If you have a cat, you’ve witnessed their bizarre reactions to seemingly banal or nonexistent stimuli. If you don’t have a cat, Google cats and cucumbers. You’re welcome. But is kitty possibly reacting to paranormal stimuli only she can detect? In other words, can cats sense ghosts?

Dogs also display some inexplicable reactions to things their people can’t see. What’s really going on when your dog or cat reacts to something you cannot see? Do pets sense spirits in your house? And if so, which pet does it best?

Diana and her dog
Our dog, staring at something Diana is oblivious to.

Reasons why pets can sense spirits better than humans

Humans have cornered the market on our sense of taste. But dogs and cats have better smell, hearing, and in some ways sight and feeling than we do. And these heightened abilities are just what we humans know about. Let’s explore the various ways in which dogs and cats sense spirits in your house. Also, we’ll explain why we think cats make the best ghost-detectors.

Can cats smell ghosts?

Cats and dogs both have a reputation for having heightened senses of smell and hearing compared to humans. Dogs sniff out bombs and drugs; service dogs can sense when their human’s blood sugar is low or when they’re about to have a seizure.

Unexplained scents are one of the more common types of hauntings. Many people who’ve had what they describe as demonic encounters associate the demonic presence with a sulfuric smell that comes and goes.

If ghosts produce odors that are sometimes detectable to humans, maybe they produce fainter odors that are more often detectable by pets. Can cats sense ghosts through smell?

Some dogs (especially hounds) have up to a million more scent receptors than cats, which allow them to pick up fainter scents. Yet cats produce more of the proteins which allow them to differentiate between different scents. This means your dog could potentially catch a whiff of a ghost faster, but he may not realize what it is he’s smelling is of a spooky nature as quickly as kitty does.

Can cats hear ghosts?

Most cats and some dogs have ears that function like furry satellite dishes. Their flexible ears pick up both softer and higher sounds than us humans can. Cats have about twice the muscles in their ears as dogs, potentially allowing them to pinpoint a sound’s source better. With better ability to triangulate where a sound originates, your cat is more likely to know which sounds are paranormal. In other words, your dog might be fooled into thinking that spooky moaning sound is coming from the TV, whereas your cat knows it’s coming from an empty corner next to the TV.

Can cats see ghosts in the dark?

Humans rely more on sight than on smell. With more cones in our retinae, we see many more colors and details than cats and dogs, and yet with more rods, they see better in darkness and can better detect motion.

Well, in dimness. Like many other nocturnal mammals, cats and dogs have a layer in their eyes called the tapetum lucidum. Its function is difficult to envision for us puny humans. Think of the difference between attempting to read a book in dim light versus reading on a phone or tablet. Or perhaps looking at the full moon versus the new moon. This extra eye structure reflects light from the environment onto the back of the retina, amplifying vision while simultaneously looking super-haunted in flash photographs. While cats can’t see in pitch darkness, they only need about 1/6th of the light a human would need to see with the same level of acuity. Can cats sense ghosts with this acute night vision?

While some dogs can see a signal around a mile away, cats have better depth perception and better night vision, in part due to their iconic pupil shape. If there are more ghosts around to spot at night, kitty will surely see them first.

Can cats sense ghosts through whiskers?

Both cats and dogs have sensitive whiskers which help them sense things humans cannot. Whiskers augment up-close vision and hunting and catching prey. Whiskers precisely measure openings, so kitty knows exactly which holes she can contort her body through. Well, fit kitties do. Whisker length is genetically pre-determined, so if kitty gets extra-chonky, her whiskers don’t grow proportionally longer. Thus her insufficient whisker measuring tape might deceive her into trying to squeeze through too-tight openings.

In addition to direct touch sensation, your cat’s and dog’s whiskers are sensitive to air currents, vibration, and barometric pressure, all things which might change slightly with paranormal activity. Humans mainly report cold spots in haunted locations, but some laboratory studies have linked vibrations below the level of human detection with the sensation of feeling creeped-out. Various paranormal investigation tools are designed to sense small differences in temperature, pressure, and electromagnetic fields. These are all things whiskers are probably sensitive to.

While both cats and dogs have whiskers, it’s obvious just by looking that cat whiskers are more glorious. Dogs have been bred to select for traits that benefit humans, and in general dogs rely less on their whiskers than cats, who have been bred mostly for their serious good looks.

