With their wide eyes and oval pupils, the gaze of a cat can be a disconcerting thing. Cats are prone to staring hard at anything which grabs their attention. This may be something that piques their predatory impulses, such as a swinging light cord or a curtain moving in the breeze.
They may watch attentively as you move around the house, observing your day-to-day activities with intense concentration. And sometimes, your cat will appear to stare at absolutely nothing at all. This can be more than a little unnerving, especially if you’re not used to cats.
Why does my cat stare at nothing? Your cat may be staring at something you can’t see, such as a small insect. She may be looking in the direction of a sound or a smell. Cats sometimes stare fixedly as a result of vision loss or neurological issues.
You’ve landed on this page because you have questions about your cat and her odd behaviour. Why does my cat stare intently at things I can’t see? What is my cat staring at? Is my cat all right? Should I be concerned about my cat’s odd behaviour? Is there something wrong with my cat’s eyes?
Whatever your questions and concerns, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to find out exactly what your cat may be looking at when she seems to be staring at nothing.
Why Does My Cat Stare at Nothing?
The answer often lies in your cat’s predatory instincts. The domestic cat’s wild ancestors lived or died by their ability to hunt and kill prey. A cat might spend hours poised by a rodent’s den, waiting for the slightest sign of motion that would indicate prey coming into pouncing range. A cat’s intent and fixed gaze is part of their arsenal of hunting behaviours.
In a domestic setting, of course, there are (hopefully) no mouse or rat-holes to stare at. The predatory instinct persists, however, no matter how well-fed and contented your cat might be. Your pampered pet’s attention can still be captured in the same way that a feral cat’s might be, it’s just that the stimuli are sometimes harder to recognise.
It can be quite unnerving to see your cat staring at a blank wall or a random corner, apparently on high alert, when there seems to be nothing that she could be looking at. My domestic shorthair girl does this a lot, and I sometimes joke with my friends that she’s seeing ghosts.
Fortunately, the solution is usually something much more mundane. I once watched her track “nothing” across the floor of the living-room, her unblinking gaze following an invisible presence. When I went over and looked more closely at the section of floor that she was minutely inspecting, the otherworldly presence turned out to be a small spider that happened to be camouflaged against the colour of the carpet. So much for my shorthair psychic.
This is often the case when a cat is staring at “nothing”. In fact, she is directing her gaze towards something you can’t quite make out: an insect, a spider, or even a piece of floating dust. Your cat might also be watching a shadow or a ray of light that’s moving slightly on the wall, something you might not notice. Because they can pick up on very subtle movements, they might find a shadow intriguing if it’s shifting slightly. You might not even notice the motion, but your cat does.
Cats are also very sensitive to sounds and smells. If your cat is staring at a spot, maybe she’s heard something from that direction and it’s captured her interest. It might not be a sound that you could hear, since a cat’s hearing is far more acute than a human’s. They can hear frequencies that are too high for the human ear to pick up, and sounds that are too soft to register. An intriguing smell from a particular direction might also draw a cat’s gaze, even if you can’t smell it.
“Staring at nothing” is thus a very common kitty behaviour. It’s all part and parcel of being a cat owner, and is usually nothing to worry about. If the staring behvaiour is unusual for your cat, however, or if it’s accompanied by certain other symptoms, it could be an early warning sign that your cat is developing a health problem.
Health Issues and Staring
There are a handful of conditions that can cause your cat to stare unblinkingly at something. One is vision loss. There are a lot of conditions that might impair a cat’s vision. These include congenital problems like short sight or nystagmus, as well as acquired conditions like glaucoma or cataracts. Because your cat can’t see too well, she’s apt to stare for longer at an empty space where she happened to glimpse something earlier. If you notice changes in your cat’s eyes (swelling, redness, discharge, cloudiness etc.) you should have the vet look her over and make sure everything’s okay.
Older cats who are starting to develop neurological problems may stare into space a lot. If your cat shows signs of confusion or anxiety as well as prolonged staring, talk to your vet. There are lots of ways to help keep an older cat calm and happy as she ages.
Cats are also prone to high blood pressure, which can produce wide and staring eyes. This should be caught at your annual vet check-up. High blood pressure in cats can cause a range of additional issues, but if it’s picked up and addressed promptly it needn’t be a problem.
Hyperesthesia is an unusual condition, chiefly affecting mature cats, which can involve prolonged staring. The pattern of symptoms involves periods of heightened, manic energy and distress, punctuated by periods of fixated staring at a specific point.
A typical attack will often begin with your cat randomly and aggressively attacking her own flanks or tail — much as if she was trying to catch a particularly annoying pest. She may groom frantically, especially her flanks and hindquarters. She may engage in loud howling or meowing, as if in significant distress. Once she calms down, your cat may stare fixedly into the distance. Her pupils will be dilated and her gaze blank, often failing to react to movement in front of her. As the name suggests, a cat suffering from hyperesthesia may become acutely sensitive to touch for a time.
The causes of this baffling condition are unknown. Some researchers consider it to be a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder, while others class it as a seizure disorder. In any case, it’s very distressing to witness.
Because the condition isn’t well understood, diagnosis can be tricky and treatment is often a matter of trial and error. In general, though, cats with hyperesthesia respond well to treatments focused on reducing stress. Treatment for seizures may also help.
Another condition associated with prolonged staring is feline dysautonomia. This is a condition (or rather a collection of conditions) involving degeneration of the autonomous nervous system. It can come on at any age, but is more common in younger cats. Feline dysautonomia can cause your cat to lose her appetite and develop a range of gastric issues, particularly constipation. She may have bouts of diarrhoea. Her breathing may become laboured and difficult.
There is no specific cure for this condition, but medical interventions and careful nursing can sometimes resolve a lot of the problems if the case isn’t too severe. Because there’s no effective treatment for the underlying issue, care for cats with dysautonomia focuses on tackling the effects of the condition. It can sometimes take as much as a year to nurse a cat back to health once the condition has taken hold, and there will generally be ongoing health issues to watch out for.
Your cat might require intravenous hydration for a while, and may need nasogastric feeding. The prognosis is rather uncertain, even in milder cases. It is possible for a cat to have a reasonable quality of life if the condition isn’t too severe, but kitties with feline dysautonomia will need a lot of care throughout their lives.
Keep in mind that most episodes of staring aren’t down to any kind of medical condition. They’re merely a symptom of being a cat.