Cats are talented sleepers. If you have kept company with a pet cat for any length of time, you probably already realize that cats sleep a lot.
Sometimes it also seems like cats can sleep anywhere, anytime, and in any position.
But the real question is, what do cats dream about? For that matter, do cats dream? If yes, how do we know cats are dreaming when they are asleep?
Find out the answers to these questions and much more in this article.
What Do Cats Dream About
According to feline researchers, cats do dream. However, the exact nature and content of their dreams still remain a mystery of sorts – at least until cats can tell us in words.
Of course, all sorts of theories exist about what cats dream about. Read on to learn what the latest feline research has to say about cats dreaming.
Learn More About Signs of Feline Dreaming
In this interesting YouTube video, you can learn about feline sleep periods, which are surprisingly similar to human sleep stages!
You can also learn about some common signs that cat behaviorists and researchers believe are signs of feline dreaming.
How do Researchers Know Cats Are Dreaming
The truth is, feline researchers, do not know for sure that cats dream.
But what they have learned is that cats experience the REM stage of sleep, which is the stage in humans that is closely associated with dreaming.
Researchers look for certain behavioral markers to identify when REM sleep is occurring. The essential markers that signify REM sleep include rapid eye movement, faster pulse, faster breathing, more movement, and, of course, dreams.
Interestingly, while it may appear as though your cat is sleeping for several hours straight, the reality is that most cats will sleep for approximately 79 minutes at a stretch with about a 26 minute period of waking in between.
As Science Direct outlines, what this means is that cats are stringing together shorter sleep cycles, each of which is punctuated by short bursts of waking.
During every 79 minutes of sleep, the cat will experience approximately 2.6 REM cycles, which equates to at least the possibility of 2.6 dreams per sleep period.
That could easily add up to a lot of dreams, especially when you consider how long the typical cat sleeps during the typical 24 hour period!
While the exact number of daily sleep hours a cat gets can vary depending on the source, PetMD states that the average cat gets about 15 hours of sleep per day.
Now it is time for a little basic math. 15 sleep hours equals 900 sleep minutes per day. A single sleep/wake cycle lasts 105 minutes. And there are approximately 2.6 REM sleep periods during each cycle.
That means a typical cat gets about 8.6 periods where dreaming might occur, within which there are 2.6 opportunities for dreams to take place. So your cat might easily have 22 dreams or more during a typical day!
What Does Feline Dreaming Research Have to Say
National Geographic reports on a 1959 research study where researchers impaired the part of the feline brain that prevents movement during sleep.
The researchers then observed sleeping cats and cataloged their movements. The cats acted out various movements, including arching their backs, grooming, stalking prey, fighting with other animals, and raised their heads.
As the Journal of Sleep Medicine highlights, this type of research was pioneered by French researcher Michel Jouvet who specialized in investigating sleep and dreaming in non-human species.
As the New York Times explains, Jouvet called these sleep movements “oneiric” behaviors, which translates to mean “movements related to dreaming.”
Researchers did not discover a corresponding type of sleep movement in humans until much later in 1986. The researchers discovered that some people who lack the normal movement inhibiting function of the brain would also move during dreams, sometimes violently.
This discovery has taken researchers one step closer to linking feline REM sleep cycles to actual cat dreaming.
What Do Cats Dream About
As one Harvard University explained to People magazine, the only animals that have been able to actually confirm dreaming are gorillas who have been taught to use sign language.
So while there are plenty of sources eager to say that yes, cats do dream, once again the truth is less definite. There is evidence to suggest that cats do dream and more evidence that implies cats dream about certain categories of events.
Researchers familiar with the original Michel Jouvet studies state that the dreaming cats acted a lot like they were chasing mice in their dreams as they hissed, stalked, and pounced during sleep.
Were they chasing mice or some other type of small prey? It is likely, given what researchers have learned about the content of typical human dreams.
On that note, the same Harvard University researcher draws parallels to human dreaming subject matter to develop this theory. In other words, most people report dreaming about events that occurred during the day.
In this way, dreaming is thought to fulfill several important functions, as the Sleep Foundation describes.
Why Would It Help Cats to Dream
At this point, you may be wondering whether cats dream because it helps them be better cats when they are awake.
The Sleep Foundation states that the answer to this question is still debated by human sleep and dreaming researchers.
One reason there is no universal consensus is that while some people report dreaming vividly every night, other people don’t seem to be able to easily recall dreaming at all. Still, others report dreaming only occasionally.
As well, many people report having dreams that don’t seem to make any sense or have any relation to events in their waking life.
There are five main theories about why people dream that may help to explain why it might help a cat to dream.
To create memories
Dreaming can leave lasting memories. For example, a cat that dreams about finding a good hunting territory would be more likely to remember how to get back there the next day.
To manage emotion
Anyone who lives with cats knows they have many different moods. Dreaming might help a cat to shake off strong emotions such as being preyed upon or challenged by a rival cat.
To aid in learning
Cats may dream about waking life events to glean more knowledge from them, which could give them an advantage in waking.
To free up space in the brain
It is also possible that dreaming is simply the brain’s way of decluttering, organizing, and streamlining stored information.
To allow the brain to do its work
Finally, some researchers believe dreaming is simply a by-product of sleep cycle brain activity. In this way, it could be that dreams – whether for cats or humans – are just indicators that the brain is doing what it needs to do during sleep.
When Cat Dreaming Requires Veterinary Care
Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine explains that certain health conditions can cause cats to start sleeping more and more.
In particular, cats that are suffering from heart disease, kidney disease or diabetes may start sleeping for longer periods during the day.
If you notice that your cat seems to need more and more sleep, it is always wise to schedule a good cat checkup with your feline veterinarian.