Our feline friends are notorious for their ability to curl up and snooze the day away. Considering the fact that there’s literally a nap named after them (hello, catnap!), it’s no surprise that kitties spend a good chunk of their time sleeping — about seven to 16 hours daily on average. So it makes sense that they must have something going on in their brains while they snooze. But do cats dream? Here, an animal behvior expert shares everything you need to know about the weird and wonderful world of cat dreams.
Do cats dream?
Scientists and pet parents alike have been fascinated by cat dreams for centuries (even the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle posited that animals have dreams). Research proved Aristotle’s speculations correct in 1965, when sleep researcher Michel Jouvet studied cats’ sleeping patterns in a series of experiments and concluded that cats are capable of dreaming.
“Cats experience different sleep stages, much like humans,” explains Dr. Mikel Maria Delgado, cat behavior expert for Rover. “This includes the REM stage (also known as paradoxical sleep) when humans do most of their dreaming.” Because cat and human sleep cycles are surprisingly similar, it stands to reason that cats can, in fact, dream. Mysterious creatures that they are, “we cannot know for certain,” if cats dream, says Dr. Delgado, but “there’s no reason to think that they would not, given similarities in their brains and sleep stages.”
And cats aren’t the only animals that experience REM sleep and dreams. Research has shown that all mammals have the potential to dream, which means if you have a dog (or another variety of fuzzy friend), they just might be dreaming too!
It’s also theorized that kittens may dream more than full-grown cats. “Kittens need more sleep than adult cats,” Dr. Delgado says, “and like humans, adult cats have less deep sleep and increased fragmentation of sleep compared to kittens.” Because kittens sleep so deeply, they may also dream more vividly.
How to tell if your cat is dreaming
Okay, so we know cats can dream. But how can you really tell if your cat is dreaming while they’re all curled up? “Although we can’t be certain that it is due to dreaming, during REM sleep, you may observe some twitching of your cat’s ears, lips, tail, or paws,” Dr. Delgado says. So if you spot your kitty moving in their sleep, they just might be in dreamland!
If your cat looks like they’re in the midst of dreaming, you might want to give them a pet, as they’ll be pretty cute. However, Dr. Delgado cautions against this. “Cats need a lot of rest, and like us, they may get grumpy when sleep-deprived,” she says. “Never disturb your cat when they are sleeping — let them be!” You wouldn’t like it if someone randomly woke you up while you were getting your shut-eye, and your cat is the same way.
What do cats dream about?
If you’ve wondered whether cats dream, you’ve also probably wondered what exactly they dream about. Could they be having visions of epic mouse chases? Their next meal? Or could they be dreaming about something even bigger — say, world domination? “There is no way to be certain what cats are dreaming about,” Dr. Delgado says. “The most reasonable guess would be that they dream about real-life experiences.”
Do cats dream about their owners?
If cats dream about their lives, then surely they must have visions of their lovely owners as they doze, right? “There is no way to know for sure, but I’d like to think so!” says Dr. Delgado. Because cat dreaming is likely similar to human dreaming, and humans often dream about other humans in their lives, cats might be able to dream about their owners. After all, we’re the people they see the most.
While the exact content of cat dreams isn’t known (though it’s certainly fun to speculate on!) it’s fascinating to consider the fact that they have dreams at all. We’ll never be able to read our cats’ minds, no matter how hard we try, but when we see them sleeping, there’s a good chance some dreams are going on inside their sweet little heads.
Click through to learn about more quirky cat behaviors: