Is My Cat Dreaming When He Twitches in His Sleep?

Does your cat sometimes twitch when he is sleeping? Scientists believe that all mammals experience Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. REM is a sleep phase and for humans, it seems that it is during REM that dreaming occurs. The presence of REM sleep has been investigated in cats. When cats entered into REM sleep, they were found to have decreased neuron activity compared to being awake and being in other phases of sleep1.

People have wondered about sleep and as early as 1965, researchers were able to demonstrate that cats do engage in REM sleep and may act out dreams. Scientists create injuries to the brains of subject cats that created REM behavior disorder (RBD).2 Experimentally-induced RBD proves that cats do have REM sleep and that dreaming occurs in REM sleep. The good news is that RBD is a destructive disorder that has not been documented to occur naturally in cats.

Since cats do seem to experience sleep much the way that we do, we can deduce that cats do indeed dream. Certainly the brains of cats have been shown to be capable of dreaming, but the exact nature of human dreams remains elusive as well. There have always been lots of theories. Some people feel that the dreams that happen during REM sleep help in learning. Sigmund Freud thought that dreams were indicative of unresolved needs or desires.

Don’t worry if you don’t see your cat engaging in dreams. Just like humans who do not appear to dream every time they sleep, cats probably don’t either. Cats are capable of dreaming, but we cannot ask them about the content of their dreams, so we cannot prove it. It is fun to think of the content of cat dreams.

I imagine my cat feels himself a master hunter, with a successful hunt every time. I even bet he dreams himself big enough and crafty enough to bring down a buffalo because he has catitude for sure!

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  1. Control of hypoglossal motoneurones during naturally occurring sleep and wakefulness in the intact, unanaesthetized cat: a field potential study.Sleep2014 Aug;23(4):469-74. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12137. Epub 2014 Mar 8.Fung SJ, Chase MH.
  2. Rem sleep without atonia–from cats to humans.Arch Ital Biol.2004 Jul;142(4):469-78. Mahowald MW Schenck CH.



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