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Can dogs see ghosts in the dark?

Can Dogs See Ghosts? Here’s What the Experts Say

Is your dog staring and barking at seemingly nothing? Does it make you wonder if he sees a ghost? Or is there some other explanation? We spoke with experts on the perplexing subject.

By Yvonne Villasenor and Leah Lopez Cardenas Medically Reviewed by Lisa Radosta, DVM, DACVB Updated May 09, 2022

Medically Reviewed by Lisa Radosta, DVM, DACVB
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closeup of a golden retriever’s eye looking for a ghost
Credit: Jessica Trinh / Getty

On This Page

  • How Do Dogs’ Senses Differ From Humans’?
  • Do Dogs Really See Ghosts or Spirits?

Have you awoken to the startling sound of your dog insisting he’s detected a threat in the middle of the night, and then you discover it’s . nothing? Or is it?

Wondering if your pup is seeing spirits may say more about your own beliefs than it does about your pet. According to YouGov’s 2019 poll, more than four in 10 Americans believe paranormal entities like ghosts, demons, and other supernatural beings exist. Over one-third said they have first-hand experience feeling the presence of a spirit or ghost. Jinkies!

Whether you’ve personally experienced your dog acting out-of-the-ordinary or have heard tales from fellow pet parents, it can be unsettling to think about potentially living with something you cannot see. (Unless it’s Casper, of course.) As you speed walk down your dark hallway, you may wonder, can dogs see ghosts? We talked with dog experts, including a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant (CABC) and a veterinarian, to explore this topic.

How Do Dogs’ Senses Differ From Humans’?

Humans and dogs share the same five senses: sight, touch, hearing, taste, and smell. But dogs are amazing furry beings (obviously) and there’s plenty they can do that we humans aren’t capable of, which is what makes them all the more fascinating and lovable.

«Dogs can see better in low light conditions than we can,» says Jo Myers, DVM of Salida, Colo. and telehealth practitioner on Vetster. Not only that, but dogs (and cats) can hear higher frequencies than we humans can.

«They [dogs] can hear about four times what we can and smell up to 10,000 times better than human beings,» says Jen Jones, dog expert and founder of Your Dog Advisor. «Many dogs have such keen senses that they can even sniff out cancer or predict when a seizure is about to happen.» Of course, those dogs have special training for those tasks.

Do Dogs See Ghosts or Spirits? Here’s What May Really Be Going On

There are plausible explanations for certain behaviors that might lead pet parents to believe their dog is seeing a ghost.

1. Your Dog Sees, Smells, or Hears Something You Can’t

It’s all thanks to those super senses.

«When your dog reacts to something you can’t see, rather than a ghost, he may instead react to scent left hours or days ago, or sounds of critters outside the house,» explains Amy Shojai, CABC and pet care expert. She also tells us that some dogs are aware of changes in the emotional state of the people they love, and may «react out of fear, excitement, or other emotions they perceive in you.» Because dogs are able to differentiate between certain human emotions, they may simply be reacting to the emotions of the people around them.

Your dog’s efficient hearing also aids them in detecting commotion that we humans might not perceive. «Although dogs and humans hear approximately the same low-pitched sounds, dogs hear much better than people at higher frequencies,» Shojai explains. And Fido’s super sniffer helps him out too. «Humans have about five to 20 million scent-analyzing cells compared to the dog’s 12.5 to 300 million,» Shojai says.

2. Your Dog May Have a Physical Condition

The external environment around them might not be the only reason your pup is acting differently than usual. It could be something physical. «In both dogs and cats, as they age and senses fade, behaviors may change. Cognitive issues can also make pets act and react in unexpected, inexplicable ways,» Shojai says.

If a client asked Myers whether their pet could see ghosts, «I would ask them some questions with the intent of getting a better history,» she says. «My goal would be to avoid missing a medical condition that could be contributing to these behaviors.»

The first thing that comes to mind, she says, is potentially an anxiety disorder. «Many dogs with anxiety experience a frequent or even constant state of hypervigilance,» Myers explains. «When you combine this with the fact that dogs hear and smell better than we do, there’s a variety of things that could trigger a reaction from a dog that aren’t on our sensory radar. A mouse crawling in the attic or the scent of an animal walking by outside a window are all valid triggers that warrant a response from a vigilant dog.»

