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Severe spasms during sleep

post #1 of 37
Thread Starter 

One of my cats has started having pretty severe spasms while he is asleep.  It started a few weeks ago and seems to happen purely randomly, not all the time.  It can get much worse than just the usual light twitching that happens during dreaming.  He jerks his legs so violently sometimes that he literally falls off the bed or chair where he's lying.  Fortunately, he hasn't gotten hurt yet, and he seems perfectly fine once he's awake.  If we see him starting to twitch, we can pet him and wake him up before it gets bad and he's fine.  A friend of ours has the other three cats from the same litter he was in, and she said one of his sisters has been doing the exact same thing lately, even to the point where she loses control of her bladder.  She took her to the vet and they couldn't find anything wrong at all.  Has anyone ever heard of anything like this or know what causes it or what to do for it?





post #2 of 37

I wouldn't worry about, but observe if there are actually any other problems.  I've seen lots of cats twitch like that while they're dreaming, so it doesn't sound abnormal to me.


Are you currently giving the cat any medications, by the way?  I know that a lot of medications can affect human dreaming, making them more vivid, etc.

post #3 of 37
Thread Starter 

Thanks for your reply.  We've been trying not to worry, but when he actually falls off a chair, it gets really upsetting!  That just happened last night while I was watching TV.  He was in another chair not very far from me and suddenly without any warning he just jerked really violently and went tumbling onto the floor upside down.  When he jumped up, he hit his head against the underside of the chair, so he ran across the floor looking all dazed with his tail puffed up really big, obviously scared out of his wits.  I ran over and petted him and he calmed down pretty quickly, but it still scared the wits out of me too!


He's not taking any medications at all, and hardly ever has.  He's always been one of the healthiest cats I've ever known.  He had a really scary respiratory infection last year that caused him to breathe with his mouth open (I'd never seen that in any cat ever before), and that was the only time we've ever had to take him to vet for any kind of illness at all.  He's also the largest, strongest cat I've ever seen in my life too, actually bigger than most small dogs.  He's not really fat, just very large and muscular, about 23 pounds.  The vet said he looked like he might be part Bengal because of his stripes, but he's the only tabby from a mixed litter where all the others are either dark gray or calico.  We always joke about how big he is, calling him "the gentle giant" because despite his size and strength, he's always been such a fraidy cat!  He's absolutely terrified of the doorbell and any strangers who come walking into the house.  That always sends him running to hide underneath something down in the basement.  I also joke whenever we trim his claws that his feet are so big, it's almost like handling a lion's paws!


In any case, he seems perfectly fine, as long as he's not asleep.  We live pretty far from a vet and money is really tight these days, so we've been putting off taking him in, especially since there's nothing visibly wrong that they'd be able to see.  He always eats, poops, purrs and plays just like always, as long as he's awake.  I've had what they call "night terrors" myself a few times in my life, so I'm wondering if it's something that's purely psychological.  Like I said, he's always been a pretty nervous and high-strung cat, but there's nothing more stressful than ever going on right now. 


He's about six years old, but these violent spasms have only started happening over the last few weeks.  At first, it seemed to coincide with when we had changed to using a different kind of cat litter, so we thought it might be coming from him inhaling some kind of chemicals in the dust from that.  We switched back to the same kind we'd always used and he seemed okay for about a week, but then he suddenly started jerking around again last night, so I guess it wasn't from that after all.  We have one other cat and she seems perfectly fine.  She's about three years older than him and still plays like a kitten!


Anyway, thanks again for your reply.  If anyone else has any ideas or suggestions, please let me know.




post #4 of 37

My cats also twitch and do all kinds of crazy stuff while sleeping.  I think it puts to rest the arguement "Do animals dream?"  Indeed they do!!  Mine will sometimes meow or growl as if in hunting/play mode while sleeping!!  Sometimes they are really into it and it freaks me out for a second, too.  Then you have to think how you must freak them out when you are sleeping and in dream mode?  laughing02.gif  If you are that worried, you can ask a vet for their opinion but more than likely they will tell you it's normal and they won't see any reason to do all the expensive test just to prove it.  But if it helps to put your mind at ease, you can always ask what they think for sure!!

post #5 of 37

My little one also "dreams" pretty good.  She will twitch and mover her back feet like she's running, sometimes she will mew, or act like she's nursing.  She does all kinds of crazy things while asleep. biggrin.gif

post #6 of 37
Thread Starter 

I wish I could post a video of how he flies completely out of the chair and lands upside down on the floor so you all could see that it's so much more than just a little "twitching".  :-(

post #7 of 37

Have you contacted your vet about this?  There may be a medication available you can give him to enable him to sleep more quietly and soothe those nerves or whatever is making him do more than just twitch. 


post #8 of 37

I know exactly what you mean. One of our male cats does the same thing. He has thrown himself off the bed, chairs, sofa, cat tree, etc. He is totally unaware of what has happened and looks around like he is slightly dazed. He actually wakes me up at night when he sleeps by me - I'm becoming quite sleep deprived - because the spasms are so violent.

