Cats spend so much time napping that you might assume they are sleeping peacefully. That’s why it’s very irritating when cats seem to respond to nightmares. A cat may scream, growl, hiss, and extend its claws while sleeping.
Cats enter REM sleep while snoozing, so they are also dreaming. Therefore, it is almost certain that cats can also have nightmares. It is believed that cats’ dreams are a replay of the day’s events. If the cat has experienced something terrible or frightening, it might relive it in its sleep.
While watching a cat have a nightmare can be unsettling, it should never be woken up.
Sleep, regardless of dreams, is of central importance to cats. If a dream frightens a cat, you will likely be scratched or bitten if you approach it.
Let your cat come naturally, and reassure her when she awakens.
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Do Cats Dream When They Sleep?
The average cat spends about 16 hours a day sleeping. It is also believed that cats have dreams.
While this cannot be confirmed, there is ample evidence that cats dream when they snooze.
The brains of humans and cats have a similar structure in the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain that forms new memories.
The hippocampus works with the amygdala to ensure that important new information is stored.
The hippocampus processes everything a cat perceives and feels during the course of a day. The cat’s brain decides which information is essential and which can be discarded.
Inevitably, at least some of these memories are processed while the cat is napping.
This is also why sleeping cats exhibit behaviors such as twitching and movement. These actions are typical of REM sleep.
REM Sleep vs. Deep Sleep
REM and deep sleep are the two core cycles of a cat’s sleep pattern. Both are equally important but have different effects on the cat.
Deep sleep is as restful as it sounds. When a cat is in deep sleep, it is not dreaming. The cat’s breathing is slow and steady, and the body remains entirely still.
Deep sleep is essential because it allows the cat’s muscles to recover from the rigors of the day.
During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, dreams occur. This is because the cat’s brain remains active during REM sleep. The hippocampus diligently sifts through memories during this phase of sleep.
Signs that your cat is in REM sleep and therefore dreaming include:
- Rapid twitching of pupils behind closed eyelids
- Movement of the head as if watching prey
- Faster, strained breathing
- Pawing with paws
REM sleep may not always look peaceful, but it is vital. Without dreams, your cat can’t retain or recall memories. This eventually leads to the cat becoming overwhelmed.
REM sleep is as vital to your cat’s brain as deep sleep is to his body.
Cats do not follow a set pattern between REM sleep and deep sleep. Your cat will fall in and out of both cycles, possibly several times during the same sleep.
Age determines how much deep sleep your cat needs. Tired or damaged joints and muscles need more intensive regeneration. This means older cats spend more time in deep sleep and less in REM sleep.
What Do Cats Dream About?
It is commonly believed that cats relive events from the recent past in their dreams.
On average, a cat retains its memories for about 16 hours. Until the hippocampus fully processes these memories, they remain in the cat’s memory.
If your cat is purring and moving around in his sleep, he probably relives the day’s memories.
If your cat looks peaceful and arches its back, it may dream of being petted. Waving paws and chirping indicate that the cat dreams of a previous hunt or play session.
Older cats tend to fall into deep sleep more quickly and frequently than younger cats. This means that older cats also seem to dream less frequently.
This makes perfect sense. Older cats are more sedentary and have fewer new adventures to remember.
Do Cats Have Nightmares?
Sometimes, a cat seems restless in its sleep. It may even scream or lash out with its paws in its sleep.
This is because cats can’t only remember positive experiences. They also need to process bad memories through dreams. This suggests that cats have nightmares.
In some ways, this is a positive experience. It means that the memory is erased from the cat’s mind.
When the cat wakes up again, it should have moved on. Of course, this is better than the cat continuing to live in fear.
Nevertheless, a cat with a nightmare should be watched closely and treated cautiously.
Just as pleasant dreams cause the cat to mimic movements, so do nightmares.
Your cat will lash out, scratch, and bite in his sleep. So it’s better to stay out of reach.
How to Deal With Nightmares in Cats
Watching cats have nightmares is an unpleasant experience.
As a pet owner, you usually strive to make your cat as comfortable as possible. However, with a sleeping cat, there is nothing you can do.
It is crucial that you do not wake your cat up, no matter how distressed it seems to be. The cat is already confused by its dream.
She may also be unable to distinguish between dream and reality for a few moments.
The result is that your cat will be frightened, and frightened cats are aggressive. Your cat will probably attack with teeth and claws. This is simply an instinct.
Also, cats that have nightmares already have a rapid pulse. So, if you wake your cat up unexpectedly, it will cause another shock.
This can be dangerous, especially in older cats, and can lead to palpitations and even cardiac arrest.
Watch your cat and make sure that it does not hurt itself while dreaming. A cat that is scared at night will twitch and jerk. This means that she might fall off the sofa or from her perch.
These movements can also suddenly wake up a cat, which poses a risk to you. Stay close enough to care for your cat but far enough away to be safe.
Once you find an appropriate distance, you can tend to your cat’s needs.
Start by gently soothing her. When your cat wakes up, help it recover afterward.
You should make your cat as comfortable as possible after a nightmare.
A cat that is in REM sleep is obviously asleep. However, the cat is not entirely cut off from the world.
