It is a calm afternoon, and your sweet kitty is asleep on the sofa, a bundle of fluffy comfort and tranquility. As you watch your sweet purr baby sleep, marveling at their level of peace and comfort, they suddenly start twitching. Sometimes twitches can be on a leg or paw, other times on noses or ears. Owners often wonder what makes a seemingly peaceful cat suddenly start to twitch and shake as they sleep. Is this simply a normal reaction to an active dream about hunting, or is something else going on?
There are a few different reasons why felines might twitch in their sleep. Though some are quite harmless, watching this happen can be alarming and even scary for purr parents. Owners want to ensure their pets are okay and have many questions about why this happens.
Cats twitching is a common behavior and not something that should necessarily cause owners alarm. Still, it is something that pet parents want to understand and often ask questions about. Being informed is the first step to being a responsible and caring pet parent. To help clear up some of the questions, we took a look at several of the reasons why cats twitch when they sleep.
How Cats Sleep
Felines are known for sleeping a lot. They can snooze 12 to 18 hours a day on average. This is a lot more than the five to 8 hours many humans are functioning on. Even though their need for rest sometimes unfairly gets them called lazy, kitties know what is good for them and take the time to rest and rejuvenate. Kitties have a knack for settling into their beds or cozy spots and slumbering away, regardless of what happens around them.
Cats sometimes sleep in short bursts called catnaps. This is an extremely light slumber and only lasts a few minutes. Many humans are also big fans of these little catnaps.
Light sleeping is more than a catnap but is not a deep slumber. Light sleeping sessions usually last less than half an hour. Cats are asleep but still have their guard up. They can jump up and be fully alert at the slightest threat.
Deep sleep is when a lot of twitching happens. This is a sounder slumber when kitties feel the safest and most comfortable. This is the time when rapid eye movement (REM) happens. This stage does not last long, just about ten minutes at a time. They will twitch during REM sleep time due to dreaming. Cats must feel fully relaxed, comfortable, and safe to reach this depth of respite.
Activated sleep is something that happens with kittens, and adult kitties will grow out of them. Kittens often twitch during activated sleep. Their nervous systems work fast, even when they are asleep. This may cause them to twitch, move, shake, or cry. Kittens are not making noises or movements because they are upset. They are resting, but their bodies are still going, and these movements and sounds are normal. When they mature, this action will become less and eventually stop.
My Cat Is Twitching When Sleeping
Cats may twitch when they snooze. This is normal. Not every cat will, but this is typical behavior for many felines. Sometimes this can make owners worry, and there are a few different reasons this can happen.
5 Reasons Why Cats Twitch In Their Sleep
Dreaming is one of the most common reasons felines will twitch and move when they sleep. They are mentally in another place, stalking prey, roaming new turf, wherever their dreams may take them. The twitches are simply the physical reaction they are having to this mental stimulation. Kitties drift in and out of REM sleep. Their sleeping cycle is much shorter than ours and can last just a half hour. Cats can dream even in shorter naps, so this twitching can happen at any time they are asleep.
Kitties who are sleeping have movement in their paws and twitches of the ears, nose, whiskers, and mouth. Some cats will make mouthing motions as if they are meowing, but no sound will come out. Others might meow, chirp, or moan softly. Twitching while asleep is normal. Kittens may have more vivid and rapid movements, while with older cats, it can be more subtle.
Cats can have muscle spasms for a variety of reasons. Sometimes these can happen when they are asleep. These can be isolated or happen occasionally. There are some conditions that can cause spasms. These include nervous system disorders, infections like distemper, hypoglycemia, inflammation, kidney malfunction, medication side effects, or unknown causes. If you are concerned about muscle tremors, schedule an exam with your vet to go over your concerns. You can try to get a short video of your pet as they sleep, which will help your vet understand what is going on.
Felines, just like humans, can suffer from allergies. These can be seasonal, environmental, or food-induced. Sometimes twitches will be concentrated on an area that is irritated, like a paw or hind quarter. Kitties who are itchy while they snooze can even start to lick, scratch, and groom themselves as they wake up and may have an allergy. This might cause itchy skin, hives, rashes, or other skin irritations.
Cats can suffer from ear mites, which sometimes cause twitching of the ears. This can also happen with a severe wax buildup.
Feline Hyperesthesia syndrome (FHS) is a condition where felines have a very sensitive section of skin. This is most often located on their backsides, in the region directly in front of the tail. The condition will cause twitching. It can happen in any breed but most often is seen in Abyssinian, Burmese, and Persian, and very often in Siamese. This is often seen in younger kitties. Hyperesthesia does not just occur during sleep. Kitties will try to bite and scratch to get the itching to stop. The condition can be caused by trauma, injury, disease, or neurological issues.
This will need treatment from a veterinarian. There are some medications that can make this condition more manageable. Hyperesthesia is also called “Twitchy Cat Disease” and Rolling Skin Syndrome.”
Seizures can occur in felines for a few reasons. One is idiopathic epilepsy. These uncontrollable, sudden, and sometimes very strong incidents can occur at any time and have no known cause. Cats with epilepsy will most often have seizures that start when kitties are tired or asleep. Seizures can last a few seconds to a minute or more. These can be very scary for both cats and the purr parents. Seizures can start as kittens or even as old as four years old. Your kitty will need some time to recover after a seizure and likely will seem dazed, confused, and very tired.