 We have spent over $80 experimenting with 2 drugs from the vet with no good results. However, because he started releasing bloody urine during these spasms, we did find out he had stones in his bladder. The prescription Science Diet reduced but did not eliminate the stones. Now we're debating more really expensive tests to determine how to eliminate the stones. However, the spasms have been going on for a couple years - we adopted him just over 3 years ago and don't really know his age.

Interestingly, our dog will try and wake the cat up when he spasms by poking him with his nose. He even seemed to know when the spasms were coming a couple of times.


Sorry I have no solutions for you but I can offer complete sympathy!

post #9 of 37

You're the first person I've ever found who has a kitty with the same problems I do.  My Swimmer will twitch so hard in his sleep that he launches himself off of the backs of chairs, couches, and even the kitty tower/condo that he has to play on with his brother.  He gets right back up to where he fell from, falls asleep, and falls off again.  He's been doing this for two years now and nothing we do has been able to help him stop.


He puts his claws out when this happens, and he has now ripped almost all our blankets, sheets, couches, and chairs.


I just want to help him stop getting hurt, and I know he's getting hurt because he's not waking up until after he hits the ground, he doesn't get to catch himself like cats do.

post #10 of 37

hey bill


i understand what your saying i have a 6 month old kitten does same thing,will twitch about 6 inchs off surface and wakes up to leaking have you found anything for this problem yet> mine sits on th window ledge and im affraid she will get hurt one day




post #11 of 37

FYI-on the stones. My male cat had bladder stones which required surgery. He had bladder surgery that allowed the doctors to scoop out all the stones. He is now on Royal Canin SO feline (wet & dry). Agreeing to the surgery was the best thing I did, because he was suffering before that. It is now four years later (he was 2 when he had the surgery), & he's doing wonderfully!
post #12 of 37

If this is the cat equivalent of sleep walking, I don't think there is anything that can be done about it. All you can do is make the places your cat likes to sleep more secure like with rails that the cat can't roll over.

post #13 of 37
Thread Starter 

Well, it's been about six months now since my original post and my cat is still having spasms sometimes while he's sleeping, and we still don't know what to do about it.  The vet said he's perfectly fine.  (Of course he was when he was there, totally scared out of his wits and as far from relaxing and falling asleep as it ever gets!  He obviously doesn't get spasms from stress!)  She said we could give him Dilantin (an anti-seizure medicine) if we wanted, but that's what our friend gave her cat (our cat's sister) when she started having this same problem.  That cat eventually lost all control of her back legs and had to be put down, so there's no way I'm going to give my cat the same thing.  (I'm hoping his sister had something else going on, especially since she had gotten dropped from a teenage boy's shoulder all the way down to the floor when she was a tiny kitten.)  In any case, we've just tried to make our house as "sleep-proof" as possible.  We have pillows and cushions on the floor in front of all the chairs and beds where he sleeps to help cushion any falls.  Everything's still about the same as in my original post six months ago and it still doesn't happen all the time.  When it does though, it's really scary.  Sometimes he'll start twitching a little first and you can wake him up and he's fine.  Other times, there's no warning at all.  I've seen it happen where he's lying on his side perfectly still and sound asleep, and then suddenly his entire body will suddenly jerk and literally fly straight up in the air at least six inches or more.  Other times his legs draw up and then push out really hard against the back of the chair. That's when he inevitably gets propelled through the air and lands on the floor in a heap.  He's a very big, strong cat, and he still seems perfectly fine otherwise so it's really frustrating.  Thanks for all the sympathy from those of you who have the same problem and understand what it's like.

post #14 of 37

Poor boy. That does sound scary.

I know there's a kind of failsafe chemical the brain secretes to keep people "down" when they're asleep--it's like a self-restraint. Weird stuff happens if the brain stops being able to make it. I don't know if that can happen to cats the way it happens to people, but we're so much alike... if his sister has the same thing going on then maybe he has something like this that runs in his family. Do you know what either of his parents were like?

Either way, he sounds very lucky to have a family who goes to such precautions to keep him safe. It all sounds very scary for a kitty to go through. Will keep you both in my thoughts!

post #15 of 37

^^^^Yes. The brain has a mechanism that causes us to be paralyzed when we sleep which fails with sleep disturbances like sleep walking. There is no real effective treatment in humans - in some cases psychiatric meds have been shown to help (humans). It does seem to get better with age in humans a lot of times (not always).

