Do Cats Dream? The Mysterious World of Feline Sleep


Dreams and nightmares are mysterious phenomena that have fascinated humans for centuries. We often wonder what our pets dream about and if they have nightmares like we do. Cats spend over half their lives asleep, much of it in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep when vivid dreams occur. Do our furry feline friends experience dreams and nightmares like humans? In this article, we’ll explore the sleep cycles of cats, look at whether cats have dreams and nightmares, what they may look like, why cats dream, and how to comfort a cat having a nightmare. Understanding the dreaming world of cats can help strengthen the bond between owners and pets.

The Sleep Cycles of Cats

Similar to humans, cats experience different stages of sleep. Cats cycle through rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. During NREM sleep, cats experience deeper sleep stages. During REM sleep, cats tend to dream as their brain activity increases. According to the Sleep Foundation, cats may get 3-8 hours of REM sleep per day.

The NREM stage consists of three phases: N1, N2, and N3. N1 is the lightest sleep stage, while N3 is the deepest. In N3, it’s difficult to wake a cat up. Most deep sleep occurs in the early portion of the sleep period. The REM stage is when dreaming occurs, since brain activity increases. Muscles relax and become immobile during REM, except for the eyes. According to, domestic cats may obtain 3-8 hours of REM sleep daily.

Overall, cats require 12-16 hours of total sleep per day on average. However, the sleep requirements can vary based on factors like age. Kittens and senior cats tend to sleep more than adult cats. The sleep cycles of cats play an important role in physical and cognitive functioning.


Do Cats Dream?

Most experts on animal sleep and behavior agree that cats do experience dreams during REM sleep in the same way that other mammals like humans do. Much like humans, cats go through various sleep cycles throughout the night, alternating between REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep. REM sleep is when dreaming occurs, and cats seem to experience intense brain activity during this stage of sleep just like humans.

There are some clear signs that indicate cats are dreaming during sleep. Their paws, limbs, tails, ears, whiskers, and even their entire body may twitch sporadically. This twitching and muscle activity mirrors the physical movements and expressions humans make when dreaming. Cats may even vocalize with meows, purrs, and squeaks while asleep and dreaming. Their eyes may also move rapidly beneath their closed eyelids, just like the rapid eye movements humans experience in REM sleep. According to Purina, some cats may even get up and physically act out components of their dreams by running, leaping, and pouncing before lying back down to continue sleeping.

What Do Cat Dreams Look Like?

When cats are in REM sleep and most likely dreaming, they display certain behaviors and movements including:

  • Twitching – Their paws, whiskers, ears and even whole body may twitch and move during dreaming sleep. This is likely in response to whatever they are dreaming about at the time. (
  • Squeaking vocalizations – Cats may let out small squeaks and other vocalizations while dreaming. These sounds seem involuntary and are likely tied to dream activity. (
  • Rapid eye movements – Their eyes may move rapidly under their eyelids as cats visually process dream images and scenarios. (
  • Funny sleeping positions – A cat deep in REM sleep may take on an unusual or funny sleeping position as they act out dream behaviors. (
  • Whisker movements – Their whiskers can twitch and move, signaling stimulation from dream imagery and action. (
  • Increased breathing rate – Just like in humans, a dreaming cat’s breathing and heart rate rises in the REM sleep stage when dreaming occurs. (

These involuntary behaviors and movements are all signs that a cat is fully engaged in a vivid dream!

Do Cats Have Nightmares?

Yes, cats can experience nightmares just like humans do. Even though cats can’t describe or communicate what they dream about, veterinarians and cat behaviorists have found evidence that cats do occasionally suffer from bad dreams or nightmares.

According to Purina, “It is possible that cats can have nightmares. However, while it seems likely that cats can dream, we don’t know anything about whether they can have bad dreams…” [1]

The Dodo explains, “Yes, cats can have nightmares. If your cat’s twitching a lot, you might be worried that he’s having a bad dream.” [2] Evidence like twitching, whimpering, hissing, or crying out while asleep indicate your cat may be having a nightmare.

According to The Wildest, “Therefore, the dreams could be pleasant or unpleasant, based on the memory or experience.” I take that to mean yes, cats can have nightmares.” [3] Cats likely experience both good and bad dreams just like humans do.

What Do Cat Nightmares Look Like?

