Why Your Cat Has Bad Dreams (Why You Can’t Help)

After we finally found our cat Clementine who had been lost for twelve days, I realized that something in her sleeping changed. It was the first time to think that everyday troubles can cause nightmares in cats. The question is whether some other things can be a reason for their bad dreams.

Scientists discovered that cats process stress through their dreams as we do. When you see your cat twitching and moaning while sleeping, it probably has a nightmare. The reasons can vary and include frightening experiences from both the previous day or the distant past and physical pain.

In this article, you will discover what causes bad dreams in cats. That way, you will know whether to do something about them or to let your furry friend overcome them on its own.

Reasons for Bad Dreams in Cats

Like other mammals, cats experience bad dreams during the REM sleep stage while the hippocampus processes unpleasant past events. You can see your pet looks distressed while sleeping, accompanied by crying, twitching, and swiping claws in that period.

why is my cat having bad dreams

Scientists believe that nightmares can even be a positive experience since they clean the memory from the cat’s mind, letting it live without stress and fear of horrible events. Therefore, it is a wise decision to let your kitty sleep without disturbing it.

The common reasons for bad dreams in cats include:

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Many cats that suffer from this disorder survived life in a cage, on the street, or abuse. It seems that bad dreams are a way their brain tries to overcome suffering.

Frightening experiences

Like humans, cats will have bad dreams as a result of stress and anxiety. An anxious cat will often relive previous disturbing experiences while sleeping, including:

  • Too loud, sudden, and unexpected noises
  • Grief over the owner long absence
  • Scolding or corporal punishment
  • Starvation or inadequate and untimely feeding
  • Unsanitary living conditions
  • A fall while jumping
  • Frightening conflict with other animals

Abandonment

Even though many people believe that cats are uninterested in creating deeper emotional connections with their owners, it is not true. You can read about numerous examples of cats suffering after their people abandoned them.

In such a situation, it probably recalls the horror of being left alone in its dreams. The only way to prevent such a thing is to establish a routine and show your kitty what to expect.

reasons for nightmares in cats

Bullying and conflict

Sometimes you can see that the same cat in the multiple pet household suffers from bad dreams. The probable reason is bullying.

This particular cat will process the dog harassment or conflict with another aggressive cat during its sleep time. Protecting this kitty from abuse will quickly solve the problem with nightmares.

Physical pain

If you are a cat owner, you already know how hard it is to determine whether your kitty is in pain. Senior cats are particularly capable of masking illness and physical discomfort for a long.

However, they can dream about their suffering and experience bad dreams as a result. If they recur frequently, you should consider taking your pet to the vet for a regular check.

Cat’s age

Be aware that REM phases are more frequent in kittens, so they experience nightmares more often than adult cats. On the other hand, adults will sleep deeper, so you will rarely see them upset during sleep.

Unfortunately, the cat will become more unhappy and anxious when these bad experiences repeat. Bad dreams will appear continually as a result.

Can We Be Sure That Cats Have Bad Dreams? What Do They Dream About?

An average adult cat sleeps approximately sixteen hours a day. It is impossible to be sure that they dream, but some evidence suggests it is a case.

For instance, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have proved that animals have complex dreams and can recall experienced events while sleeping.

According to Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, a director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and the author of the ‘The Cat Who Cried for Help’ and ‘Pets on the Couch’ books, the human and cat’ physical brain structure is very similar.

So, it sounds reasonable that their hippocampus, responsible for memory, processes the previous day’s events. As a result, your pet will dream and sometimes suffer from nightmares.

why is my cat having nightmares

Cat sleeping cycle

Scientists have proven that there are two dreaming sleep stages:

  • REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, a phase of increased brain activity
  • Non-REM sleep, a stage of deep sleep

Dr. Dodman says that cats exhibit dreaming behavioral characteristics that are typical for humans. However, sleep cycles in kitties are far shorter. While humans experience REM sleep every 90 minutes, it appears every 25 minutes in cats or approximately two times per sleep episode.

Dreams that occur during this phase are long, detailed, and probably imaginative. On the other hand, non-REM dreams are short and connected with events from the previous day.

Things Cats Usually Dream About

Neurophysiologist  Dr. Michel Jouvet, who helped define REM (paradoxical sleep), determined the brain parts crucial for consciousness and the mechanisms that alter it during sleep.

According to his research, cats occasionally show hunting-like behavior during the REM sleep stage, including arching their backs, hissing, and meowing. After decades of additional research, scientists concluded that these animals often dream about hunting.

Most researchers agree that cats also summarize their memories during sleeping and relive past experiences. In fact, adult cats can dream about events that happened years ago, thanks to their impressive long-term memory capacity.

Finally, it is believed that cats can dream about fantasies. That part is the only one that is not directly connected with bad experiences. So, fantasies will appear only in pleasant dreams.

There are a few clear signs that your cat dreams about something unpleasant:

  • It cries and twitches its face while its breathing is rapid
  • It thumps its tail, and its limbs twitch

If you believe that your kitty dreams, you shouldn’t try to wake it up, even it is evident that these dreams are bad and disturbing.

What to Do When Your Cat Has a Bad Dream?

Most experts believe that there is no need to worry about cats’ bad dreams too much. In most cases, pet kitties dream after a lousy experience and quickly recover after waking up. There is no evidence that they dream about imagined events or things that never happened.

In theory, protecting your cat from having bad dreams looks simple, and you may think that comfortable life and lack of bad experiences will prevent nightmares. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

In reality, cats can memorize things that happened years ago. Therefore, their brains can uncover critical previous memories that will probably provoke immediate nightmares.

The horrible thing is that you actually can’t do anything to help your sleeping pet. The only thing you can do is gently hug and comfort it after waking up.

Summary

Even though scientists have discovered many facts about cats’ bad dreams, we still can’t fully determine what these animals exactly dream about.

However, it is possible to understand the reasons for their bad dreams thanks to extensive scientific researchers on the subject. In most cases, the reasons for these unpleasant nightmares are disturbing previous experiences.


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