Cats are such curious creatures and are often caught doing silly things that make their owners ponder those actions. A common question among cat owners (or anyone who has ever been around a cat) is “Why do cats stare at walls?” and we’re here to tackle that head-scratching question. Cats stare at walls because they can hear and see things that humans can’t, but the real answer goes much deeper than that. Pay attention closely because one of these items might very well save your cat’s life!
Your cat has better hearing than you do
Cats have had millions of years to evolve into expert hunters. Their heightened senses basically make them killing machines. Your cat may not be a killing machine, but their body is designed to be one! If your cat is staring at the wall and their ears are also focused on the wall, they most likely hear something that you don’t.
Sure, it could be a rodent or a bug, but it could also be something house. Your walls have a lot of stuff going on inside of them, there are pipes and tubes and plumbing and all kinds of things that make very subtle noises that us humans simply can’t hear. Even as the temperature outside changes your house’s walls will expand or contract in amounts that go unnoticed by you but your cat may pick up on little creaks in the walls.
Your cat's vision is AMAZING
In addition to their immaculate hearing, cats have also evolved to have a field of vision that humans simply don’t have. Additionally, cats can also see wavelengths of light that we can’t see, including ultraviolet light, how cool is that? Eyes have rods in them that help us see in low-light conditions. Cats’ eyes have more rods than humans so they’re able to see things much better than us in a dark room!
There may be a tiny little insect that you wouldn’t see or wouldn’t have noticed, but your cat sure did. It might also just be a stray hair floating along or even a speck of dust that’s being carried along the wall by a fan or some air flow in the house. Regardless of what it is, it’s likely something that you can’t see or wouldn’t have noticed even if you could see it!
Your cat's brain processes things differently
Sometimes when answering the question of “Why do cats stare at walls?” it goes beyond them simply hearing something or seeing something. It’s blatantly obvious to all cat owners that their pet’s brain is wired differently than yours.
Whenever a cat is trying to process information or figure something out they will often just freeze in place. A common example for this phenomenon is the “blep” that cats will do. It’s the iconic move where they’re in the middle of cleaning themselves, get distracted, and forget to put their tongues back inside of their mouths.
This same distraction process could be what happens when your cat stops what they’re doing and just stares at the wall. It’s likely that they’re staring because they are simply trying to process some kind of information (but good luck figuring out what it is they’re trying to process!)
Your cat is getting older
This is something that no cat owner wants to face or deal with, but sadly it’s inevitable. Your cat might be staring at the wall simply because they’re getting older. As cats age, like with almost any other mammal, they will face cognitive decline. This can cause your cat to seem confused at times, and it’s not fun when you realize what’s happening, but it’s simply just a part of life. If you’re worried about your cat getting older then your veterinarian should be able to provide some tips and advice specific to your aging cat and their needs.
Your cat has hyperesthesia
Hyperesthesia in cats refers to an extreme sensitivity of their skin, usually on their back or near their tail. It’s usually noticed when cats have a strong reaction to their owners touching them or brushing them, usually near their tail, but can also be noticed from cats staring at the walls for long periods of time. In addition to the sensitivity to touch, you’ll likely notice other symptoms of hyperesthesia in your cat such as enlarged pupils, loud meowing, excessive grooming or cleaning near the tail, or even skin rippling.
Vet’s don’t know what causes hyperesthesia in cats but the overall consensus is that you can ease the symptoms of this by reducing their anxiety. You can reduce your cat’s anxiety by making sure to maintain a regular routine and doing what you can to help your cat avoid overstimulation from touch, sounds, sights, and smells. If reducing your cat’s anxiety doesn’t help then you’ll want to make a vet appointment so they can check things out and help your kitty get back to normal.
Head Pressing: Seek a vet IMMEDIATELY
Rather than just staring at the wall, if your cat is firmly pressing their forehead against the wall and won’t move away then you need to call your vet or an emergency vet immediately. Head pressing behavior can mean that something serious is wrong with your cat that can result in death.
Cats that are ‘head pressing’ may also show other symptoms such as: vocalization more than normal, dilated pupils, vision issues or problems seeing, disorientation or confusion, and compulsive pacing or circling.
Headbutting: Do not mistake headbutting for head pressing. When your cat “headbutts” you or the wall or anything nearby it’s them simply marking their scent. Head pressing is typically done directly on the cat’s forehead and for prolonged periods of time.
What should I do if my cat is staring at the wall?
99% of the time you’ve got nothing to worry about. It’s perfectly normal for your cat to stare at the wall for a myriad of reasons, a majority of which should raise no red flags about their health. You simply have no idea what they’re looking at, what they’re listening to, or what their kitty brains are trying to process!
The cat community commonly suggests you give your cat enough enrichment and stimulation to keep them busy and to keep their interest focused on other things. You should be doing that anyways though! If your cat commonly stares at walls but you don’t feel it is a medical concern, then try to direct their attention elsewhere. Maybe put a cat tree by a window, put a bird feeder outside of that window, and let your cat do some bird watching while they chirp or go “ekekekekek” at the birds!
It is rare that your cat’s wall-staring antics require medical intervention, but not unheard of. If you have any inkling of a doubt that your cat may have something serious going on then please seek out a vet immediately. The absolute worst case scenario is they give your cat a full workup and give you peace of mind that your kitty is happy and healthy!