Cats love to sleep; in fact, they can spend up to 16 hours a day just napping. They do this to conserve energy for hunting and killing prey, as well as to regulate their temperature. Although domesticated cats do not need to hunt, they still carry this predatory instinct. You may have noticed that your cat sometimes makes twitching movements in her sleep. In this article, we will discuss the reasons for this twitching, and whether you should be concerned.
Why do cats twitch in their sleep?
According to Fuzzy Pet Health veterinarian, Dr. Jessica Herman, cats twitch in their sleep during the REM sleep stage. In this stage, the eyes move horizontally and vertically behind closed eyelids. Cats will also twitch, squeak, stretch and snore during this sleep stage, but none of these is cause for concern. Dr. Herman notes that this is simply an indication that signals are being transmitted to the brain, which is essential for brain health, memory and learning.
During REM sleep, muscles are temporarily paralyzed; this is known as muscle atonia and keeps you from acting out dreams while you sleep. If muscle atonia is lost during sleep, movement becomes possible. A cat’s body is acting out its dream when the feet twitch or the tail quivers. Dr. Herman recommends not to wake cats during the REM stage, since this is followed by the deep-sleep stage which is vital to a cat’s health and wellbeing. She adds that the deep-sleep stage is essential for the growth, repair, and development of a cat’s body.
When does twitching become a concern?
Not all twitching is equal, according to Dr. Matthew McCarthy, veterinarian and founder of Juniper Valley Animal Hospital. Unusual twitching or jerking movements during sleep could indicate that a cat has problems or health issues.
Twitching near a cat’s rear end can be a symptom of flea infestation, while ear twitching could be due to ear mites. Dr. McCarthy noted that cats could be experiencing feline hyperesthesia syndrome if the skin twitching starts while they are sleeping but rouses them, provoking them to attack their skin or possibly even their owner. This syndrome is diagnosed by ruling out other triggers such as pain, stress, allergies or seizures.
You should consult your vet if you notice any abnormal twitching in your cat. Record your cat on video, since verbal descriptions do not always give the full picture of what is happening. Dr. McCarthy noted that they often refer to videos to assess whether the behavior is normal or a cause for concern.
Is it normal for cats to twitch while they sleep?
Yes, it is usually normal for cats to twitch while they sleep. Aside from twitching, other normal behavior includes squeaking, stretching, snoring and rapid eye movement during sleep. However, if the twitching becomes very frequent or unusual, it could indicate a health problem. Consult your vet if you notice unusual twitching and any related abnormal behavior, such as aggression.
A cat’s stages of sleep
Cats have three stages of sleep. The first stage is cat naps, which is the lightest type of sleep. During cat naps, felines are aware of their surroundings and they turn their ears in response to sounds. This stage originated from wild cats and is considered a natural defense mechanism.
Deep sleep is the REM stage of sleep and lasts around five to 10 minutes at a time. This is when a cat twitches and probably dreams. When cats are truly asleep, they cycle through deep sleep and light sleep. The latter sits between a cat nap and deep sleep in terms of duration and level of awareness.
Activated sleep is a fourth stage that usually happens in kittens. During this stage, a cat’s nervous system is active and she may twitch, cry or squirm. This phase is important in assisting the development of the nervous system. Do not rouse a sleeping kitten; it needs a lot of rest to make up for the energy burnt during its waking hours.
Cats may not go into deep sleep if they feel unsafe or uncomfortable with their surroundings. Provide your cat with a secluded sleeping area and comfortable bedding. Allow it to sleep in a raised spot to escape the ground-level activity of children or other pets. Felines also sleep better in warmer temperatures.
Cats value their sleep and may do so for up to 16 hours a day. During the REM sleep stage, it is normal for cats to twitch in their sleep, but if the twitching becomes unusual it could indicate an underlying health issue. Such issues include flea infestation, ear mites or feline hyperesthesia syndrome.
Image: istockphoto.com / zlyka2008