There are certain sleep behaviors and movements that suggest a cat may be having a nightmare. These include:

  • Twitching of the face, legs, or tail – Cats experiencing nightmares may exhibit twitching in various parts of their body, as if they are startled or running in the dream.
  • Aggressive kicking or swatting – A cat deep in a nightmare may make motions like they are fighting or defending themselves from an attacker.
  • Whining or crying out – Some cats will vocalize distress during nightmares, letting out whines, meows, or cries.
  • Eyes moving under eyelids – Rapid eye movements under closed eyelids can indicate that a cat is in REM sleep and potentially dreaming.
  • Tense body – An overall tenseness or rigidness of the body suggests a cat may be experiencing a nightmare.
  • Startled waking up – A cat may awaken suddenly from a nightmare, seeming alert, agitated, or disoriented.

While we can’t confirm that cats have nightmares like humans do, these observable sleep behaviors suggest that cats can experience bad or frightening dreams on some level.

Why Do Cats Dream and Have Nightmares?

There are several theories as to why cats dream and have nightmares:

Dreaming allows cats to process their daily experiences and consolidate memories, similar to humans (Purina). The brain sorts through the day’s events and transfers important memories from short-term to long-term storage.

Dreams may also help cats simulate threatening scenarios and practice survival skills and responses, priming their instincts (The Wildest). This theory suggests that dreams allow cats to repeatedly experience dangerous situations in the safety of sleep, improving their chances of survival.

Additionally, dreams could simply be random firings of neurons as the brain sifts through the day’s memories without a specific purpose ( However, most experts believe dreaming does serve an important function for cats.

While the exact purpose remains unknown, it’s likely that dreaming provides cats with some evolutionary benefits related to memory, learning, and instinctual responses.

How to Tell if Your Cat is Having a Nightmare

There are several signs that indicate your cat may be having a nightmare while asleep. According to Catster, the most common signs of a feline nightmare include:

  • Twitching tail
  • Rapid breathing
  • Crying or making other vocal noises
  • Limbs twitching
  • Twitching of the face

Cats experiencing nightmares may exhibit behaviors like whimpering, hissing, growling, or even suddenly jumping up looking startled or scared. Their claws may come out as they try to defend against the perceived threat. According to a post on Quora, some key giveaways are noticing your cat is in REM sleep by their twitching eyes and seeing their muscles tense up.

So if you observe your sleeping cat crying, jerking around, or acting defensive with their eyes moving rapidly behind their eyelids, it’s likely they are having a frightening dream or nightmare. Pay attention to these signs so you can gently comfort them when this occurs.

How to Comfort a Cat from a Nightmare

Witnessing your cat have a nightmare can be distressing, but there are some tips for soothing your feline friend and helping them return to peaceful sleep:

First, approach the cat slowly and speak in a gentle, reassuring tone to avoid startling them (Source 1). Call your cat’s name softly and say comforting phrases like “It’s okay” or “I’m here”.

Try gently petting or stroking the cat’s side or back – this can help relax them (Source 2). Avoid restraining or shaking your cat awake as this may scare them more.

Give your cat reassurance and comfort when they wake up – talk soothingly and allow them to see you there with them (Source 3). This helps your cat feel safe and secure after a frightening nightmare.

Make sure your cat has a comfortable, low-stress sleep environment. Provide places for them to hide or perch up high if desired. Try calming aids like pheromone diffusers or CBD oil if nightmares persist.

Monitor for any patterns with your cat’s nightmares and consult your vet if they happen frequently or severely. Nightmares could sometimes indicate an underlying medical issue.


In summary, the research shows that cats definitely experience complex dreams and occasionally have nightmares, just like humans do. Their dream sleep cycles and brain activity during REM sleep point to vivid dream states. Cats likely dream about their daily activities, environments, and interactions, similar to the content of human dreams. Nightmares manifest in restless sleep, twitching, and abrupt waking. While dreaming is normal, chronic nightmares in cats can signal anxiety or stress and warrant a vet visit. If your cat seems distressed while dreaming, speak soothingly and gently pet them to provide comfort. Though we can’t fully prove cats have dreams and nightmares, the evidence strongly suggests our feline friends have adventures while asleep. With increased understanding of the sleep cycles and psychology of cats, we can better provide for their welfare.

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