As cat parents, you most likely have watched your beloved kitty sleep. Whether they sleep next to you at night or nap next to you on Caturdays, you may have seen your cat twitching in sleep. If so, you are probably wondering, do cats dream? Should you be concerned?
It is no secret that cats love to sleep! On average, cats sleep between 12-16 hours a day. A lot of their bodily and mental processes happen while they sleep.
Sleeping contributes to your cat's brain health, learning ability, and memory. With all that going on inside a cat, it's no surprise that some of it shows up in twitching while your cat sleeps. And it is completely normal behavior, and it happens more often in older cats than younger cats. Twitching is most often just a cute indication that your cat's mind and body are working well.
To break down why your cat twitches in its sleep and what exactly is going on while your cat sleeps, we need to understand the stages of sleep and the basic functions going on inside your cat while it rests.
Four Stages of Sleep Cycles
To understand why cats twitch in their sleep, you need to know about the four stages of sleep cats experience. Being able to identify the different sleep stages helps you better know why your cat is twitching, even if it is nothing to be concerned by.
A catnap is the lightest of all types of cat sleep and originated in wild cats as a natural defense mechanism. Cats are still very responsive while in a catnap. This can be demonstrated by how a cat's ears twitch and move in response to sound even when it seems to be asleep. Cats wake very easily out of catnaps. Most limb twitching and sleep sounds won't happen during a catnap, as the cat is too aware of what is happening.
Light sleep is the next level of sleep for a cat, and they may be harder to disturb and may take a sleeping posture that is more prone or stretched out. Cats may twitch in a light sleep as a result of involuntary muscle spasms, but these are often few and not extreme.
Deep sleep is the stage of sleep in which the body, both in humans and cats, can do the most restorative work. The deep sleep phase consists of REM sleep or rapid eye movement sleep, and this is the stage where both cats and humans experience dreams.
In this deep sleep stage, it is quite common for cats to twitch, kick, knead, or even squeak, but it is nothing to be alarmed about. It is normal twitches, and REM cycles only last for five to ten minutes before moving back into a light sleep.
Activated sleep is a sleep stage that is only experienced during the kitten phase of a cat's life. Activation sleep is a category of sleep wherein a kitten's nervous system is firing more rapidly than normal as it develops. Therefore, if you see kittens twitch, it's most likely in this stage of sleep.
While your kitten is asleep, its nervous system is very much awake and working, resulting in more produced twitching, squirming, and squeaking. As a cat matures, it no longer requires activated sleeping and grows out of it. It would be best never to wake a kitten in activated sleep, as it is vital to let the kitten's nervous system be adequately developed.
What Twitching in Sleep Could Be
Now that you know the various stages of sleep and what each accomplishes, you have a better idea of what could be going on in your cat's body and mind while it sleeps that results in the twitching and pawing, and even tail flicking that you see in your cat while it is sleeping.
Involuntary muscle spasms can result in a body twitch during sleep stages. It can result from muscle tensing or relaxing, stress, lots of exercise during the day, or even dehydration. It is not generally anything to be concerned about and is often less noticeable than twitching due to dreams or activated sleep.
Cats have dreams in REM sleep, so if you see your cat twitching in oddly coordinated ways, like paws twitching along with the tail with vocalizations, your cat may be dreaming.
While the body is at rest, the mind takes the time to process the day's events, and one of the ways cats (and humans) bodies process events is through a process that results in dreams. Again, these twitches are nothing to be concerned about and can even be quite comical to watch your cat dreaming.
Nervous System Processes
This is primarily the reason for kittens twitching in activated sleep. Neuron connections are constantly firing as kittens develop and age, and this can result in very noticeable twitching and squirming in kittens as they sleep.
It is nothing to worry you, but you should be careful not to wake your sleeping kitty as this sleep is necessary for the proper and healthy formation of its nervous system. This type of twitching is more pronounced than dream twitching, but it will lessen as your cat ages, and as adult cats, they will no longer have activated sleep patterns.
When to be Concerned
So, while a cat twitching in its sleep is very common and even a sign of a healthy cat, are there times when it could be a symptom of a greater issue? How can you tell the difference between a sleeping twitch and a seizure? What other symptoms might lead you to believe something else might be wrong with your cat?
The main difference between a normal sleeping cat twitch and a seizure is that a seizure is a whole body attack, and they are not reserved just for sleeping cats. Normal twitching often affects only a few parts of your cat's body.
A seizure will obviously be a contortion of your cat's entire body and could also happen when your cat is awake. Seizures lead to a stiff body and jerky, unnatural movements. A cat having a seizure in its sleep will be hard to wake, and when they are awake, it may seem confused or unstable. Other symptoms include lethargy, a change in appetite, vomiting, and strange behavior.
If the cat's twitching seems to be localized to your cat's rear, it could be that your cat has fleas. Additional symptoms include increased scratching when the cat is awake. Staying up to date on your cat's preventative flea care is the best way to prevent fleas.
If your cat's ears seem to be twitching excessively in sleep or when awake, it could be a sign of ear mites. Several highly effective treatments can help get rid of cat ear mites. Still, it does need to be treated immediately to prevent a bacterial infection that can lead to partial or even total deafness.
Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome
If the twitching becomes so severe that it awakens your cat, who then becomes aggressive towards its own skin or you, your cat may have feline hyperesthesia syndrome or FHS. This "twitch-skin syndrome" is a nervous disorder that results in intense licking or biting of the tail, back, or rear limbs.
Other reasons your cat may be twitching can be due to some trigger, the seriousness of which can vary. Some common triggers include allergies, stress, pain, and seizures. Any abnormal behavior or twitching could be cause for concern, and you should have it checked out by a vet.
If you are unsure if you should be concerned or not, record a video of your cat's sleep movements and show it to your veterinarian. Be sure to capture or note if the cats exhibit other weird behaviors.