This means that you can provide some level of comfort to your cat while it is sleeping.
Say your cat’s name in a soft, gentle voice. Mix this with soothing phrases such as “It’s all right.”
This will get through to your sleeping cat to some degree. The familiarity of your voice and the association with the security you provide will calm the cat.
Also, use your sleeping cat’s sense of smell. Place an object with a familiar scent near your cat’s nose.
A favorite blanket or pillow works well. The cat will also perceive this.
These calming sensations can trigger the brain to remember something more pleasant.
Do this until your cat wakes up. When she wakes up, do not walk directly toward your cat. Take a step back, call your cat by name, and let her come to you.
Now, you can help your cat recover from its nightmare.
Once your cat awakens, you can help her return to her old self. However, let your cat set the pace.
Don’t pick her up in your arms or pet her right away. Your cat may take a while to recover from a scary dream.
Your cat wants attention. Reassure your cat that she is safe and loved.
You may also want to offer her a treat and play with her during this phase. Make sure your cat gathers new, positive memories as soon as possible.
Also, make sure that your cat is nice and warm. This is because when cats are asleep, their body temperature generally drops.
A scary dream may also have put a cat into a mild state of shock. This dual effect can cause your cat’s temperature to be dangerously low.
Offer a blanket or a hot water bottle. At the very least, this added warmth will comfort the cat.
Finally, when your cat wants to go back to sleep, let it do so. The cat has obviously been adequately comforted.
Sleep deprivation leads to anxiety, which, in turn, can lead to more nightmares.
How to Prevent Nightmares in Cats
There is no reason to believe cats dream about things that didn’t happen. Cat brains respond to facts and events, not imagined possibilities.
Also, cats don’t watch horror movies or read scary stories. They should neither be exposed to scary images nor remember them.
This means that, in theory, it should be easy to prevent cats from having nightmares.
All you have to do is provide her with the most idyllic life you can imagine. If your cat has never experienced anything wrong, she can’t dream about it.
Unfortunately, this is not the reality. Just like with humans, cat dreams can contain random images.
During REM sleep, a cat’s brain may uncover memories stored because they are considered significant.
It is unlikely that the cat’s brain will piece these together into a narrative. However, the image of an attacking dog will trigger immediate fear.
Likewise, a cat that has experienced abuse and trauma may remember it while sleeping.
There is nothing you can do about your cat’s past. However, consider common fears and stressors that occur in domestic cats.
If you prevent your cat from having these experiences, it is less likely to suffer from nightmares.
Don’t be fooled by a cat’s calm exterior. Your cat is not indifferent to your presence. If you left your cat, it would miss you.
Cats can remember when they have been left alone. A cat with an insecure relationship with you might find your absence from home frightening.
The easiest way to reassure your cat is to establish a set routine. If your cat knows what to expect each day, he will know you will return each day.
If you feed and play with your cat when he wakes up, he will get used to it. You can also establish the same routine for the night when you come home.
If you time it right, your cat’s last memories of the day will be positive. This is more likely to lead to pleasant dreams.
Cats have an excellent poker face and rarely show when they are in pain. Older cats, in particular, are good at hiding physical discomfort or illness.
While the cat may hide this while awake, nightmares may reveal their pain. Your cat will dream about the pain and respond accordingly.
Of course, it’s also possible that your cat is reliving a single, painful experience. Perhaps someone stepped on her tail, or she suffered an impact injury.
However, these nightmares are usually brief and can be quickly resolved.
If your cat has constant nightmares, you should have her examined. You should do this annually anyway, ideally twice yearly for older cats.
General tests will reveal possible diseases or conditions causing your cat physical discomfort.
Conflicts and Bullying
If you have a multi-cat household, ensure the others do not bully the cat with the nightmares.
Cats that live together often defer to a single, dominant cat. This cat can make life hell for the others.
The same goes for other pets in the house. If you have a dog, ensure it doesn’t chase your cat.
The dog may be playing, but the cat doesn’t know that. She will probably get scared, especially if the two animals have a size difference.
If your cat goes outside, she may conflict with pets or wildlife in the neighborhood.
Try keeping the cat indoors for a few days if it is acceptable. When the night terrors stop, the cause will become clear.
Stress and anxiety are often associated with nightmares in humans.
The same is true for cats. An anxious cat tends to relive earlier, otherwise forgotten experiences while asleep.
Many experiences can frighten a cat and cause stress. These include:
- Loud, unexpected noises such as car backfires or loud conversations).
- Scolding for undesirable behaviors
- Getting stuck in a tree
- Being left alone unexpectedly for an extended period of time
- Not being fed at the expected time
- Unsanitary living conditions
Avoid these situations as much as possible. Some are easier to avoid than others, of course.
The most important thing is that your cat is not exposed to stress for an extended period of time.
The more stressors a cat experiences in its daily life, the more agitated it becomes. This can then trigger nightmares in cats. These significantly reduce your cat’s quality of life.
Summary: Do Cats Have Nightmares?
Cats seem to dream, so it is likely that cats occasionally experience nightmares.
Fortunately, this is less common in older cats because older cats sleep more deeply.
Be vigilant when comforting a cat that is experiencing a nightmare. Do this only from a safe distance.