A degenerative disorder in aging dogs known as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) could also be the cause of your dog’s changing behavior. According to Myers, signs of dementia in dogs can include:

  • Restlessness
  • Aimless pacing
  • Staring off into space
  • House soiling problems
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased interest in play or other activities
  • Decreased responsiveness to family members and other pets
  • Altered sleep patterns

If your dog’s anxiety begins or worsens or in the late afternoon or night, talk to your vet about the possibility of Sundowner’s Syndrome, a state of confusion sometimes seen in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Before you start panicking about your dog being sick, especially if behavior changes are temporary or infrequent, realize it’s quite possible they just heard neighbors walking and talking along the sidewalk, saw a quick reflection of a car’s headlights, or caught the scent of a critter in the backyard. Or, perhaps your pup senses you’re feeling spooked and can’t help but feel the same!

We know these explanations might not be as exciting as ghosts, but at least you’ll sleep better, right?

Boo! Can Dogs See Ghosts?

It’s 3:15 a.m., and you wake to a strange whining sound from the other side of the house. You go to investigate, and your dog—a brave little Chihuahua—is staring down a long dark hallway, quivering in her coat. It seems your dog is suddenly scared of something in the house.

You wonder, “Can dogs see ghosts?”

Dogs do all kinds of strange things that we humans don’t quite understand—including sensing things that we don’t. It’s difficult to unequivocally prove that ghosts, spirits and other paranormal entities exist, but that keen canine perception can be pretty convincing.

Experts Weigh In: Can Dogs See Ghosts?

can dogs see ghosts

via Source

When it comes to whether pets can see into the paranormal realm, it all depends on who you ask.

The Believer

“Dogs can absolutely see spirits,” says Anderson, who claims she can communicate telepathically with dogs and cats. “It can be a human, another animal, sometimes non-human, like angelic energies that are around. But, just like humans, some pets are very tuned in and more sensitive, and others don’t have a clue. Every animal is different.”

The ones that are more tuned in use their specialized senses to pick up on spirit energy, she says.

“Dogs can see the spirits with their eyes because they have the ability to see things that we can’t,” Anderson says. “And they can hear things we can’t, so they can pick up the energy that way, too.”

But are they seeing ghosts or normal things that us humans simply can’t with our duller senses?

The Skeptic

Belle Marie Nibblett, DVM, a board-certified small animal internal medicine specialist with Oregon Veterinary Referral Associates in Eugene, says that, when compared to humans, dogs do have a heightened ability to smell, see, hear and feel—which could, in theory, help them sense otherworldly visitors.

Paws down, smell is a dog’s top sensory superpower, Dr. Nibblet says. Dogs can smell pheromones as well as odors—something humans cannot.

But can dogs “smell” ghosts? Probably not, she says.

“If you are fearful of something, though, your dog will know through your pheromones,” she says.

As for hearing, a dog’s ability to hear higher frequencies than a human is well known. Think of the classic dog whistle—the dog can hear it, but humans can’t, says Dr. Nibblett, noting we can hear between 64 Hz–23 kHz, whereas dogs can hear between 67 Hz–45 kHz.

That’s significant, but even more interesting is that dogs can focus on a particular sound.

“Dogs have a better ability to focus on a specific sound that they’re hearing and, essentially, block out other sounds,” Dr. Nibblett says.

When it comes to vision, dogs can only see in the blue/violet and red spectrums, but they excel at seeing movement—particularly subtle movement, Dr. Nibblett says. They also have very sensitive night vision, she says.

“Dogs’ sense of sight developed around them being predators,” she says. “They needed that ability to see movement and motion in order to catch their prey. Everything is developed for seeing things that move.”

Dogs also can sense movement and vibration with their super-sensitive whiskers, Dr. Nibblett says.

“Their whiskers—vibrissae—have a tremendous sensory input,” she says. “They can feel the slightest bit of movement in the air, sending a message to the brain about the animal’s distance from the given object.”

Which one are you?

Dogs’ intuitiveness of their surroundings means they may be able to see or even feel quick movement in a room. If you’re a skeptic, you might say that quick movement is just a mouse or a bug that’s too quick for us humans to see. Or, if you’re believer like Anderson, you might say it’s a spirit.

Spirit energy, Anderson says, sometimes appears as visible orbs or shadows that fly across the room or pass through your peripheral vision, so dogs’ extra-sensitive motion-detector eyes might allow them to see subtle ghostly movement.

