Cats are weird creatures. Even long-time cat owners like me haven’t fully understood their quirky ways. One time, we found our kitten Watson staring at the void. We’re puzzled and quite worried at first. So we asked the vet: why does my cat stare at nothing? It turns out that a feline’s keen sense of hearing and vision has a lot to do with it.
Still, my cat’s vet also warned that in rare cases, such behavior could point to neurological issues.
In this post, I will discuss the reasons behind this cat behavior and what you can do about it.
Why is my cat staring at the void?
If you’re wondering why your cat is staring blankly at no particular object, the following might explain why:
1. Your cat hears things you don’t.
Felines have a keen sense of hearing that allows them to perceive sounds that aren’t audible to the human ears. On average, cats can hear a sound range between 48 Hz and 85 kHz. This is very sensitive and powerful compared to the human hearing range, which is merely 20 Hz to 20 kHz.
Even if the surroundings are utterly quiet, your cat can still hear various sounds. At night, a cat’s sense of hearing becomes more intense due to the lower noise level.
This is why your cat seems to be staring at nothing. It’s probably concentrating on the sound or being disoriented by it. As long as your kitty isn’t showing other erratic behavior or personality changes, this shouldn’t be a major concern.
2. Your cat sees things you can’t.
Aside from their strong sense of hearing, cats can also see things that are beyond what the human eyes can grasp. It can be a tiny dust spec or a minuscule insect flying in the air.
Also, felines see colors differently than humans do. While cats were thought only to see two colors, they are actually equipped with sensitive photoreceptors. As a result, they can see wavelengths of greenish-yellow and blue-violet. Such variety in vision can make a cat stare at something, which may appear to humans as if the kitty is looking at the void.
3. Your cat is curious about something.
Cats are extremely curious beings, thus the saying ‘curiosity killed the cat’. This curiosity can lead them to stare at nothing as they try to figure out what they hear, see, or feel.
Moreover, felines have episodic memories that are still a mystery to experts. Like humans, kitties can retrieve past memories, though it’s in a different manner than humans. In short, your cat might be zoning out, and it just happened that the kitty was staring at the void when the episode occurred.
Some suggest that this behavior is also a sign that a cat is detecting danger. For example, if there’s another animal nearby, some cats will stop on their tracks, freeze, and stare blankly at nothing. On the other hand, your kitty may be planning an attack towards the perceived threat.
4. Your cat has dysautonomia.
If your cat’s blank staring is lingering and becoming worse, you should consider the possibility of dysautonomia. This condition is also called the Key-Gaskell syndrome, wherein the affected feline loses control of its involuntary neurologic abilities. It will also affect the cat’s reflexes.
Moreover, dysautonomia can happen to all cat breeds and ages, though this is commonly observed on younger felines.
Take note that dysautonomia can also affect the cat’s pupils, respiration, digestion, heart rate, salivation, and urination. On the untrained eye, this can be mistaken for rabies.
To differentiate dysautonomia with rabies, the following are the symptoms of the Key-Gaskell syndrome in felines:
- Anorexia and weight loss
- Unresponsive and dilated pupils
- Staring blankly at no particular thing
- Elevation of the third eyelid
- Dribbling urine
- Poor control on spinal reflexes
- Muscle wasting
The symptoms will start to worsen on the third or fourth day. If you start noticing most of these symptoms on your cat, you should bring it to the vet right away.
However, there’s no known cause for dysautonomia. This means that the vet will focus on symptomatic treatment to improve your pet’s quality of life. It includes medication to support the organs and promote normal bladder functions.
5. Your cat has hyperesthesia.
Another serious condition that will cause a cat to stare at nothing is hyperesthesia. This is mostly characterized by the rolling of the feline’s skin.
Aside from this trademark symptom, cats with hyperesthesia will also meow loudly and insistently for no reason. You’ll also notice strange eye appearance and staring blankly for hours on end.
The affected cat will also show sensitivity to touch since physical contact feels painful. In the long run, the kitty will practice self-mutilation as the cognitive decline and symptoms of hyperesthesia worsen.
But before you conclude that your feline has hyperesthesia, it’s important to rule out poisoning. Exposure to toxic substances can also trigger skin rolling similar to the one observed in hyperesthesia.
6. Your cat is aging.
Lastly, it’s possible that your kitty has reached an advanced age where its cognitive functions are already dwindling.
Senior cats can space out or fixate into an object. They will also seem lost in thoughts or locations where they used to be familiar. Like humans, aging cats will start to forget things and ultimately show weird behavior.
There’s nothing you can do to stop this occurrence. If your feline is diagnosed with dementia, the focus would be to improve its quality of life. Feline dementia tends to have a slow onset, which worsens over time.
In this case, the vet will be a big help. The veterinarian will help assess your cat’s condition and provide suggestions to help handle its declining cognitive abilities.
What to do if your cat is staring at nothing?
Staring blankly into space is usually a harmless behavior. However, if you’re worried, you can keep observing your cat for any accompanying symptoms.
If your kitty is meowing loudly, drooling, lethargic, and losing its balance, it’s best to bring it to the vet. That way, your pet will be examined and diagnosed accordingly.
But for the most part, leaving your cat alone would be a good move.
Why do cats tilt their heads while staring?
Felines tilt their head to get a better look at what they are staring at. It’s a cute gesture, which is similar to when we squint while reading a small print. Some cats will also do it while listening, which is a sign that the kitty is focusing.
However, if your kitty is vigorously tilting its head, it might be suffering from an ear problem. A quick check will reveal if your cat has ear infections. If there’s a discharge, unpleasant smell, or swelling, you should bring your cat to the vet.
Can cats see ghosts?
Some pet owners think that their cats see ghosts if it’s staring into space. Still, the jury is out whether cats can actually see supernatural beings.
I think this belief stemmed from Egyptian mythology, where cats are believed to have to ability to communicate with spirits. This is fueled by the fact that cats tend to stare at nothing, which makes pet owners feel that there’s a presence around them.
But before you get spooked, you should always go back to the reasons I discussed above. There may seem nothing in the room, but your cat can hear sounds and see tiny particles suspended in the air.
Why does my cat stare at nothing? Most of the time, it’s not really “nothing”. Felines have heightened senses that allow them to see, feel, and hear stimuli that aren’t perceivable among humans. Still, you should also rule out potential health problems if the staring is accompanied by other symptoms.
Have you ever seen your cat staring into space? What happened after that? Share your thoughts below!
Marco Vasquez is a passionate animal lover and writer with extensive experience in the pet care industry. He has worked with various pets, including dogs, cats, birds, and fish, and deeply understand their unique needs and behaviors. Marco’s love for animals has driven him to become an expert in pet health, nutrition, and behavior, and he is always eager to share his knowledge and insights with others. As a member of the Petcosset team, Marco brings his expertise to help pet owners make informed decisions about the well-being of their little friends. He enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors with his pets in his free time.