Can a Cat Experience Night Terrors?
Often during sleep, cats and kittens shake, bite, twitch their whiskers, or fight against an invisible enemy. However, this abnormal phenomenon of cat night terrors is simply common among cats. The process of retained traumatic experiences being manifested internally through dreams is not exclusive to humans; cats and other animals experience this as well.
Cats Do Dream
During slumber, cats replay events and experiences of the past in dreams just like humans do. According to Matthew Wilson of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory in Cambridge Massachusetts, the hippocampus of the brain that is involved in memory is similarly wired and structured among mammals and vertebrates.
"If you compared a hippocampus in a rat to a dog; in a cat to a human, they contain all of the same pieces,"1 said the brain expert. It follows that cats, just like humans, also go through the various sleep stages of slow wave sleep up to the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage. The REM’s deeper state of sleep is where prolonged or intense dreams occur, and these dreams can manifest through various bizarre physical movements according to the present images recalled or experienced again.
Dealing with the Problem
In most cases, the symptoms do not affect owners, but when they occur, owners can intervene or help prevent them. Due to the cat’s remembered traumatic experiences, growling, biting, clawing, thrashing, or frenzies are examples of manifestations, which should be addressed.
If the night terrors are not violent enough to cause physical harm to the cat or owner, one should simply wake up the cat and gently show some tender loving care (TLC) and affection. Just like humans, they seem to respond quite well when awakened to being pampered and loved.
In severe instances, an approach of prevention rather than head-on intervention is preferable. It avoids the risk for physical harm to both you and your pet cat. Before bedtime, engage your cat in some playtime activities to expend excess energy and instill positive experiences. Most cat experts agree, “the only thing we can determine is they sleep better with some TLC and plenty of play during hours they are awake.”2
Love Conquers All
Inevitably, owners cannot fully control what their pet cat will dream or experience in their sleep. However, by providing some memorable events of love, affection, and heartwarming experiences, cat night terrors will soon be a thing of the past. For it follows among intelligent animals, that it is the good things in the present that are remembered in the past, and the bad things of the past are forgotten.