Edit: Hmm this article says that drugs are very effective, but I've seen other articles that say they are not. Clonazepam (human treatment for human rem disorders) is currently used to treat feline hyperesthesia syndrome. So if you really feel it is necessary, you might be able to convince your vet to prescribe this for your cat and see if it helps.


edit 2: I see why I am confused. Sleepwalking is not an REM disorder.

Edited by aeevr - 8/28/12 at 10:22am
post #16 of 37
Thread Starter 

Thanks for sympathizing, Ibiscribe.  Most people think we're crazy, especially when they see how difficult it is to walk through our bedroom and living room because of all the pillows and cushions on the floor everywhere!  It does make for a messy house, but our two cats are like our children, so it doesn't really matter to us.  Unfortunately, we don't know anything about Harry's parents because the whole litter of four newborn kittens were found along the side of the road by our friend's granddaughter.  She kept all of them for a few months, and it was her stupid boyfriend who dropped Harry's sister off his shoulder while she was still a tiny kitten.  (I guess it's surprising she lived as long as she did.)  Since the teenage granddaughter obviously wasn't mature enough to care for them, her grandmother took them and then we wound up adopting one of them because she didn't have room for all of them.


And yes, aeevr, I've read the same things about how the body is normally paralyzed during REM sleep to stop us from physically acting out our dreams while we're asleep.  I figured our cat's problem is something similar to sleepwalking, but if they can't really treat it very effectively in humans, I'm pretty sure there's not much they could do for it in other animals, especially since we can't afford to send our cat to a sleep clinic!  I'd rather not give him any chemical drugs at all for as long as possible.  You see, doctors have almost killed me a few times with drugs and I wound up working in a health food store for several years because of it, so I'm very anti-chemical myself.


By the way, while I was writing this, I went to the kitchen to get a glass of water and Harry was asleep in a chair in the living room.  He was lying on his side, literally "running" in place, just like dogs often do while they're asleep.  I had to wake him up when it got so violent I was afraid he was going to go flying across the room again.  It's a lot like this famous dog video on YouTube...


I have to disagree with the caption though about it being "funny".  Just imagine what that would be like if he was lying up on some furniture instead of flat on the floor.  I've gotten my video camera out a couple times to try to catch Harry doing things like that on film so we could show it to the vet, but I've never gotten anything.  I just can't stand there filming him and do nothing but just watch when he's obviously going to fall on the floor and might get hurt.  We've often joked about how Harry is "half-dog" because he's so big and the way he growls whenever he hears someone outside.  I just wish he didn't sleep like a dog too!

post #17 of 37

I would also forgo the medication route fwiw.

post #18 of 37

My cat did that all the time.  She had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.  Research and try to get treatment before it gets worse.  Don't let them use steroids; just makes it worse by raising blood pressure.  


She just died from it.  It was horrible.  

post #19 of 37


My dear cat male started a month ago some tremors that really worry me. He is one year old and has PIF virus. He is a nice strong cat, succeeding to go over the symptoms of this deadly awful disease twice this year.

After this second trauma, treated with interferon, antibiotics, prednisone and others he remained with a tremor that starts when he is relaxed or sleeping. My Vet examined him, took blood samples. No kidney problems, no heart problems, no toxins in his blood, still we can’t find out what is wrong and why he has this tremors.

All the rest he is perfectly well – eats, plays, sleeps and all rest. He is also in his period when he needs a cat female and is agitated and mews every evening and night.

Has anyone gone through this before?

I can certainly say he has not this tremor produced by dreams, it’s different, and it is also while he is awake and is in all his body.


Thank you


post #20 of 37
I had a cat who did this and he had hyper thyroid ism which is an over active thyroid. It means that their metabolism is greatly ramped up, the heart rate is raised, they are so wired it almost keeps them awake. he was super thin and medication helped only a bit. I could never seem to put much fat on his bones. In spite of all this, he lead a pretty normal life though.
post #21 of 37
Corie, was your cat on any anti nasea medicines? My vet had mine on one a when he had a uri last winter, when I looked it up one of the side effects listed was muscle twitching, sometimes permanent. (In people it can cause them to even bite their own tongue off ). Serious stuff. It made my cat twitch, and that's why I looked it up. Wish I remembered the name.
post #22 of 37

I have a kitty who is having muscle spasms and twitching when relaxed and about to sleep.  The spasms continue while she's sleeping.  The actions you're describing have been coming up in my searches as symptoms of seizures, especially loss of bowel control, etc.


