BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

Why Do Cats Stare at Nothing: Understanding What Your Cat Sees

cat staring at nothing
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

Nearly every pet parent who has spent some quality time with their pets have been there before. Your cat just seems to have found something. You think there’s nothing there, but your cat’s gaze is fixated on that spot. So, why do cats stare at nothing?

There are a lot of myths on this subject alone—ghosts and other spectral beings being the most common answer. As we all know, cats are said to be able to bridge this world and the next. What does science say about it, though? You will find out the truth in this article.

In this article, we will first focus on explaining a cat’s sharp senses, because their superior eyesight, hearing, etc. may be the main reason why they stare at seemingly nothing. Next, we will explain what it is your cat could be looking at that you can’t see, then we will list the reasons why your cat keeps staring at you, because that’s often the creepiest part.

Why Do Cats Stare at Nothing?

orange kitten staring

Sometimes, when you catch your cat staring blankly, she is doing so at you. This is almost like stalking, and it is the spookiest one of them all.

The cat will be sitting or standing a few meters from you and have her eyes fixed steadily in your direction. There won’t be any of that pawing or meowing that she does when she is around you too, so there is no telling for how long she has been there.

Locking eyes with the cat won’t usually work to break the fixed gaze. What to do?

Other times, you could catch your cat staring at the wall or the ceiling with interest. You will often look in such directions and find nothing of interest.

Could she be seeing ghosts? Could your cat be thinking of something? Could it be that she is planning out the next sleep schedule or contemplating how to catch the goldfish in the aquarium? Why do cats stare at nothing?

Before cats got domesticated, their ancestors were wild animals roaming the forests like every other species in the animal kingdom. To keep up and not always end up as food, they naturally developed some senses.

These senses have been passed down from generation to generation and domestication does not take it all out.

Putting it in context, some of the reasons why your cat could be having a staring contest with the wall would be due to their sharp senses:

#1: Hearing

gray cat hearing something

Cats have a highly developed sense of hearing that allows them to pick up subtle noises that you will miss, even if you were consciously looking for them. While the human hearing frequency is between 20Hz and 20,000Hz, your cat can easily triple that to about 60,000Hz!

That is not the only interesting thing about their hearing, though. They will also hear things from a location that is 4 to 5 times farther than what humans are capable of.

#2: Eyesight

calico cat staring at something

It is said that seeing is believing. It is thus not surprising that we assume our cats see things that are not there simply because we can’t see these things. Guess what—your cats are better at seeing than you too!

Their advanced eyesight helps them detect subtle motions that we aren’t capable of seeing. What we see as the passing of a shadow is something your cat could see in real time.

The advantage of their superior eyesight is highlighted at night when they are able to discern more objects in the dark than humans ever could.

Before you conclude that the cat is staring at nothing, you might want to consider that you are not able to see what she is so interested in—although it doesn’t mean that your mind should immediately wander to spirits and ghosts—it could just be insects or shadows.

See Also: How Do Cats See the World

#3: The Brain

fluffy cat staring

Much scientific research has been done to better understand cats. Yet, not much is known of their brains.

Cats respond to stimulus in ways very different from other household pets/animals. If your dog sees something of interest, he will either pursue it or move on from it once he’s determined that it’s not worth his attention.

Your cat is different. She can sit in a spot for a long time, trying to make sense of what she has just seen or heard. Perhaps that is why the phrase ‘curious cat’ gained traction.

What Your Cat Might Actually Be Staring At

Now that we have established a basis being that your cat is not just doing things out of the ordinary, we have curated a selection of things she could be fixating on.

#1: Bugs/Tiny Objects

cat staring at bug

When you catch your cat staring at the wall, and you don’t seem to see anything, she could be having a curious interest in bugs or tiny objects (such as a speck of dust) on the wall.

If you have ever witnessed how cats play with their prey and stare at them till they move again, this will make more sense to you.

There are different things about a bug that could fascinate the cat. It could be the color, shape, structure, and what have you. Whatever that is, it is best practice to leave the cat to her alone moment of exploration.

Note that you will usually be able to tell if the cat is staring at a bug. When the bug moves, the cat suddenly becomes active again, not wanting to lose her source of amusement.

#2: Imaginary Shapes

This is more of an assumption, but given the intelligence of cats, cannot be ruled out. You must have, at one time, stared at something long enough that other shapes which aren’t there start forming in your mind.

Perhaps something as such is at play when your cat starts staring. She could have found something that opened a can of her imaginations. Like anyone in such a state, she wouldn’t want that to end anytime soon. Hence, the marathon staring session.

