Do Cats Dream?

by Sarah Hartwell
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Cats can spend up to 23 hours a day snoozing, catnapping, catching forty winks or otherwise dead to the world. They have 2 main mottos - "If in doubt, wash" and "If bored, sleep".

They are masters of the art of sleeping draped over branches or chair backs, curled into impossibly tight balls or sprawled out, snoring, on freshly fluffed duvets. As they slumber, paws flex and relax, claws extend and retract, legs and whiskers twitch and mouths make quiet chattering or mumbling noises. Do our purry furry friends dream and, if so, of what?

Cat Relaxing

Human dreams are based on things we've experienced, seen or read, sprinkled with a liberal dose of imagination. Cats also recall previous experiences; vanishing when the flea-spray appears. They also remember things they've seen - like how to open cat flaps after watching other cats doing it. Scenes from wildlife programs or 'video catnip' tapes, where the prey is tantalizingly out of reach, may well feature in feline dreams.

Though it may seem odd to credit cats with powers of imagination, they sometimes think problems through rather than solving them by trial and error. One pair of imaginative felines quickly worked out how to reach door handles by standing one on the other's back rather than just jumping up at the handle. Others seem adept at unbolting cat flaps.

Writer, Barbara Hambly credited cats with powers of imagination in her fantasy novel called, ironically, 'Dog Wizard'. She depicted a world where magic goes awry, allowing imagined things to become real. Discovering this, several of the cats depicted in the book create, and play with, illusory mice which they 'create' in vivid detail. Is this what cats are doing when 'chasing Martians' or during RPM (Rapid Paw Movement) sleep?

What do all those fast-asleep paw movements and chattering noises mean? Maybe the slumberer is remembering a hunting trip. Though not all cats have hunted real prey, they have inherited all the right instincts. Many of those fast-asleep paw movements resemble small pouncing or swatting motions. Cats often chatter in frustration when prey eludes them. By the amount of chattering my cats do when asleep, dream hunts, like real life hunts, are often unsuccessful.

If you watch closely, you might be able to work out what scenario is being enacted or re-enacted in your cat's dream. Those little movements are all clues to what is going on inside that cute furry head. That twitching tail could mean 'stalking prey', 'poised to pounce' or 'seen something interesting'. When followed by a paw-twitch, a whisker twitch and a raised lip (maybe even exposing the canine) the dream prey has been dispatched. Sometimes Aphrodite even licks her lips afterwards, other times she seems to be playing with her catch. Teeth chattering and tail lashing probably means the dream prey got away.

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