Seizures can be genetic, but the cause is often unknown. Some kitties can take medication to treat epilepsy, with varying results. Younger kittens with seizures do not always not have epilepsy. The same goes for older cats. If you suspect your purr baby is having seizures, contact your vet as soon as possible. Try to capture some on video, so your vet can see them as they happen. Seizures are much more violent than twitches and usually involve a cat’s entire body. They will sometimes wake a kitty up, but even though their eyes are open, they are not fully aware of what is happening.
While a cat is in the middle of having a seizure, it is important not to move them. This can do more harm than good. Do not try to stop a cat from seizing or try holding them down. If possible, remove all other animals from the area and create a safe space for your pet where their wild movements will not cause injury or damage to the home. Remember, if your kitty is having a seizure, this is not behavior they are doing on purpose. It is most important that they say safe. Felines who suffer from epilepsy and other seizure disorders may need medication and will require close monitoring. Additionally, these animals may need to be crate trained for their own safety.
Twitching is much gentler than seizures, and owners should be able to tell the difference fairly easily.
Things like stress can cause a cat to twitch when they sleep. Stress is a trigger for them, and a twitch can often happen after a rough day or uncertain time. Some cats may be stressed staying home alone or if a new pet comes into the home. Twitches can be strong or mild and may happen while cats are snoozing or awake. They can sometimes be a direct reaction to a person or situation that they feel unsure about. Kitties may twitch when someone tries to pet or move them. Cats do many things, like rubbing on people and meowing or biting faces, and licking beards. Just like twitching, these behaviors can be normal or motivated by stress, fear, affection, or another need.
Why Is My Cat Shaking When Sleeping?
Twitching is most often very mild and usually on just one area of a cat. Shaking is more pronounced and involves the whole body. Seizures can happen in felines for a few reasons. They can be isolated or happen often.
Some kitties might shake when asleep because they feel afraid or anxious. Shaking helps regulate their body temperatures. Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is another reason for shaking. Offer kitties a snack when they wake up, as it will help with blood sugar levels. If your purr baby is having tremors or shaking a lot, it’s advisable to have them examined and observed by the vet. You can also make sure kitties are comfortable and have a safe, cozy spot to drift off. Observe your pet and contact the vet to discuss your concerns.
Should I Wake My Cat Up When They Are Twitching While Asleep?
Do not do this. It’s unnecessary to wake your cat up if they sleep twitch. As this is most often a part of dreaming, you will be interrupting their good slumber. You do not want to frighten or shock them by waking them up suddenly. If you are very concerned and want to try waking them, do so very calmly and gently. Do not try to move them or do anything sudden.
If your cat seems to be seizing, there is no way you can wake them up, and trying to will only put you and them in more danger. Most likely, kitties are conscious in some way, and attempts at waking them up will not change or help things.
What’s The Difference Between Twitching and Seizures?
Twitching is usually very mild and is often localized to one part of the body. For example, a cat’s paw, leg, tail, ears, nose, or even eyes may twitch. A seizure often involves the entire body, comes on very suddenly, and involves wild, jerking movements. Muscles and limbs will stiffen, and your kitty may have trouble regaining use of them for a short time afterward. Seizures are sometimes accompanied by foaming or fluid coming out of the mouth and nose. Twitching generally does not involve drooling, foaming, or intense, rapid movements. A twitch generally does not last very long, and seizures often last for 25 seconds to half a minute or more.
Kitties will be completely exhausted and worn out physically and mentally after a seizure. The experience is very traumatizing to them and may even leave them disoriented and unable to focus fully. It will take some time for them to come back to normal, and it is not unusual for them to snooze for several hours after a seizure has ended.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does a cat’s ears twitching when sleeping mean?
Sometimes a cat’s ears twitching while asleep may be a natural response to dreaming or REM sleep. There is a possibility kitties may have ear mites, ear infections, or even a wax buildup in their ears. They may require ear cleaning or even medication from the vet. Ear infections can be quite painful, but felines are very good at hiding symptoms. They can often act like nothing is going on, and very subtle behavior changes or things like ear twitches may be the only sign of an issue. If you notice your kitty pawing at or scratching at their ears or head, it also indicates that something may be bothering them. It is always better to reach out to the vet than to assume your pet is fine.
Are feline dreams the same as ours?
It is hard to tell what felines dream about, but they do experience rapid random eye movement that indicates dreaming. Our kitties are likely reliving parts from their day or favorite pastimes. Felines may not dream in exactly the same way as we do, but they certainly do dream. Dreaming works because even though the dreamer is not fully conscious, their brain is still working and firing signals. Different elements come together to build a dream. It is unlikely that felines dream about the same things as we do, as our dreams are often influenced by stress, our specific lives, and other things.
Is my cat shaking in sleep something I should be worried about?
Your kitty having mild movement like occasional twitching during sleep is not something owners need to consider an emergency. If concerned, a call to the vet is a good idea. Twitching or shaking during sleep is only an emergency if a cat is having a violent reaction to something, has a seizure, or seems to be injured or experiencing trauma of some kind. Owners need to assess the situation and make a quick decision. A call to the vet is always a safe bet, as they can offer educated guidance based on your kitty’s specific circumstances and situation.
Most of the time, cats twitching while asleep is typical feline behavior and not something owners need to be worried or stressed out about. Just like people, felines experience REM sleep, which comes with eye twitching, body movement, and subtle noises. Owners who notice their pets behaving oddly or see more rapid, violent, or jerky movements and are concerned their cat is having a seizure should contact their vet. It is not advisable to move a kitty in the middle of a seizure, but owners can try to record it. A call to the vet is a good idea, as they may want to examine your cat to rule out any medical concerns. For the most part, eye twitching while asleep is something that is normal for felines and not something owners need to be overly concerned about.