As cat owners, we know that cats spend a great deal of their time asleep (an average of 15 hours a day!) and as humans, we know that our sleeping hours are often filled with all sorts of weird and wonderful dreams and sometimes even nightmares. It is only natural that we should wonder if our feline friends are dreaming too, and if so, what are they dreaming of?
We are familiar with the kinds of dreams that other humans have because it is an interesting talking point and a common conversation to have. Of course, we cannot ask our pets if they dream and what they dream of, so we do have to rely on comparison to human sleep, general observations and then fill in the rest with some guesswork.
Most human dreams occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep. This sleep phase is characterised by relaxed muscles, quick eye movement, irregular breathing, and elevated heart rate. These features are also observed when cats sleep, and scientists have confirmed that cats also experience the REM sleep phase. Knowing this, we can make the assumption that cats also have the capacity to dream during this sleep phase.
Cats spend less time in the REM sleep phase as they get older, so the thinking is that young cats and kittens spend more time dreaming than older cats. This is because the REM sleep phase is also when the brain consolidates the events and lessons of the day, making it a more important sleep cycle for cats that still have lots to learn.
Cats are likely to dream about their daily experiences, for example, an adventure they had in the garden earlier in the day. It is also thought that they dream about their owners and other pets that they live with. Cats are often observed moving their heads quickly from side to side when sleeping, as if they are stalking something, indicating that they might be dreaming about hunting.
Sometimes your cat might wake up panicked or startled. This might be because they were having a bad dream or nightmare. This could be especially true if they had a traumatic experience during the day, for example, if they got into an altercation with another neighbourhood cat, or were chased by a dog.
It is important not to disturb a sleeping cat, even if you think they might be having a nightmare. They may wake up disorientated and confused and lash out at you.
If you see your cat twitching in their sleep, it probably means that they are mid-dream. Sadly, we will probably never know for sure what our cats are dreaming about, but it is fun to speculate. What do you think your cat dreams about?