Skip to main content

Can cats have nightmares like humans? Here’s what experts have to say

If you often watch your cat while he sleeps, you might notice that he sometimes twitches his whiskers, flicks his paws, and might even start to kick and move without seeming to wake up. In some instances, your cat might make small noises or even wake up meowing. While this can be surprising to see initially, there are some natural causes for this behavior. But, there are also situations where unusual meowing could indicate that something is wrong and that your cat needs vet help. If you’re wondering, “Why does my cat wake up meowing? Can he have nightmares?” there are several clues you can look for to better understand what’s going on and to help identify a problem. While we’re still working to understand just what happens when cats sleep, scientists have a pretty good idea of what’s behind this behavior.

Cat lying on a door mat in the sun

Why does my cat wake up in the middle of the night crying?

If your cat meows when she wakes up, she may have been in deep sleep and might have even been having a nightmare. Veterinary neurologist Adrian Morrison tells Purina that if a cat is in REM sleep, she might move her head like she’s watching something. Research indicates that cats might dream about things that have recently happened, and they may even have nightmares, though we still know little about the extent of those nightmares.

As your cat dreams, she might twitch, stretch, snore, and make squeaking noises. These kinds of reactions are usually caused by signals in your cat’s brain that occur during the dream. If your cat has recently had a frightening experience, like being chased by a dog, she might be dreaming about that, and she might wake up startled.

Why does my cat yell at me when waking up?

Cats make noises at night for all sorts of reasons. According to Catster, your cat might meow or yell at you when he’s bored, hungry, or feeling uncomfortable in a new environment. Cats who are lonely may also seek you out at night and try to wake you up.

Sometimes, medical conditions can prompt cats to meow and vocalize at night. A cat who has recently moved to a new home might whine because he’s anxious. Meowing out of confusion can occur in cats who are experiencing dementia.

Orange cat meowing straight at the camera

Should I ignore my cat’s meowing at night?

Since there are many potential causes of your cat’s meowing at night, it’s important to understand what’s causing the behavior before you decide what to do about it. It’s always a good idea to start with a trip to your veterinarian to rule out illnesses or conditions like dementia.

Once you know your cat is healthy, you can start focusing on the other causes of meowing at night. According to Catster, you can offer your cat some stability and confidence by sticking to a regular schedule. Feed your cat at the same time every day, and give him plenty of playtime and attention to help him feel safe in his home.

If your cat is meowing because he has extra energy at night, you’ll need to find ways to help him get rid of that energy during the day. Try to schedule multiple play sessions, and try out different toys to see what your cat likes best. Be sure to give your cat an extra-long play session right before bed, so he’s tired and ready to sleep.

If your cat is meowing at night because he’s hungry, you may need to restructure how you’re feeding him. Try feeding him multiple small meals throughout the day, ending with a meal right before bedtime. You can also try using an automatic feeder to continue giving your cat food throughout the night.

If your cat wakes up meowing, chances are she’s just been dreaming, although there could be other reasons too. Look for changes in your cat’s behavior, like increased sleep and reduced appetite, which can indicate that there might be a physical cause to her behavior. Be sure to get your cat to the vet if you suspect she might have a health issue. You’ll also need to consider whether your cat’s meowing at night is caused by other issues, like hunger, loneliness, stress, or just extra energy. It can take a while to get your cat used to your nighttime schedule, so try to get a sense of his sleeping habits and pay attention to what’s going on on those nights when she does wake up meowing. You might spot clues that can help you to identify whether she’s dreaming or if it’s something else.

Editors' Recommendations

Paige Cerulli
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Paige's work has appeared in American Veterinarian, Business Insider, Healthline, and more. When she's not writing, Paige…
Polydactyl cats: Everything you should know about these unusual pets
Get the facts on polydactyl cats, a condition that's not as rare as you think
Maine Coon cat

Polydactyl cats: The term sounds exotic — almost like it should be used to describe an amphibian. The unusual term is fitting for something of an odd condition.

A polydactyl cat has a congenital physical anomaly. In layperson’s terms, this means that a cat is born with the condition. They can’t suddenly develop the condition.

Read more
This video shows another side to the war in Ukraine: All the cats
These cats are working alongside their humans in service to their country
Kitten peeks out of a military helmet

Pets might not be our first thought when we think about armed conflict, but they're a surprising part of it. In the current war in Ukraine, many refugees fleeing the country are bringing beloved pets with them and, luckily, neighboring countries have been able to take some of them in. Despite nearly impossible circumstances, animals are being saved and even brought to the US and going to loving families. Some, however, are living directly on the front lines with soldiers, including the adorable cats featured in this video.

In it, you see cats of all shapes and sizes hanging out with their buddies dressed in fatigues and often ready for action. The kitties climb up their people or ride along in satchels or assist the war effort by becoming lookouts (or at least pretending to). While they may not be a lot of help in that arena, they can provide friendship and become true assets to their units (some trained military dogs deploy with troops around the world to help with things like finding land mines and search and rescue). Interestingly, animals have always been essential to war, not just as the cavalry but in a companionship role as well.

Read more
These are the 10 most popular cat breeds, as counted by The Cat Fanciers’ Association
Here are the top 10 most popular cat breeds in the world
A Devon Rex cat is held up against a blue sky

The Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) recognizes 46 different feline breeds, but not all of them can be the most popular. That's why the CFA took a look into its registries to determine the top 10 most popular cat breeds of 2022. It welcomes registrations from "nonstandard" and "non-pedigreed" cats as well, but those feline friends weren't included in this particular count.

Which types of cats do you think were the most popular in 2022? Whether you can list off every breed or can't even name one, we guarantee there's at least one surprise on this list.

Read more