Dreams or Nightmares: 5 Reasons Your Cat Is Twitching While They Sleep

Written by Sam Hindman
Published: October 30, 2023
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Watching your cat sleep can be quite an entertaining time. But, if you notice there’s a lot of movement, you might question what exactly they’re thinking of. Whether it’s tossing and turning or mewling and pawing, excessive movement while asleep is a very common phenomenon in cats. There are plenty of reasons why a cat might start twitching while they sleep, but in this article, we discuss the most common explanations. Perhaps you’ll learn a thing or two about the brain of your feline friend. Who knows, maybe you’ll come to find that they aren’t as different from humans as one might think!

Do Cats Dream?

Lazy ginger cat sleeping on the table in the sunlight for a little nap

Cats, like other mammals, do experience dreaming!

©Jérémy Stenuit/iStock via Getty Images

The answer to this question is quite simple: Yes! Cats do dream, much like humans. In fact, there have been studies conducted with rats and other small mammals for the purpose of studying brain waves. In these studies, it was found time and time again that the brain waves observed reflected that of a dreaming human. So, not only do cats dream, but it can be assumed that all mammals have dreams.

Cats, in particular, have very interesting sleeping patterns, sometimes resting up to twenty hours a day. With this much rest, it can even be assumed that cats dream more often than humans do! Dreams occur in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep. During this stage of sleep, creatures, humans and cats alike, have dreams. Since it’s also the stage that involves rapid movement, this can explain your cat’s twitching behavior while sleeping. Another observed behavior is that kittens experience REM sleep more frequently, likely because their young minds have a lot of information to process.

This is exactly why it’s ill-advised to wake up a cat while it’s sleeping. Disrupting the REM sleep process, especially for a creature that needs such a high volume of sleep each day, can have major consequences in terms of the cat’s mood and behavior. What’s that age-old phrase? “It’s better to let sleeping cats lie.”

What Do Cats Dream About?

A golden Persian cat sleeping in a bed with a curtain of owls in the background

There’s no way to know what cats dream about, but we can assume it involves their day-to-day activities.

©Lucas Spengler/Shutterstock.com

Now that we know that cats do dream, the only question remaining would be what exactly they dream about. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know precisely the kind of dreams they experience. Some humans can’t even articulate the kinds of dreams they have, and there’s evidently no way to directly ask a cat about their thoughts. But, what we can determine is this: Dreams are a direct reflection of our experiences. We dream about things like people we’ve seen, places we’ve been, and things we’ve done. So, it wouldn’t be a grand stretch to assume the same from cats. If you spent a particularly engaging match of “chase the string,” for instance, it’s not far-fetched to assume they’re dreaming of it. Who knows, they might even dream about us, their owners!

Other Reasons Your Cat Moves During Sleep

Two little kittens sleep with their eyes closed and covered with fluffy blanket

There are plenty of reasons why your cat is twitching in its sleep.

©iStock.com/Olena Ivanova

Though their sweet little dreams might be one explanation, there are reasons why your cat is twitching in their sleep besides the occasional dancing sugarplums. Below are four other common explanations for these movements, with information on what to do if you believe that your cat is experiencing these unpleasant sensations.

Nightmares

If cats dream, then it’s fair to assume that those dreams aren’t always sweet. It’s just as likely that a cat might have a nightmare as it is that they might have a peaceful dream. As we know, nightmares are not a fun time. They can be very scary, surreal, and unnerving. If it looks or sounds like your cat is having a distressing dream, however, it’s important you resist the urge to wake them up! As we mentioned earlier, waking up a cat during its REM sleep cycle is a surefire way to put it in a terrible mood. Nightmare or otherwise, it’s better to allow them to make their way through the experience rather than interrupt it.

Discomfort

There might be reasons for your cat twitching while asleep that have nothing to do with their dreams. For instance, they might feel something itching them, and they’re instinctively moving around to relieve this feeling. If your cat has a history of fleas, or any known allergens, this could be the explanation.

Muscle Twitches

Another reason, aside from dreams, is that your cat is experiencing muscle spasms. These are actually quite common when it’s time for bed, and they’re observed in humans just as much as they are in animals like cats! These spasms typically happen right as the mind enters REM sleep, which would explain why they potentially do this a short while after lying down. Though these spasms might look a little concerning from an outside perspective, they’re actually perfectly natural.

Seizures

A less natural, more concerning explanation for excessive twitching while asleep is a seizure. Although rest assured that if your cat is having a seizure, you will be able to very clearly distinguish this. A seizure can last up to three minutes, and while it is occurring, you should closely observe all of the behaviors your cat exhibits before, during, and afterward. Then, contact your vet immediately. To help you identify this particular issue, here are some telltale signs of a seizure in a cat:

  • Excessively drooling from the mouth
  • Consistent shaking or shivering, usually stiffly
  • Suddenly becoming zoned out when previously awake
  • Falling over onto one side
  • A sense of general confusion after the fact

The photo featured at the top of this post is © anastas_/1391797125 via Getty Images


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About the Author

Sam Hindman is a writer at A-Z animals covering a range of topics, including pet care, plant care, pest control and travel destinations. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Multimedia Studies at Point Park University, set to graduate in the spring of 2024. A resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when she isn't writing, she's spending time with her beloved cat Archie.

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