvious sign that your cat is in stage one sleep is that the cat’s ears turn or twitch in response to sounds.

grey cat sleeping on couch
Image Credit: Vidar H. Andersen, Pixabay

Stage 2 – Light Sleep

The second stage of cat sleeping is light sleep. Light sleep can vary in time length and awareness levels. The cat isn’t quite as alert as during a catnap, but it isn’t deeply sleeping or dreaming yet either. Cats must go through stage two to get from stage one to stage three.

Stage 3 – REM or Deep Sleep

The third stage of sleep is deep sleep or REM. REM sleep only lasts around 5 or 10 minutes. If your cat is twitching, it is most likely in this stage of sleep because this is the stage when cats dream. Your cat will be the least responsive during the deep sleep phase.

cat sleeping on its condo
Image Credit: Roy Buri, Pixabay

Stage 4 – Activated Sleep (Kittens Only)

Most adult cats only have the three stages of sleep mentioned above. Kittens have an additional fourth stage called activated sleep. During this stage, the cat is sleeping, but its nervous system is still active. Active sleep is required for kittens to properly develop their nervous system. Once out of the kitten phase, the nervous system is at rest while sleeping.

Signs the Twitching is Due to Seizures

If your cat’s twitching is accompanied by other signs of illness, you should take your cat to the vet immediately.

Some signs of feline seizures include the following:
  • Violent shaking throughout the body
  • Sudden collapse
  • Loss of awareness
  • Chewing of the face
  • Salivation
  • Urination or defecation

Keep in mind that seizures can happen when the cat is awake. If you notice your cat suddenly twitching all over even when it did not fall asleep, seizures are likely the cause of the twitching.

Final Thoughts

Nine times out of 10, your cat is twitching for reasons that are healthy and normal. For example, muscle spasms, a developing nervous system, and regular dreaming cause cats of all ages to twitch. However, twitches can be a sign of seizure if the twitching is accompanied by any of the above-mentioned symptoms. Take your cat to the vet if you suspect twitching is due to illness.

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Featured Image Credit: biglinker, Pixabay

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