Why Does My Cat Stare at Me? What Is Behind the Stare?
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM May 13, 2019
It seems like every minute your cat’s eyes aren’t closed, they’re fixed on you. What is behind your cat’s seemingly impolite stare? You first start to feel it on the back of your neck, a tingling that then spreads to the rest of your body. Even if you get up and move, it follows you relentlessly. Sometimes you feel it in the middle of the night and other times it creeps up on you while you’re eating or watching TV. It’s that feeling that something is watching you, scrutinizing your every move... It's your cat.
Why Does My Cat Stare At Me?
Staring at you is your cat’s way of figuring out what you’re all about and what you’re going to do next. A cat will stare to indulge their curiosity, show affection, engage one of their hunting instincts, and communicate their needs. However, an empty stare may be a sign of retinal detachment.
Reasons Cats Stare
While most of our mothers taught us that it’s not polite to stare, our kitties were taught the opposite. Staring is an important way for them to gather information that is pertinent to their survival. By watching you or other animals, they can figure out when their next meal might be, when they need to get ready to defend themselves, or when you are open for a lap warmer. They can’t just ask you if you had a good day, so they rely on their visual senses to pick up on your demeanor. Let’s dive into some more specific reasons that a cat might focus that undaunted stare on you.
- Staring Indulges A Cat’s Curiosity
We’re all aware of how curious our feline friends can be. Like the nosy neighbor that lives next door, they always want to see what you’ll do next. Take their stare as a compliment. Your kitty thinks that you’re entertaining! They also want to know what silly trick the dog is going to attempt and how many trips up and down the tree the squirrel outside is going to make. If you think about it, our domestic kitties have a lot of hours to fill in a day. They’ve come a long way from their wild ancestors that need to spend that time hunting down their dinner. While cat naps do fill up long periods, there is still plenty of time left where they need to be entertained.
- Staring Is A Way Cats Show Affection
We tend to be more engaged with the things we like, and we ignore the things that we don’t. Our kitties are the same way. If your cat is watching you intently, it’s because they are interested in you. Your cat may expect a stare back from you to affirm this shared bond. The stare coupled with a slow blink is your cat’s way of saying “I love you.”
- Staring Is A Cat’s Hunting Instinct
For cats that live in the wild, they need to be on high alert at all times. They don’t want to miss a meal opportunity or a possible predator in their territory. Just because your kitty isn’t hunting for survival doesn’t mean that those instincts are gone. Similar to their wild relatives, staring helps give your house kitty a feel for the things that are happening in his or her environment.
- Staring Lets Your Cat Communicate Their Needs
Since kitties don’t possess the power of speech, staring can be used to get what they need. You may notice an intense stare from your feline friend around meal times because your cat doesn’t want to miss seeing you go near his or her food bowl. Furthermore, your kitty may stare at you while you’re eating, hoping for a handout or to remind you that he or she would like to be fed too. You may expect a more focused stare after you’ve returned home from work without giving him or her some much needed petting and attention. Cats may even stare more when they are experiencing health issues and aren’t feeling quite right (but more about that later).
Why Do Cats Stare At Other Cats?
When cats engage other cats in a staring contest, it can either be a sign of affection or aggression. Take note of the rest of their body language to find out which it is. Cats that are familiar and comfortable with each other may sleepily stare while bathing in a sunbeam together. They’re relaxed, content, and may even purr. The starring between these cats communicates their adoration for each other, and the fact that they understand the social hierarchy that is in place.
Cats that aren’t on good terms with each other may stare out of aggression. Their body will be tense, ears may be pinned back, and their tail may be whipping back and forth. There will be trouble if you don’t dissipate the situation. To avoid aggressive cat staring between a long term-resident and a new tenant in your home, be sure to introduce them to each other gradually, keep them confined away from each other, swap scents around, and supervise the initial contact.
Why Do Cats Stare at Other Animals?
Besides staring at his other cat friends or enemies, you may notice your kitty staring at other critters, either in your house or out the window. Again, cats crave entertainment, so they may be staring simply to give them something to do. Busy birds flitting from one branch to branch another can be quite a sight to see. Your hamster running on its wheel can also be entertaining to watch.
Cats also may be staring at these other animals due to their hunting instincts. If your kitty was in the wild, watching those birds would help decide how and where to pounce in order to catch his or her next meal. Now these hunting instincts don’t necessarily mean that your cat is only after these critters for food. It is ingrained in your cat’s brain to watch any movement so that he or she is always aware of what’s going on in their surroundings.
Why Does My Cat Stare at Me When…?
Hopefully your cat’s staring behavior is beginning to make sense, but there are still times when your kitty seems to stare at you more.
- Staring At You When You’re Eating
There could be a couple of reasons for this. The stare may be to get your attention as your cat might want to eat too. It could be a way to remind you that your cat would like to be fed or to try to get a treat from your plate. There is also a lot to watch while you’re eating. Since cats are naturally attracted to movement, the up and down of your fork and the chewing motion of your mouth can all be very stimulating.
- Staring At You While You’re Sleeping
This may be the creepiest time for your cat to stare as there’s nothing like waking up to two large eyes glowing in the darkness. Why would your cat choose this time to communicate something to you? It could be because cats are naturally nocturnal animals. While most of our domestic feline friends have transitioned to sleeping at night, they still retain that nocturnal instinct. A cat’s vision is very sharp in the dark so they may be, again, watching you out of entertainment or simply surveying your sleeping noises in the dark. They may also be trying to spend some time with you, even though you may not be aware of it.
When To Worry About Your Cat Staring
The vast majority of the time your cat’s staring is a completely normal, albeit sometimes unnerving behavior. However, if your cat’s stare takes on an empty, unfixed quality, then something else may be wrong. A cat may appear to be staring when in reality he or she may have retinal detachment. Retinal detachment is when the layer at the back of the eye detaches from the globe and can occur following high blood pressure. When the retina detaches it can make the pupils constantly dilated leading to an empty stare. Causes of high blood pressure include kidney failure, heart disease, and hyperthyroidism. If you notice your kitty’s pupils seem constantly dilated or that their gaze isn’t fixed on a specific target, go see your veterinarian immediately.
Cat staring may become an issue if it is followed by aggression as well. Always note your cat’s body language when they stare to determine if an attack is imminent. Try to deescalate the situation before another critter or your toes get attacked!
We’re all aware that our feline friends possess some strange behaviors, with staring at us being right at the top of the list. Staring is usually a cat’s go-to form of communication to try to get your attention or to let you know that he or she cares. If your cat stares at you, take it as a compliment and put on a good performance in your one-person cat show.