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Ask A Vet: Does My Cat Dream?

Have you ever watched your cat sleeping? Does he engage in movements or twitches that suggest he might be dreaming? Mammals are all thought to experience Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep to some degree (although not all have been studied extensively) and it is this phase of sleep when dreams occur.

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There are numerous studies about the nature of sleep for humans and theories about what dreams might signify. Cats have been found to have decreased neuron excitability during REM sleep, compared to wakefulness and non REM sleep indicating that they do experience REM sleep and that it differs from the other states of sleep and wakefulness 1.In studies as early as 1965, scientists were able to show that cats experience REM sleep and act out their dreams. Scientists by the names of Jouvet and Delorme experimentally created brain lesions in cats that resulted in REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD)2.

REM sleep disorder has been diagnosed in humans and is characterized by physical acting out of dreams. This behavior can be very disruptive and even dangerous for the sleeper and those around him/her. Humans afflicted with RBD can be effectively treated and live normal lives. Cats will naturally occurring RBD are not well documented, so treatment regimens are not defined, but the fact that they can experience an abnormality associated with acting out dreams indicates that they do indeed dream.

Some believe that dreams which occur during REM sleep actually function in the learning process. Sigmund Freud believed that dreams were suggestive of unresolved desires or wishes.

Just like all sleeping people who do not appear to be dreaming the entire time they sleep, sleeping cats do not obviously dream every moment they sleep or even every time they sleep. It seems sensible to conclude that cats’ brains can (and do) dream. We do not know whether cats remember their dreams or learn from them, but it seems that maybe cats are more like us more than we may realize.

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  1. Control of hypoglossal motoneurones during naturally occurring sleep and wakefulness in the intact, unanaesthetized cat: a field potential study.Sleep2014 Aug;23(4):469-74. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12137. Epub 2014 Mar 8.Fung SJ1Chase MH.

 

  1. Rem sleep without atonia–from cats to humans.Arch Ital Biol.2004 Jul;142(4):469-78. Mahowald MW1Schenck CH.

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