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Why Do Cats Twitch In Their Sleep? (Why is My Cat Shaking?)

Posted in: Cat Care - Last Updated: November 2, 2022 - Author: Dexter Jones
Posted in Cat Care 
Last Updated: October 24, 2022  
Author:  Dexter Jones

If you've ever watched your cat when they were sleeping, you've probably noticed that their body can do a lot of interesting things.

From crazy dreamland postures, and bicycling paws. snoring, muscle spasms, fidgeting tails to even the appearance that they are running, a sleeping pet can be fascinating to watch, cats even more so.  

But why do cats twitch in their sleep? 

why do cats twitch in their sleep

Do cats dream?

Do they reach the REM stage of sleep? Surely they must do. One of the particularly interesting things you'll notice about your cat's sleep habits is the slight twitch that will happen now and again. 

These twitches can be slight tail jumps or ear twitches, as well as even the cat's body twitching itself. It can be really interesting to witness. 

What are they dreaming about? Bad dreams? Is it a physical response to something?

Why does my cat twitch in her sleep?

Well, in this overview, we'll take a look at exactly why cats twitch while sleeping as well as what the science says about this very peculiar behavior.

A Cat's Sleep Cycle

Like humans, cats have multiple sleep stages, each of which has very clear and discernable "tells" letting you know which is which.

Because cats (and felines as a whole) require so much energy to hunt their prey, they usually spend a considerable amount of time sleeping during the day. 

The same goes for many mammals.

For example, where a human often spends up to 8 hours sleeping a cat will almost double that with around 15 hours a day.

This is because sleep helps to maintain a cat's high immune system as well as assists in accelerating the healing of an injury or ensuring they have enough stamina when being active.

To reach these deeper states of rest, felines will go through four different sleep stages. These  sleep cycles are:

"Catnaps", light sleep, deep-sleep stage, and activated sleep.

why does my cat twitch in her sleep

Stage 1: "Catnap" Sleep

Regarded as the lightest form of a cat's sleep cycle,  "catnaps" are exactly as the name implies. 

These are incredibly short rests where the cat can allow the body a chance to recover while also being largely aware of its surroundings. 

You'll often see that, while a cat is in this state, its ears will still respond to sounds and will immediately be on the move if they are exposed to something too loud or if they sense a threat is nearby

In the wild, these catnaps were essential for a cat's health and a survival trait that allowed the cat enough energy to hunt while also ensuring its safety around potential predators. 

Today's domesticated cat may not share many of these survival pressures, but the genetic trait does very much continue to exist.

Stage 2: Light Sleep

After catnaps, the second sleep stage is regarded simply as "light sleep". Light sleeping for cats is pretty similar to what humans experience. 

I know I like taking a nap or brief rest! 

During this state, the cat can slip into a slightly deeper sleep while also not being too unconscious of its surroundings. 

If you were to compare this with a catnap, this would be an actual "nap" whereas a catnap would be akin to resting with your eyes closed.

This state lasts for around 25 minutes before eventually progressing into a deep sleep.

Stage 3: Deep Sleep

A cat's deep sleep phase follows many of the same normal rules as a human falling into REM sleep (rapid eye movement).

During this stage, the cat is truly asleep and is largely unconscious of the world around them. 

Unlike the other two stages, only very sudden or loud movements will wake them up while they are in a deep sleep state. 

This is also where you're most likely to notice your cat twitching or making the crazy posture movements we touched on earlier.

Just as with humans, deep sleep for a kitty happens in varying intervals and will often shift back and forth between light sleeping. 

Generally, deep sleep will last only around 10 minutes before shifting back into light sleep.

Because deep sleep is such a vulnerable state for cats, they may only ever enter this state when suitably comfortable or in an otherwise safe environment. 

While this can be in a variety of different locations and settings, consider creating a space that a cat can associate with safety while sleeping

As an example, consider making them a small bed that is padded and raised above the ground. 

The area should ideally be at around room temperature, as cold settings may make it slightly more difficult for a cat to get comfortable when sleeping.

my cat is twitching in his sleep

Stage 4: Activated Sleep

The fourth sleep stage for felines is known as "activated sleep" and is exclusive solely to kittens. 

Because kittens are still growing and developing, activated sleep allows their nervous system to mature and remain active even while sleeping. 

This will result in things like "sleep squirming" or "sleep crying". The kitten is very much still in either light or deep sleep, however, they will often twitch, move, or cry much more than an adult cat might.

If you have a kitten and are noticing constant twitching, crying, and moving while sleeping, don't shake or disturb them. 

They aren't having a nightmare or suffering. 

Again, this is entirely natural and an essential part of maturing their nervous system as they develop.

Do Kittens Twitch More Than Adult Cats?

While both kittens and adult cats may twitch while asleep, when compared, kittens will tend to do it much more. 

This is due to the activated sleep mentioned earlier. 

This is a trait found in humans as well. When young babies are sleeping, you will notice that they can be much more active while sleeping compared to their adult counterparts. 

Because their nervous system is continually developing, it's not uncommon to see an infant or kitten constantly moving their limbs or being active while sleeping.

Possible Causes For Concern

When it comes to cat twitching or sporadic movements while sleeping, the majority of cases are almost always going to be harmless with no real cause for worry or concern.

 However, not all sleep twitching is safe or healthy. 

So be alert to this.

If you notice that your cat or kitten has violent, jerky movements when abnormal twitching experiences body stiffness while sleeping, or suffers from things like vomiting, lethargy, or a loss of appetite when awake, they may be suffering from a severe illness or disease and should be taken to see a vet as soon as possible. 

Sometimes a cat may jolt awake out of a deep sleep with super wide eyes and appear frightened. Something has freaked them but it should be normal, they are hyper-sensitive creatures. 

Loss of Muscle Tone, scientifically known as Atonia.

Cats that are dreaming will experience a loss of muscle tone as their bodies relax, despite their twitching muscles. 

So we don't want our fuzzy friends overdoing it! If you are concerned about any of these symptoms don't hesitate to get them to the vet.

cat twitching in sleep

Whole-body stiffness and violent jerky movements are both indicative signs of a seizure and can happen whether your cat is sleeping or awake. 

Because many of these acts take place after experiencing some of the minor drawbacks (lethargy, sudden lack of appetite, vomiting, etc.) it's important to always be aware of your cat's actions. 

Seizures can potentially be life-threatening and are not to be taken lightly.

Why Do Cats Twitch In Their Sleep? Summary

In the majority of cases, if you notice your cat twitching or moving while sleeping, it's most likely harmless. 

Still, you don't want to wake them up or do anything to disrupt their movements. If you want, simply sit back and enjoy their blissful sleep. 

I will say that, with rare exceptions, there isn't anything like watching an otherwise guarded and controlled cat sleeping so peacefully and comfortably. 

If you have the chance to see that, just know that your furry friend loves and trusts you.

About the author

Dexter Jones has been a solid member of the ‘Mad Cat Dad’ club since time began! Dexter has been a keen cat writer for many years and lives in Croatia. He lives with his two tabby cats, Milly & Marly, who also flew in from the UK to start their new Adriatic island life together.