Why Do Cats Stare At The Wall?

Why do cats stare at the wall or stare at literally nothing?

I can’t count the number of times I would catch the cat staring at the wall or into space.  Sometimes at night he would stare out into the yard, so much so that I would go outside to investigate thinking that the cat was looking at a burglar (yes, I’m a scaredy cat) hiding in the yard. There was never a burglar.

He was more likely to be looking at an insect or some movement that caught his eye. 

Cats' vision and hearing are more acute than ours in different ways. Maybe he was checking out something important to him, like a moth not a burglar.

Is It Normal For A Cat To Stare At The Wall?

Just like dogs, cats have different personalities.  Sometimes I think that non cat owners think that all cats are the same regarding behavior but it is not so. Some cats never stare at walls, or show a remote interest in staring at walls. Even if your cat doesn't stare at a wall there's odds on that occasionally you have caught him staring into the yard or outside the window.

Why Do Cats Stare At The Wall?

Vision

Your cat may be looking at something on the wall that you are unaware of because we tend to have a quick glance at the wall and see nothing.  The cat however might be looking at that tiny almost undetectable bit of spider web, a reflection or even a tiny insect.

 Cats can't necessarily see in the dark as the popular saying goes however their sight is six times better in low light than humans. The structure of cats eyes is discussed in more detail in this article in the MSD Veterinary Manual.

Households with more than one cat report that one cat will be staring at the wall as though his life depends on it whereas another cat pays no attention at all.

cat staring at something on a white wall

What is on the wall kitty?

Hearing

When the cat is staring at the wall it is a possible and plausible theory that he is hearing some noise from within the wall cavity that we simply cannot hear.

Cats do have an acute sense of hearing even though we may not think this is true as they choose to ignore us unless there is something in it for them.
Come to think of it, my family is a bit like this too.

This research studied the hearing range of domestic cats. The results were as follows

The behavioral audiograms of two cats were determined in order to establish the upper and lower hearing limits for the cat. The hearing range of the cat for sounds of 70 dB SPL extends from 48 Hz to 85 kHz, giving it one of the broadest hearing ranges among mammals. Analysis suggests that cats evolved extended high-frequency hearing without sacrifice of low-frequency hearing.

As an approximate comparison, a human's hearing range is typically 20 Hz to 20 kHz.  Cats have far better hearing than humans.

cats have very good hearing

Catching the soundwaves

Conditions that Need Veterinarian Attention

Head Pressing Against A Wall

Cats do like to headbunt or headbutt and this is a harmless activity.  However, head pressing against a wall  requires medical intervention.  This article discusses headhunting and the clear difference between head bunting and head pressing.

This article gives more information about the medical condition when the cat presses its head against the wall.  This is entirely different from sitting still and staring at the wall.  This article has sound advice but as always ask a veterinarian which with thanks to Just Answer you can now do on this page if you have immediate concerns.

Hyperesthesia Syndrome

Although not specifically related to why do cats stare at the wall, this syndrome does correlate with the cat showing signs of unusual behavior and it may include staring into space. Rather than exhibiting one unusual behavior such as staring at the wall it is usually characterised by a group of behaviors that are not normal for the cat and may include:

  • Excessive grooming
  • Staring into space
  • Salivation
  • Vocalization 

For in depth information this article from Cornell University - Veterinarian Medicine gives information that is helpful for anyone worried about unusual cat behavior.

As much as we would like an easily explained answer it appears that there isn’t that one thing that causes wall staring in cats.

It is impossible for us as humans to relate to the acute hearing and night vision that cats have.  If only we could put ourselves into the cat's shoes for a few minutes we would probably have more cat behavior answers.

More Cat Behavior Articles

Some cats like knocking things off tables. Does your cat do this? 

Why do cats like drinking from ponds?

Become an expert at petting your cat.

Is your cat pooping on the floor randomly.  Find out why?

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