Cats can have some quirky habits: they can knock things over; they nap in tight, seemingly uncomfortable positions; they will sometimes stare blankly at walls. What exactly does your cat find so fascinating about a blank wall?
Why Do Cats Stare at Walls?
There can be a variety of reasons your cat has a sudden infatuation with your choice of paint color. Some folks may joke (or even seriously think) that their cat is watching a ghost or some other supernatural entity. There's probably a more logical, natural reason for it, though. Most of the reasons your cat may stare up at your walls has to do with cats being naturally curious and with cats being both predator and prey.
They Can See Something
Cats have a keen sense of vision. While they may not have as many cones in their eyes as we do—meaning they can't see as many colors—they have many more rods and can see incredibly well in low light. They also have a wider field of vision than we do. In fact, your cat's vision can span 200o while ours is only 180o. This means your cat has much wider peripheral vision than humans. You may think your cat is staring at nothing, but they may actually be watching a bug or a shadow on the wall.
Cats may also have an episodic memory. This is a specific type of long term memory that allows cats to remember certain events, situations, and experiences. This means your cat can remember reflections of the sun dancing on a specific part of a specific wall at a specific time of day. So if your cat stares at the same wall at the same time of day, they may just be waiting for their favorite game.
They Can Hear Something
Cats have an incredible sense of hearing. In fact, they can hear a wider array of frequencies than many other mammals, including humans and dogs! So your cat may be hearing things that you can't! Buildings not only settle, they also have things like pipes and air ducts in them. Your cat may hear water running through a pipe or air hissing through a duct. Of course, our homes are not impermeable to outside animals. If a mouse or other animal gets into your home, your cat may be staring at the wall because they can hear them scurrying. The sound doesn't have to be coming from within the wall, though. If you live in an apartment building, your cat may be hearing your neighbors through the wall, even if they seem like fairly quiet neighbors to you.
When Should You Be Concerned?
In some circumstances, your cat's wall watching may be indicative of a medical issue.
Feline Cognitive Dysfunction
Some older cats can develop something that is officially called feline cognitive dysfunction but is more commonly known as cat dementia. This isn't too dissimilar to dementia and senility in people. Cats with cognitive dysfunction may yowl loudly at night and may stare at blank walls in confusion.
Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome
If your cat not only stares at blank walls but also aggressively attacks their own tail, frantically starts to groom their tail base out of nowhere, or if they just seem overly sensitive to touch, they may have something called feline hyperesthesia syndrome. This illness has only been recently recognized and described. It is not a common diagnosis but it's unclear if that is because it doesn't occur often or if it is hard to appreciate a cat's normal behavior in a veterinary setting. Cats with hyperesthesia syndrome will often go from a manic state of aggressive grooming and tail swatting to an almost trance-like state of staring off at a wall. If you notice any of these symptoms, try to get a video on your phone. Capturing your cat's behavior on video can be an incredible aid to your vet in diagnosing any medical causes to odd behaviors at home.
Cats can stare at walls for so many reasons. Most of the time they just saw or heard something that we didn't and are keeping tabs on it or trying to figure out what it might be.