Crazy Dream Cats
February 2, 2008 9:38 AM   Subscribe

Please help me figure out why I keep dreaming about cats.

For at least 5 years now I have had recurring dreams about cats. Up until a week or so ago, all those dreams were about cats crazily attacking me. Last week's dream was a nice change of pace, where a cat was cuddling up to me.

Last night I had angry cats all over me again. I don't have these dreams constantly - in fact, I can go for months without having one. But they have been such a recurring theme over the years that I started to look online for possible meanings. Everything I find is very vague, such as "cats represent your feminine side".

So does anyone have any insight? Or any ideas on better resources for dream interpretations? I know there are books out there but this seems like such a sketchy subject that I'm not sure which ones are actually any good.
posted by DrGirlfriend to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It could be semi-random (alright, obviously, you have some issue with something tangentially related in your subconscious to cats. But still, mostly random).

Or not.

Did anything important happen last week? Are the dreams where you're being attacked preceded by anything important. I tend to think that attaching certain symbols to real-life meaning is not always helpful. The fact that you're usually being attacked seems like the place to start to me. When you have the bad dreams are you nagged by lots of small problems that normally you can control, but when they happen all at once, it's overwhelming? That's kinda what your description evokes to me. But I'm not you. And don't worry about what everyone else thinks about cats. What do you think about them? Is there anything in your life that can be described along similar lines? Do you own cats? Why/why not? Do you like cats? Have you owned cats? What were they like? When have you REALLY hated cats? When have you really liked them? Do you like when they cuddle? Do you normally think of them as cuddly?
posted by gauchodaspampas at 10:05 AM on February 2, 2008

Cats are pretty independent. Difficult to influence cats. Maybe they represent things outside of your control. Are you overloaded at work?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:08 AM on February 2, 2008

The problem with dream interpretation books is that there is no single, universal set of symbols that works for everyone. Your first association with cats might be a pleasant memory of the ones your grandma used to have. My first association with cats might be fear and revulsion from the time a rabid one bit me. We can both have cat dreams — but they'll mean very different things.

The question to ask yourself is, "What do cats represent to me?"
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:09 AM on February 2, 2008

There was a recent series of podcasts at on dreams. They discussed a few methods of interpreting your dreams. If you want to immerse yourself in dream stuff you can get a good dose over there.

A pretty down-to-earth (but effective I think) approach is in this episode. Then you may want to check out a few other shows around that same date.

It's already been said, but this can be tough to figure out. Cats can literal (like WGP said) or could possibly even be figurative (like hipsters, or "cool cats").
posted by powpow at 10:16 AM on February 2, 2008

Response by poster: I actually don't own any cats, and never have. I actually rather like them, though. I don't have any negative association with them at all, which kind of makes the fact that my mind is picking cats as the attackers even weirder to me.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 10:17 AM on February 2, 2008

do you spend too much time at work laughing at The cat represent your guilt at wasted time.
posted by jrishel at 10:19 AM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Given the precedent in human history involved, perhaps you should assume that Bast has taken a liking to you, and wants you to worship her. The cats might be constantly attacking you in your dreams because you're not properly respecting them in your waking life. I suggest bringing this question to a group of local pagans, and see if they have any insight.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:23 AM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree that no symbol is universal - you should write down the dreams when you have them, then go back after some time and think about what's stressing you out. I had dreams for years that I was in charge of animals (at a pet store, for example) who were sick or dying under my care. I finally figured out that the dreams were always a result of feeling like I wasn't keeping up at work. I don't work with animals, it was just something my mind latched on to. Another example: my husband was having dental problems years ago, and when they bothered him, he dreamt that his car was breaking down. Just talking about the dreams when he had them eventually led him to recognize the association.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 10:31 AM on February 2, 2008

Often it is the emotion in the dream that is more telling the objects. When you have these dreams, think about what in life if making you feel attacked, especially by a bunch of stuff (lots of cats not just one lion or something.) Another clue is that often the dream will shift in the middle to something completely different. This is often a reworking of the same concept in different symbols so the combination might give you a clue.

Finally, I find it very hard to analyze my dreams by just remembering them. I need to write them down and then each and every object and action, think about its connotations. Dreams are often a series of symbols rather than a coherent plot so break down the action and see what comes up for you.
posted by metahawk at 12:11 PM on February 2, 2008

First, let me warn you I am going to give you a strange, ridiculously speculative (or simply ridiculous), and possibly quite irritating answer.

We all know cats carry toxoplasmosis, and that this toxoplasmosis infects and has profound effects on rats, one of cats main prey animals-- it makes them lose their fear of the smell of cats, and I've seen (but not found for our inspection, regrettably) anecdotal accounts of rats dancing around in front of cats which suggest the loss of fear can go a lot further than just smell.

Toxoplasmosis also infects humans (88% in France, 33% in the US, 4.3% in South Korea, etc.) and there are many reports and claims of behavioral effects in humans as well, from the induction of schizophrenia, to promiscuity, to decreased reaction times, to the development of crazy cat lady syndrome, and so on (and on!).