#3: Ghosts

cat staring at something

Many have argued that pets such as cats are very intuitive and perceptive of things that exist beyond the physical realm. To that effect, we do not rule out the possibility of your cat seeing ghosts or related beings.

In fact, you will find the evidence with some cat parents who would swear that they were sure their cat saw something out of the ordinary. How else could the strange behavior of the cat at the time be explained?

Whether this is true or not, it is one avenue worth pursuing, but not for the faint-hearted.

#4: Nothing in Particular

You have to admit that this has to be one of the options to look at.

Humans sometimes sit in one position and stare into space while not actually seeing anything in front of them. Even though the eyes are open, times like these are when one is said to have blanked out. Theoretically, it wouldn’t be impossible for cats to experience such moments too.

#5: Birds/Squirrels/Rodents

cat staring at somebody

For those who have an indoor cat, staring out the window could be the closest she can get to understanding the outside world. There is a lot happening out there which looks very exciting to the cat.

That is understandable since cats are a naturally outdoor species before domestication kicked in. If you follow her gaze long enough without startling her, you might also be able to settle on the little animal that has caught her fancy.

See Also: DIY Cat Window Perch

#6: You

This does not sound absurd at all. We are sure you must have caught your cat watching you before. She could be in a single location for many minutes watching you as you work, eat, watch TV, nap, or do just about anything else.

When your cat stares at you, there is the possibility of different things running through her mind. We will explore these possibilities in the section below.

Reasons Why Your Cat Might Be Staring at You

It can be unnerving to look up and suddenly notice that your cat is staring at you intently. This doesn’t necessarily mean that she is plotting your demise, though. Here are a couple of possible reasons why your cat can’t take her eyes off of you:

#1: She’s Feeling Insecure

confused orange cat

It’s possible for your cat to get confused by a sound she heard or something she saw. Having associated you with being her parent and providing everything she needs—food, care, and shelter—it is not unnatural that she looks to you for affirmation in times like this.

If you suppose your cat is stressed out or feeling insecure, you should pick her up and let her know everything is okay.

You are your cat’s source of comfort. That is why she will come to you when she is feeling depressed, cold, anxious, or just out of her skin in any way possible.

Of course, she expects that you do something to manage the situation, and that is what you should try to do.

#2: Boredom

bored cat

When was the last time you took some time out of your busy schedule to play with your cat? When your cat gets bored, she sometimes launches into what you deem a destructive behavior to get your attention.

When she stares at you, she might not even need you to pick her up and play with her anymore. Just watching you do whatever it is you are engrossed in could be enough entertainment for her.

#3: Attention and Food

cat asking for food

Cats know how to ask for things, and they will not hesitate to do that. It could be some food or just some attention. Just because the cat is not vocal at that point in time does not mean she doesn’t need something from you.

Having established that you are the source of food in the house—especially in a household where cats are not treated to automatic feeding systems—staring at you could be her way of getting something to munch on from you.

#4: Curiosity

curious cat

This is the last point of concern on this list, but it is certainly not the least. Cats are curious beings, and that could lead yours to keep staring at you when you are doing something she finds amusing yet can’t make sense of.

Even if you are just jotting down your thoughts or tapping away at the keyboard, she won’t stop staring anytime soon if she finds such an action curious enough.

That being said, cats staring at us or nothing can be a totally healthy behavior. Sometimes though, too much is too much.

When Your Cat’s Staring Becomes a Problem

cat looking at his tail

If your cat starts staring at the wall, ceiling, you, or any other object in the house after an episode of mania, she might have something else bothering her. Medically, this is referred to as hyperesthesia.

You will be able to know if this is what your cat is suffering from if such behaviors are accompanied by:

  • Aggressively attacking her own tail between or after staring episodes

  • Dilated pupils

  • Loud meowing or howling

  • Suddenly getting sensitive to touch

  • Frantic grooming, among other things

There is no medically-supported reason as to why this condition affects cats. It could, however, be linked to stress, seizures, abnormal brain waves, or electromagnetic signals in the brain.

You can always get a vet to perform some tests on your cat to be sure she is fine. Then you can work towards her wellbeing if she isn’t.

Wrap Up

tabby cat staring at nothing

Cats can stare at the walls, or nothing in particular, for a lot of reasons. At this point, you should have a better idea of what could be going through your feline’s brain when she enters this staring state.

If it is getting out of hand though, don’t forget to see a vet or an experienced pet care specialist for professional help.

Do you think there are other reasons why your cat might be staring at nothing? Share your opinion in the comments section below! To understand your cat better, you should check out our article on what does it mean when a cat winks at you next.

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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