Cats have such curious mannerisms. Some of them are endearing, but some are slightly unnerving! If you've ever glanced up to see your feline friend staring straight into your eyes like he's looking right through you, you know what I'm talking about. What's that bizarre cat behavior all about? Why does my cat stare at me? Are we starting a staring contest? Are they trying to mind control me? There are actually quite a few reasons for this stare-down. We'll unpack the reason behind the cat's staring behavior below.
Why Do Cats Stare?
Let's put aside the question of "why does my cat stare at me" specifically. Why do cats stare at all? Why do they seem to never blink? The cat family relies heavily on their keen eyesight in the wild. They are actually built not to have to close their eyelids in order to blink! They have a "third eyelid" - more accurately, a nictitating membrane - that takes care of the job of moistening their eyes without disrupting even a nanosecond of their vision. So, a lot of cats are staring because they don't have to close their eyelids. Nothing is meant by it. It's just how they are.
Clue Into Body Language
Sometimes that stare does feel purposeful, however. In the cat world, intentional direct eye contact is often a sign of aggression. This isn't as common in human-cat interactions, however. Your fur baby typically stares at you because they're smart and have learned a whole range of ways to say, "Hey! Look at me!" They've learned that simply sitting in front of their owner and staring at them will usually do the trick if they hold that stare long enough.
So if the stare itself doesn't necessarily mean aggression, how do you know what it does mean? Pay attention to the cat's body language. Cats have incredibly expressive bodies. Tail movement, ear position, and back arch (or lack thereof) will be your biggest clues.
Cat Stares With Happy Body Language
Is your cat curled up? Relaxed? Sitting calmly? Then you've got a happy cat on your hands. Happy cats often sit with their feet tucked under their bodies, and something cat owners laughingly refer to as a "cat loaf." Their ears are up but not tense. They sit up in a closed stance, with their paws kept relatively close together. Happy cat stares will have one of three motivations.
It's Time To Eat!
If you find your cat waking you up with their paws on your chest and their eyes staring into yours, it's probably food-related. They are through with waiting for breakfast! It's feeding time! It's as if cats know that humans can sense when they're being stared at, even while sleeping.
The phrase isn't "curiosity killed the cat" for nothing. Cats are incredibly curious creatures. Your cat might just be observing you to see if you're going to do anything interesting. They're highly visual hunters by nature. When outdoors, they'll keep their eyes sharp for anything moving. Instincts don't just go away because the cat's inside. Instead, that laser-sharp focus shifts to movement within the household. Not much moves in a household except for people!
A happy cat will more likely be near you and in a relaxed posture and blinking slowly while maintaining eye contact. If a cat is staring at you with half-closed eyelids in between a long, slow blink, be flattered! Slow blinks are known as "eye kisses" and are a cat's way of saying, "I see you. I feel safe and relaxed around you." It's a really sweet sign of affection.
Cat Staring When Angry
A cat with a stiff, puffed body is not a happy camper. Agitated, annoyed, or angry cats will give clear warning signs, such as dilated pupils, ears turned to the side, a side-to-side swishing tail, an arched back, and hair follicles stiffened so that the cat seems bigger. These signs, coupled with direct eye contact, are a potential threat. Your cat is letting you know, in no uncertain terms, that it needs some space. You might not have done anything wrong. Cats are highly territorial, and you might just be in "their" space. Is there anything you can do to relieve some of this tension?
Avert your eyes, and then offer an invitation to play. This might seem counterintuitive to play with a cat that does not seem pleased with you. But sometimes, a good distraction can diffuse a tense situation better than anything else. This isn't the time to break out his favorite toys, however. You just need a neutral distraction. Toss a crumpled piece of paper or a pen across the room for him to chase. Lightly knock your desk to attract his attention and break eye contact. Don't continue the activity once the eye contact is broken. Let it defuse tension, and then give your cat space.
Some of the reasons why cats could be angry or feel annoyed:
- Haven't cleaned the litter box in a while?
- Feeling territorial towards other cats in your household or visiting outdoor cats, dogs or other animals.
- You having more company over than usual.
- Toys are getting stale.
Cat Stares With Frightened Body Language
If your cat is in a crouched position with his tail tucked under his body or hiding out behind a piece of furniture, he is frightened or spooked. His ears might be back, and his hair poofed up as if he were agitated, but his cowering body position will let you know that it's all for a show, and he's actually scared. You might have either accidentally dropped something, or stepped on his tail, or just shouted a little too loudly. Maybe it was just a loud noise outside. Whatever it was, he is now keeping a sharp eye on the "potential danger." That will be whoever is closest, or making the loudest noise, or moving around. The best remedy for a spooked cat is a peace offering of their favorite treat. It's hard to be scared when your favorite person is giving you a snack.
Cats sleep a lot, and some cats sleep with their eyes partially open or even completely open. This is completely normal. What may seem like your cat stares at you may not be staring at all. When a cat sleeps like this, it means they are relaxed, and sleeping with their eyes open allows them to keep track of their environment.
While this is rare, but medical cases of staring appearance can occur. Chronic medical problems such as kidney failure and severe hypertension (e.g., high blood pressure) can result in such an appearance.