If toxoplasmosis is doing any of this kind of thing to us, one likely way it could be doing it is by attacking the brain directly, or by inducing the immune system to attack the brain, or some combination thereof.

When neurons die or are being killed, they often fire (the phenomenon of excitotoxicity).

I've often wondered if one aspect of the function of dreams could be cleaning up damaged neurons or carrying out apoptosis (programmed cell death) by excitotoxic mechanisms. If this is what's happening in dreams (only occasionally, one hopes) a person could end up experiencing dream feelings about something, such as terror as you are being attacked by swarms of insects, or terror at falling off a cliff, say, as part of a brain program to actually reduce a fear of insects or heights to more manageable proportions in waking life.

I think it's conceivable then, that you are having these nightmares of cats attacking you as part of a process, mediated by the toxoplasmosis parasite, which is conditioning your brain to be less capable of fearing cats. It's interesting that you've never owned one but like them. For human beings, the vast majority of toxoplasmosis infections apparently come not from cats, but from incompletely cooked meat.
posted by jamjam at 12:32 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I started to look online for possible meanings. Everything I find is very vague

Don't bother. It doesn't mean anything other than that you dream about cats, or that you selectively remember your dreams about cats. Thinking about something before you go to bed supposedly makes it more likely that you will dream about it; if that's true, thinking about dreaming about cats obviously would make it more likely that you will dream about cats.

Experiment: in a bedside notebook, keep careful track of every dream you want to have and every dream you actually have. Before bed, write the dream target for the night and then try to go to sleep thinking about it. In the morning, record your results. Did you dream about the target?
posted by pracowity at 12:34 PM on February 2, 2008

I seem to keep dreaming about dogs. I've never had a dog, I don't particularly like dogs and in fact I probably prefer cats.
Dreams are weird. We dream about all kinds of random stuff, and I wouldn't trust anyone who ascribed the slightest significance to my dreams. I'd not worry about what comes up in yours. It probably means nothing.
posted by edd at 2:12 PM on February 2, 2008

Have cats or a cat played any significant part in your life? Saw at interview with a couple of psychologists who reckon that recurring dreams could be from your brain reliving a stressful incident or incidents in your past (... which, as an aside, might explain my recurring dream is I've go an exam and I'm late/not revised etc)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:38 PM on February 2, 2008

Response by poster: I think there are definite correlations between the idea of something attacking me in this manner and the fact that I am, indeed, overtasked at work and do have things coming at me from all sides. I have no control over them and will not have any for the foreseeable future. I will have to start thinking about the timing of these dreams, and if they are coming at times when I am feeling a particular loss of control.

The fact that it's always cats in particular does still have me puzzled. The last line of jamjam's post kind of struck me because I did have meat last night, before having this dream. Seeing as it came from a fast food joint, who knows if it was properly cooked!

Also, I think it would be really cool if Greg Nog's explanation were correct, because I dig the idea that a deity likes me!
posted by DrGirlfriend at 3:00 PM on February 2, 2008

Your subconscious is playing pictionary with you. The cats are... what? Crazy irrational things with claws? What else in your life is a crazy irrational thing with claws? I find that if I describe the dream to myself in abstract terms and ask, "what else is like that?" the answer sometimes pops out with glaring obviousness.

Another thing I do when trying to figure out a dream is say words that describe it out loud and try to find puns. For example if this was my dream, "cat attack" sounds like "cadillac" which reminds me of the detroit area where I grew up, so maybe this dream is about childhood issues. Your string of puns and associations are going to be very particular, so the only way this works is if you brainstorm the random stupid puns and associations that are in your head.

This book is an easy read that completely changed the way I look at dreams.

Oh, and one thing I noticed from your question is that the bad dreams are about cats, plural, while the nice dream was one cat. Is there some quality about yourself that you don't like in excess, but may be nice in moderation?

Please follow up and let us know what you think it means! Five years is a long time to have a recurring dream. Your subconscious definitely has a message waiting for you!
posted by selfmedicating at 5:00 PM on February 2, 2008

If it were me, I wouldn't look for meaning in the dream by finding "cats" in a book about dreams. Rather, I'd look inside myself. As selfmedicating so nicely put it, your subconscious has a message waiting for you. But it's your message from your subconscious that you want to listen to.

Cats attacking you seems to refer to a situation in which you are not in control, and something in your environment disturbs you. So you might think about your environment (work/home/family/activities/whateveryoudo) and ask yourself if there are any situations when you don't feel in control and something really disturbs you. Either currently, or possibly at some point in your past, including childhood. Maybe something will ring a bell.

By the way, if you should ever decide to get counselling with a therapist, talking about dreams can be part of therapy. A good therapist could probably explain the dreams, after having gotten to know you and what's going on/has gone on in your life.
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:52 PM on February 2, 2008

Whenever there's a cat in my dream, I wake up happy.

Mind you, cats in my dreams haven't tended to attack me. Thus far.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:54 PM on February 8, 2008

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