“The orbs will shoot by with lightning speed, day and night,” she says. “And the shadows, they’ll appear like a bullet out of the corner of your eye. Sometimes it’s like, ‘Did I really just see that?’”

So, what’s the truth? Can dogs see ghosts? Or are they just sensing everyday objects and sounds that we can’t. If it seems like it could go either way, that’s because, well, it can‑at least, according to Jordan F. Slavik, an instructor at the University of Maryland who is currently working towards his PhD in philosophy.

“The most honest scientific answer to whether or not dogs can sense the paranormal is that we simply don’t know,” he says. “Much like ghosts or spirits themselves, science can neither completely prove or disprove such a claim—at least not yet.”

Signs Your Dogs Can Sense the Supernatural

Because most of us are unable to communicate with our four-legged friends telepathically, how can we tell if our dogs have a sixth sense? Anderson says to look for these three clues:

1. Staring down a hallway, wall or corner.

“The number one clue that there’s something present is that your pet will stare up into the corner of a room at nothing,” Anderson says. “Upper corners of rooms are energy vortexes. Energy collects there like a dust bunny under your couch. So, you’ll see the pet staring up in the corner, or your dog will look up and start barking.”

2. Barking, whining or showing other anxious behavior.

“Dogs are a lot more demonstrative in telling us, “Hey, there’s something here,” Anderson says.

They will start barking, whining, growling; they might even scratch or become defensive and start backing down the hallway or back away from a room or a door, she says.

3. Being fearful of or drawn to certain rooms or areas of your home.

“Pets might also act really weird,” Anderson says. “They won’t go into a certain bedroom, or they won’t go into a basement. I hear that a lot!”

What to Do if You Think Your Dog Sees a Ghost

If you think your dog sees a ghost, don’t panic! Anderson says it’s likely a friend or loved one stopping by for a visit.

“It takes a lot energy for the spirits to show up,” Anderson says. “When they do show up, they’re not trying to scare you or your dog. It’s usually a loved one, human or a pet.”

So, what should you do?

  1. First of all, Anderson says, if your dog senses a spirit and it’s scaring him, remember that you are in control—of the dog and the ghost. “Tell the spirit to knock it off and stop scaring your dog or cat.”
  2. Speak to your dog calmly if he’s frightened. “Say, ‘Good boy, good girl for telling me there’s someone here,’” Anderson says. “Don’t get on them for alerting you, because they’re doing what they’re supposed to do—they’re protecting you and letting you know that there’s something there.”
  3. You can perform a cleansing ritual of some kind, too. “Say some prayers, burn sage, use holy water, or try green fire to help eliminate negative energies and entities,” Anderson says. “There are all kinds of rituals you can do at home.”
  4. In addition, you should rule out any medical anomaly that could be causing your dog’s odd behavior, says Dr. Nibblett: “Dogs and cats can have partial motor seizures that cause fly-snapping behavior, staring off at nothing or watching something that’s not there. They can cause abnormal brain activity.” Dogs can also develop Cushing’s disease, which is an endocrine disorder, high blood pressure and other conditions that could cause abnormal sleep patterns and anxiety-related disorders, she adds. “If you see that behavior one time, that’s not a big deal; if you see it over and over again, or if it’s increasing in frequency, visit your veterinarian,” Dr. Nibblett says.
  5. Take a look at things like flickering fluorescent lights and television screens. “Different lights might have vibrations that bother them,” Dr. Nibblett says. “So, be aware of those sorts of things that might be causing some distraction.”
  6. Use a product that contains a dog-appeasing pheromone, Dr. Nibblett advises. Sentry’s calming collar for dogs, for example, uses a pheromone that mimics the calming pheromone released by a mother dog to quiet her puppies. It could help an anxious—or spooked—dog relax and feel at ease.

For more information, check out:
• Breaking Down Your Dog’s Body Language, to find out whether his behavior is abnormal or not.
• How to Calm a Nervous Dog, for especially nervous pups.
• 5 Weird Pet Fears and Why They Happen, in case something else may be scaring your pup.

By Wendy Wilson

Featured Image: Olivier Tabary/Shutterstock

Is This Normal?

  • Why Is My Dog Staring at the Wall? Is This Normal?
  • Why Does My Dog Stare at Me? Is This Normal?
  • Why Do Dogs’ Eyes Look Weird in Photos? Is This Normal?

Do cats sense ghosts better than dogs?

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

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

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

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

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!

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