Cats are one of the most popular pets on the planet. But this doesn’t mean that all those little strange cat quirks and behaviors are well understood.
Quite the contrary, in fact!
Even after decades and centuries of observing and studying cats, we still know far too little about why cats do what they do. Take staring at walls, for instance. What would make a cat do this?
Find out in this article.
Why Do Cats Stare At Walls?
Until there is a way to be a “cat for a day,” we humans will always be left to guess at some of the strange behaviors and quirks of our pet felines.
The most probable explanation for why cats stare at walls is because cat vision and hearing are keeners than our own. It is highly likely your cat sees or hears something of interest in that section of the wall that you cannot perceive.
However, this is not the only possible theory about why so many cats stare at walls. Read on to learn what feline experts and cat owners have to say about this strange habit.
Listen to a Feline Expert Explain Why Cats Stare at Walls
This YouTube video takes you on a quick tour of some of the most likely explanations for why cats sometimes stare at walls.
As the video highlights, possible explanations range from quite practical reasons you would easily pick up on if you were a cat to the outrageous possibility your cat just knows this drives you nuts.
Possible Sensory Reasons for Why Your Cat Stares At Walls
Under the Weather Pet points out, there are likely as many possible reasons why your cat stares at walls as there are cats in the world.
Some cat behaviors will probably never make complete sense….or even any sense.
But other behaviors we can at least try to understand by pretending we know what it is like to be a cat. The best way to do that is to learn more about cat senses. What does it look like, feel like, smell like to be a cat?
According to Live Science, cats may well be able to see in ultraviolet light.
This means that your cat’s color sensitivity and color spectrum is going to look different than your own.
Being able to see in ultraviolet means your cat can see subtle shifts in color that your eyes can’t pick up on. Cats can also see better in low light than people can.
Start to notice whether your cat seems to stare at walls more frequently at certain times of day, such as when there are lots of shadows or in dim light. It could be that your cat sees a much more interesting wall than you do.
It is equally possible that there is a very small insect on that section of the wall – perhaps a small mite or spider – that you don’t see from where you are sitting.
But your cat with their sharp vision and endless patience sees the insect very well and is patiently stalking it with all the time in the world to wait.
As Animal Planet explains, cats are able to hear frequencies well above the range of human hearing.
But that is not all that makes cat hearing different from people hearing. Cats can actually rotate their ears a full 180 degrees, making the feline ear, not unlike a satellite shifting position to tune in to a faint signal.
As if that wasn’t already enough, cat hearing is sufficiently keen that your cat can hear a sound that is much farther away than your own ears can discern – up to five times farther away, in fact.
Many cat owners have become aware of problems with termites or trapped rodents behind their walls only after the family cat sat and stared fixedly at a certain section of the wall, finally prompting them to take a closer look (and listen) as well.
According to PAWS Chicago cat shelter, cats have a sense of smell that is 14 times keener than people’s sense of smell.
In fact, the feline sense of smell is the keenest of all cat senses, and the one your cat relies upon the most to navigate the world.
With a sense of smell that is so keen it can pick up on the faintest odor trail, it is highly likely that something behind the wall has attracted your cat’s attention.
Here again, if you have had rodents or bugs move into your home, your cat is the family member that is the most likely to pick up on it – and the smell is the sense that will likely discover it first, even before hearing or vision.
Could a Cat Staring at Walls Be a Sign of Health Problems?
There are a couple of health issues that are known to cause cats to sit and stare at walls or even at nothing in particular.
As Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine explains, there is a feline health problem called feline hyperesthesia that sometimes causes staring at walls.
Feline hyperesthesia syndrome is characterized by bouts of strange behavior followed by periods of inactivity.
There are all kinds of symptoms of this strange and poorly understood feline syndrome.
Because feline hyperesthesia is thought to be a neurological condition, it doesn’t always show up the same way in every feline patient. It also affects mature adult cats more frequently than kittens.
Staring at walls is one of many symptoms that can show up with feline hyperesthesia, and in this context, it is thought to perhaps be a form of self-soothing for the anxiety the condition often causes.
Often a cat will stare at nothing or at a wall with a fixed, blank, or strange facial expression.
If you are worried about your cat staring at walls and you see other strange behaviors that are hard to explain, you may want to take the step of scheduling a health examination with your feline veterinarian.
Diseases or exposure to toxins
As Animal Friends Pet Insurance explains, when staring at the wall leads to pressing the head against the wall, the situation becomes potentially more serious.
Metabolic disturbances, exposure to toxins or poisons, infection, brain swelling, serious disease, and tumors in the head can all lead to head-pressing in cats.
When cats have to have anesthesia, they can also be prone to staring at walls or pressing their heads against the wall as the medicine wears off.
Other Reasons Cats Stare At Walls
Not every cat stares at walls because they have a rare medical disorder or because their senses are so keen they are decoding the micro-movements of termites behind the wall.
Staring at walls can also have a behavioral component.
Stress or anxiety
As with feline hyperesthesia, simple environmental stress or the more complicated separation anxiety can also cause a cat to act out self-soothing behaviors like staring at walls.
As Battersea Dogs and Cats Home Charity explains, a severely stressed cat may actually become non-responsive to environmental stimuli such as noises, lights, and odors.
The addition or departure of a family member (human or animal), change in daily routine, move to a new home, change of litter box, traumatic experience or health issue can all trigger severe stress in cats.
Vetstreet points out yet another potential reason why cats may stare at walls – cognitive confusion.
Cognitive confusion syndrome may arise from underlying medical issues or behavioral issues. Vetstreet uses the acronym DISH to explain how the syndrome affects cats.
- D is for disorientation.
- I is for interactions.
- S is for sleep.
- H is for house-training.
When you are trying to decipher why your cat is staring at walls, the “D” is the most important clue to look for. Sometimes cats suffering from cognitive confusion syndrome are disoriented.
This disorientation may stem from severe stress or anxiety, underlying medical health issues, exposure to toxins, a change in routine (such as a move to a new unfamiliar home), and other causes.
Here, it is important to know that typically, your cat will not just stare at walls. When a cat becomes disoriented, you may see staring at walls, bumping into walls, losing their balance, getting stuck in corners of the room, and similar behaviors.
If you see any of these worrisome behavioral symptoms or signs unfolding in your cat’s behavior, it is important to schedule a health exam with your feline veterinarian right away.
You want to be sure your precious cat isn’t experiencing poison exposure or a serious health issue affecting balance, metabolism, organ function, or other potential causes.
In all this, it is also important to remember that sometimes cats stare at walls because they are just being, well, cats.