Why Does My Cat Stare at the Wall?

Have you ever noticed that your cat sometimes seems to stare off into space? Sometimes she may appear to be looking at nothing at all. Other times she may seem to be staring at something where nothing is there, like just the wall.

Feline
credit: nico_blue/E+/GettyImages

It may be that she's seeing a ghost! Actually, probably not. Ghosts may or may not exist, but it is true that cats have a greater level of perception than humans do. So while it seems like your cat is staring at something that is not there, the most likely explanation is that he sees or hears something that you just can't perceive.

Dust particles

Staring off into space is one possible sign of cats developing cognitive dysfunction syndrome. But if that's the case, you'll probably notice other odd behavior. For instance, your cat may walk around for a while and then get "stuck" in corners, or they may "forget" to use their litter box. There may be other behavior changes like prowling and crying at night or no longer snuggling like they used to.

Cats can see many things that humans would not even notice. They have keen eyesight since they evolved to be hunters. For example, your cat may notice the movement of a dust particle, or a spider moving in the carpet that you wouldn't notice. Before you assume that your cat has lost her mind, consider that she may simply be investigating something interesting that just happens to be on a very small scale.

Close up Scottish fold cat head with shocking face and wide open eyes. Frighten or surprised cat when look at something.
credit: Domepitipat/iStock/GettyImages

Cats can hear better than we can

Hartz says that cats can hear sounds in about the same low range as humans, but they can hear much higher pitches than we can. In fact, the range of what cats can hear is even higher than that of dogs! Cats' ears can swivel in all directions, which allows them to pinpoint the sound's location very well. While you may have a general idea of where a sound is coming from, your cat will know very precisely.

Hartz says cats are able to distinguish between sounds that occur as close as 3 inches apart. So when they seem to be just staring off, usually they are hearing something very specific. There could be a bug moving behind the curtain, or a mouse in the wall (eek!) that your cat can hear that you can't. Cats can hear the noises that houses make that we often ignore, such as whistling through air ducts or the creaking of general settling.

Light sensing rods

Cats' vision is pretty different from that of humans. A 2014 study reports that while humans can not see in the ultraviolet range of light, many animals including cats can see in the ultraviolet range. Light has a broad spectrum which includes the visible light from red to violet, which humans can see. Beyond that lies the ultraviolet wavelengths, which are invisible to us.

Close-up shot of a female Turkish Angora cat relaxing on top of a red leather couch.
credit: Instants/iStock/GettyImages

Eyes are made up of two types of sensory cells: rods and cones. Cones differentiate color while rods detect motion. According to VCA Hospitals, humans have more cones than cats do, but cats have more rods. Cats can see clearly but only close up. However, they can see small movements at great distances and they can see better in dim light.

Science does not fully understand the cat brain. Cats are highly curious creatures, and when your cat acts in a way that is strange to you, it's likely something that is totally normal to them. It's probably just a matter of them being captivated by something that is either too small or outside of your normal range of perception for you to make sense of. Let your cat explore!