If you've lived with a cat, you know that their behaviors can sometimes be puzzling. As we try to figure out exactly what those behaviors mean, we may find that we’re totally off base with some of them.
For instance, if you thought your cat was staring at you because they wanted to play a game of “who’ll blink first,” you were wrong. In fact, it’s not a good idea to stare back at your kitty hoping they’ll blink or look away first. To felines, an unbroken stare is a sign of aggression and they may decide to strike first if they’re feeling aggressive. Let’s explore a few reasons why your cat will stare at you.
The Root of the Behavior
Over thousands of years, cats have been solitary creatures who survive by finding, stalking, and eating their available protein sources, like rodents, birds and other small animals. During the stalking phase, when a cat is getting ready to pounce, their stare is unchanging as they calculate distance and other factors. They only release the stare when they have their prey in their paws. Your cat is much the same.
Encouraging the Behavior
There are some likely causes of a cat stare that may help to understand it:
Other Solutions and Considerations
If they instinctively connect “The Stare” with hunting and eating food, they may be trying to task you to get some for them. They may even be stalking you, in a way.
They’re an elderly cat
If they’re a senior cat, staring may mean they’re experiencing cognitive decline, or even blindness and disorientation. A visit to the vet can help sort it out.
Curiosity and the cat
They’re curious about your behaviors and are watching you to try to understand YOU.
They’re sending signals that they want some attention, either for play or cuddling. If you’re not sitting down where they can get to you, The Stare may be to get your attention from whatever you’re doing.
We can debate all day whether cats are affectionate or even care about their humans’ whereabouts. Without anthropomorphizing too much, our bet is that staring is a way to show their affection. They depend on you to be there for them. Cats are capable of bonding with their humans — they just don’t lick your face with a big, pink tongue, or wag their tails frantically. How cats communicate with their tails is a subject of its own.
You’re my rock
They’re insecure about their surroundings or the activities going on around them, and need to be sure where you are. They also stare at you so you don’t disappear or “escape.”
They could be ill or in pain. Cats are known to be stoic in the face of discomfort and if they have a stomach ache or headache, their way to handle it may be to just “ride it out.” Staring at you gives them comfort, or they may be asking for some help.
While you’re sleeping
If you wake up in the middle of the night to find your feline buddy sitting nearby and staring at you, it may be because you’ve made an interesting sound or they’re fascinated with your steady breathing. They could just be hungry and they want you to get up and feed them. Or they could be watching over you since they’re likely awake at night anyway.
As mentioned earlier, it’s not a good idea to stare back at a cat who is staring at you, especially a cat you may not know. Staring may undermine the trust between you and your cat and it may frighten them. While the stare may not be hazardous on its own, a returned long look will definitely raise the tension.
The best way to react to your cat staring and you turn your head to meet their eyes, blink slowly, then turn away. This is a signal to your feline friend that you’re relaxed and calm, and they will be, too. Remember that cats learn by our responses to their signals, and if you respond with food or get up to pet them every time, they’ll stare even more and expect you to always give them what they want.
Typically, if a cat finds you looking at them, they will turn away to show they’re not threatening you. Another way to defuse tension is to look at them and yawn. They’ll probably yawn, too, and look away or wander off. They’re not being indifferent to you, any more than you’re indifferent to them. They’re showing they get the message. There’ll be plenty of time later for playing, snuggling or dinner.
With cats living in one of every three homes in the U.S., which translates to 74 to 96 million feline companions, it’s important to develop an understanding of them. One of the ways is to try to read their behaviors and what they mean. A good starting point is sorting out The Stare and remembering to blink!
Visit Wag!’s Cat Guides to read about other cat habits that may seem inscrutable until you learn about them! Also, don’t forget you can ask questions about this and other behavioral topics by chatting live with a vet now through Wag! Health.