The Truth About Whether Or Not Cats Dream

Whether you're a long-time cat owner or just a cat lover who peruses videos of cute kitties on Instagram, there are bound to be several cat behaviors that perplex you. One mystery that may be on several cat enthusiasts' minds is what goes on in the brains of sleeping cats, behind their peaceful, angelic look. Born with natural hunting instincts, it should be no surprise that a 1960 study of sleeping cats found that cats seem to model the same body language when they sleep as they do when they hunt during their REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep.

REM sleep is the portion of sleep in which most of your dreams occur, per the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Sleep researcher Michel Jouvet conducted the study and found that cats would hiss and arch their backs during their sleep, which they often do when hunting food. Jouvet and other researchers theorized that cats could be dreaming about their next hunt. 

However, this is not the only thing cats dream about. Scroll on to discover what else happens in their minds during sleep. 

Cats dream about daily life

Since domesticated cats have become accustomed to being fed, rather than having to hunt food, there are also several other things cats can dream about. According to Modkat, cats can dream about their day-to-day lives, like playing with toys, eating from their bowls, and spending time with their human families. Dr. Katy Nelson, senior veterinarian at Chewy, told Reader's Digest that cats tend to dream about images they see every day. "During sleep, the mammalian brain needs to organize and arrange images from the day," she explained.

"If they went outside and saw a bird and another kitty friend, those images are likely what is playing through their mind during sleep," Nelson continued, adding that they are perhaps "dreaming about you, their delicious dinner, and the pens and chapstick that they pushed off of your table just so they could watch them fall!" 

All jokes aside, cats don't just dream about the things that happened to them that day. In fact, like humans, they can have unpleasant experiences in their sleep. 

Do cats have nightmares?

While cats dream, they can also have nightmares. "Our cats aren't likely to dream of monsters or missing a final exam like we do, but who knows ... maybe they dream of oversized mice or seeing the bottom of their food bowl!" Dr. Katy Nelson told Reader's Digest.

Modkat reports that cats can also have nightmares if they have a negative experience earlier in the day. Some signs of a cat having a nightmare include meowing, hissing, or random movements in their sleep. While this may look concerning, it's advised to not wake up your cat, as that can startle them and cause them to attack you.

According to Nelson, it is believed that nightmares happen as a way to map out worst-case scenarios and a solution for them if they happen in real life. Cats tend to have impeccable long-term memory, per Modkat. So, dreaming is especially important for them, as it allows them to process events that happened, and categorize the information they gathered from them. Just like it does for humans and other mammals, sleep helps cats rest and refresh their brain for their next activity. What does that mean? They can visualize their next mouse hunt or play session with you in their dreams.