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Your Twitchy Cat Could Be Dreaming or Spasming

The top 3 reasons why cats twitch in their sleep, according to a vet.

by Kate Sheofsky
September 15, 2021
a red cat stretching on a bed
Chris Zielecki / Stocksy

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Cats excel at a lot of things. Effortlessly leaping onto high bookshelves, stalking (sometimes imaginary) prey, committing to time-intensive grooming routines. And sleeping. Cats are really, really good at sleeping. They even have a type of nap named after them. And can we all agree there’s nothing better than a catnap to ease the Sunday scaries?

Cats can sleep for an enviable 15+ hours a day. And since they’re your pet and not your S.O., you can watch them while they sleep without it being the slightest bit creepy. During these non-creepy sessions, you’ve probably caught your cat twitching while they snooze. But have you ever wondered why they do it? We wondered, too, so we dug into the potential reasons behind this common cat behavior.

1. Dreams

Just like people, cats go through rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM cycles when they sleep. During REM sleep, the body is relaxed, but the brain is actively processing the day’s events. This is the stage when cats dream — and when you’re most likely to see them twitching, moving their paws, or squeaking. Cats can enter REM sleep every 25 minutes (unlike the 90-minute cycles humans experience), so you may catch them dreaming even during short catnaps. Twitching during dreams is normal behavior and not something to be worried about. That’s the good news. The not-as-good news is that there may be other non-dream-related reasons for your cat to twitch while sleeping. We checked in with Dr. Elizabeth Shines, DVM, to learn more. 

2. Allergies

“Twitching during sleep, followed by waking and immediately grooming, could indicate itchy skin related to fleas, allergies, matted fur, or a skin infection,” says Dr. Shines. “Make sure to check your cat routinely for fleas and keep their coat in good condition.” If you see your cat twitching their ears specifically, that could indicate ear mites or an ear infection. “You may notice that the twitching is followed by scratching or rubbing at the ears,” Dr. Shines adds. “Ear mites and infections will often cause a build-up of waxy debris in the ears, so check your pet’s ears regularly.”

3. Seizures

On a slightly scarier note, cats who experience seizures can exhibit signs such as twitching, shaking, spasms, and tremors. Seizures are often timed with a change in brain activity, and that includes falling asleep or waking up. In addition to twitching, during a seizure, a cat’s limbs might go rigid, and they may lose control of their bowel or bladder. If you suspect your cat is having seizures, contact your vet right away so they can begin investigating any underlying health issues.

Other triggers that could cause a cat to shake or twitch are pain, stress, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), or low or high body temperatures. The bottom line: if you’re not sure if your cat’s twitching is normal, dreamy-time activity, or a medical issue that needs attention, check in with your veterinarian. They’re your best resource for keeping your cat happy and healthy enough to enjoy their 18 hours of daily sleep.

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Kate Sheofsky

Kate Sheofsky hails from San Francisco, where she developed a love of writing, Giants baseball, and houses she can’t afford. She currently lives in Portland, OR, and works as a freelance writer and content strategist. When not typing away on her laptop, she enjoys tooling around the city with her two rescue pups searching for tasty food and sunny patios.