Do cats see more ghosts at night?

Being nocturnal has to be a distinct advantage in ghost-hunting. Isn’t night time pretty universally deemed the best time to see a ghost? For all the various reasons that humans experience more spooky feelings at night and professional paranormal investigators investigate at night, the main reason is that it’s easier to detect the subtle signs of a haunting when the senses aren’t overstimulated by the relative brightness and loudness of daytime.

Paranormally-speaking, we call 3am the witching hour, and ascribe all sorts of esoteric meaning to this time. This ranges from intricate biblical numerology to a general bias that people who are awake at this time are up to no good. Whether it’s evil intentions or biology, 3am is usually around the time that kitty wakes us up caterwauling around the otherwise quiet and peaceful house. Does kitty get the urge to alert us because to her, it’s not actually that quiet?

cat and dog under a blanket in bed
Sleep all day, see ghosts all night.

Can cats predict when a person is about to die?

Some people are superstitious about cats crossing their paths portending doom or bad luck. But there’s anecdotal evidence that this superstition might have it’s basis in an actual ability to predict death. We’ve heard stories about cats choosing to snuggle up with a particular someone in end-of-life care, only for that person to be the next in the facility to peacefully pass away. The New England Journal of Medicine actually published an article about such a cat who lived in a nursing home. The cat, named Oscar, predicted a whopping 25 deaths. But far from behaving like a creepy portender of doom, Oscar comforted grieving family members. He provided companionship for the terminally ill, and even alerted staff members to pay more attention to residents in their last hours.

With the mysterious ability to seemingly predict death, cats seem ever more mystical to us simple humans. It is easy to imagine their link to the liminal space between life and death as something paranormal.

Can cats cross the astral plane?

How many times have you been searching for your cat in literally every hiding spot, frantic that he’s run away, only to have him suddenly reappear hours later? And you’ve probably heard the legend that cats have nine lives, despite the evidence that cats are pretty darned mortal (and we hereby hex a million woes upon anyone who ever dares to test the theory). What if these so-called multiple “lives” are just trips to the other side and back?

In episode 10, I describe my experiences as a teenager working in a haunted ski lodge. One of the most common strange encounters I had was the presence of several shadow figures, about shin-height, that would dodge into doorways as I turned my head to glance at them. The best way my mind could reconcile that was to perceive them as interdimensional cats. Although this happened at the haunted lodge on a near-daily basis, inter-planar cats are something I still catch in the corners of my eyes from time to time. When I had cats, I could chalk this up to my own cats darting around a corner faster than I could focus on them. Now that I don’t have cats…well, let’s just say the eeriness is far less deniable.

Cats don’t give a fuck.

Think about it: there’s a reason service dogs are more popular than service cats. Actually, there are probably several valid reasons. But I believe the main reason is because dogs want to warn when something bad is about to go down. When disaster strikes, the dog is a reliable helper, letting mom know Timmy fell into the well, or jumping into the river to try to rescue the drowning Edna Collings. Cats are more likely to disappear at the first sign of trouble.

can cats sense ghosts
It’s tough work to not give a fuck.

But although your cat would watch your seizure with vague interest, then saunter off to take a nap, this is actually a point in their favor on the spirit-sensing debate. Think about all the times your cat suddenly gets very interested in something you can’t see. Kitty often startles and runs from the room for no reason. Those might just be the times the ghosts actually manage to get the jump on your cat. Remember the cucumber? If you just show a cucumber to a cat who is paying attention to you, zero reaction. The trick only works if it’s a complete surprise.

Cats win this one because most of their interactions with ghosts that are not surprising go completely unnoticed by us. Can cats sense ghosts but they’re just acting nonchalant about it? For any cat lover, it’s easy to picture this being likely. Your cat is probably ignoring a ghost right now.

cat and dog sleeping
Plus, they can sleep through anything if they want to.

Can cats sense ghosts in your house?

Based on all these advantages, we think it’s clear that cats would naturally be better at sensing spirits than dogs. Does your dog or cat see ghosts? Do you have a different kind of pet that sees ghosts? What kind of things does your pet do that make you think she can sense ghosts? Share your stories about your cat or dog seeing ghosts in the comments below!