If you’ve ever seen your cat shake, chat or move their legs while sleeping, you may have wondered if they are dreaming. The answer is yes. Cats do dream.
Do Cats Dream?
Although we know that people often dream in their sleep, it was unclear for years whether animals did dream. Then scientists checked rats’ brains while they were awake and performed tasks such as running around running tracks for food. They then compared the rats’ brain activity in their sleep and discovered exactly the same patterns as the rats showed while performing their tasks.
This indicated that rats were indeed dreaming. In fact, it’s likely that all mammals dream. But then why are we dreaming?
In order to understand dreaming, it helps to understand the process of sleep. Sleep is a natural state characterized by decreased awareness and the reduction or cessation of sensory and voluntary muscle activity. In other words, you do not eat, smell, or walk during sleep. We still don’t know why sleep is so important for animals, but it seems to help in the growth and recovery of our body systems. During sleep, the brain also seems to process information and experiences gained during the day.
There are two main types of sleep – fast eye movement (REM) sleep and non-fast eye movement (non-REM) sleep. During REM sleep, the dreamer’s eyes, as the name suggests, move quickly and randomly and their brain activity reflects that of the animal when awake. While the dreamer may appear quite active during this phase of sleep, they are very difficult to awaken. Dreaming occurs mainly in this REM phase of sleep. Young animals spend more time in dream sleep than older animals, probably because of the need to process new information.
So what do our furry friends dream about? Dinner? Climbing the curtains? Playing with their owners?
Probably all of them. Everything your cat does during the day is processed while she sleeps and revives in Dreamtime. So the trembling whiskers, the moaning, and the running paws we often see. Dreaming is the animal’s attempt to understand the information processed in the brain. So the neurons fire and our brains construct a storyline that fits.
Of course, the dreams of animals, just like those of humans, are not always pleasant or based on real experiences. Nightmares and more unusual dreams can be our way of determining how to behave optimally when that experience occurs in our awakened hours. Not that cats are likely to worry about taking exams or being naked in public, unpleasant dreams that people often experience!
Instead, our cats’ dreams are probably filled with chasing toys, finding a lap to slumber, or discovering ways to convince owners to feed them again! A dream life for a cat.
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