Someone here had a kitty with bladder stones, try feeding your cat an all canned diet.  My male kitty was blocked several times before a vet (after seeing several) finally explained to me that feeding him dry food exclusively was causing his problem.  No "special" dry food will help with crystals, only sufficient moisture.  Check out

post #23 of 37

This is not simply twitching that seems to occur while cats are dreaming. This is a very violent twitching or spasm, more like a seizure. My cat is experiencing this quite often lately. She is almost 23. She has just recovered from a Urinary Tract Infection. She was on antibiotics. Now, I am giving her probiotics to restore the healthy flora in her gut. I totally understand how frightening this is to you, Bill, to see your cat jerking so violently. My cat is fine once she wakes up. The fear is that she may be in pain during the time of the jerking/spasms. Vet have no advise other than to spend $6K on an MRI. As much as I love my cat, I cannot afford to spend that kind of money on her at this stage.


Would love to know about some herbal solution that could alleviate this problem.

post #24 of 37

So sorry for your loss. I know my cat is way past her "expiration date" but as long as she is not suffering, I will not put her down. She is still playful, has a good appetite, practicing good hygiene, and going to her litter box as appropriate. She has some agility problems, cataracts, and seemingly some hearing loss, all issues that come with old age but she's still got a lot of life left in her. 

post #25 of 37

Vet told me that could be caused by strokes. Of course, he couldn't give me a definitive answer. I'd have to travel to another state and pay the $6K for an MRI>

post #26 of 37

I understand your problem, I dont think my cat is having seizures but she twitches a lot during a sleep, they can be violent but never enough that she falls of a chair, they appear really randomly and it isnt all the time when she sleeps. I seems like she is dreaming and she often looks like shes trying to run or play with a mouse of something (even though she ignores cats in mice in real life). Im also a deep sleeper and often twitch and talk so I wasnt as worried. But they do seem often uncontrollable sometimes and thats whats worrying me but I dont think she is as bad as yours.

post #27 of 37

Hi there,


What you are describing is indeed scary, I have a 6 month old kitten who is starting to do the same thing. She seems to be fine sleeping on the couch or on my lap when out of nowhere she jumps in the air, sometimes with a twist, and seems totally dazed when landing (always on her feet for now). It did remind me of an episode of Jackson Galaxy's Cat from Hell TV show. There was an older cat, what she was diagnosed with I cannot remember. What I do remember is that the owners also had pillows everywhere. What he suggested and what worked very well is to put sleeping 'caves' and other types of beds around the house with tall sides, almost like hatboxes. This did not stop de 'nightmares' or sudden jumps but it did stop de kitty from hurting herself.

Good luck

post #28 of 37

I looked it up, they gave the cat melatonin twice a day! Simple solution, cat did not have any more nightterrors!

post #29 of 37

Hi. I have an 8 year old male cat and he also started doing the same thing and has been doing it for a couple years now. From my research and from talking to different vets the conclusion is they are in REM sleep and are having hyper active dreams. My cat will start out twitching his whiskers then his ears and some slight twitching of his legs. He sleeps on my desk in front of my monitor so I am around most of the time when he does this. I do not wake him up. I simply place the palm of my hand gently on his back or stomach and the spasms stop immediately. I think this touching probably brings him out of REM but doesn't wake him up because he rarely opens his eyes or anything. Just keeps sleeping. Hope this helps.

post #30 of 37
Thread Starter 

Well, I know this is a really old thread, but I just received an email about it, so I thought I should update this to let everyone know how it all turned out.  Unfortunately, it's been almost two years now since we had to have Harry put down.  He was only 7 years old.  I guess the reason I never updated this thread is because it was just too difficult to talk about it after things got so bad with him.  Eventually, he followed the same path as his sister and began losing control of his back legs.  We had to move the litter box from the basement to a bathroom upstairs, but eventually, he couldn't even get in and out of a very shallow litter pan.  We used newspapers and absorbent pads on the bathroom floor for a while, and we had to block the top our stairway to keep him from tumbling down the stairs head over heels.  When it got to the point where he couldn't even stand back up by himself anymore, we had to make the decision to have him put down.  None of the vets we took him to had ever seen anything like it before, and our friend said all of her vets said the same thing about his siblings too, so we're assuming it was probably some kind of genetic defect since most of them eventually experienced the same thing.  So I suppose the good news is that the rest of you who have cats with similar sleeping problems probably won't experience the exact same things we did.  It's just always so hard when you lose a pet, it's like losing a member of the family.  Our other cat is still doing okay.  She's 12 years old now and still plays like a kitten sometimes, so I try not to think about what will eventually happen with her too.  Just taking it one day at a time.  Thanks to everyone for all your concern and well wishes.

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