Cats are curious creatures with quirky behaviors we don’t always understand. Catching your cat staring at you can be unsettling, but there’s a reason, and we’re here to help you figure it out.
From audible communication like meowing, hissing, or trilling to non-verbal communication like stares, blinks, head butts, and rubs, your feline friend communicates with you in many ways. Each cat communicates a different message depending on their body language. We’ll look at all of those so you can easily determine the meaning behind your cat’s stares.
But first, some science about cats and blinking.
Cat blinks 101
Does it ever seem like your cat can go an abnormally long time without blinking? Hence, the crazy stares. Well, it turns out your cat’s eyes have three eyelids which make their regular blinks less noticeable.
Cats’ third eyelid is called a nictating membrane. It protects the eye by frequently moving across the eyeball to remove debris and provide moisture. You can’t see this happening, so it can appear as if your cat is not blinking. However, the nictating membrane is always doing its job allowing your cat to focus on prey, or, when your cat stares at you, to figure out what you’re doing.
However, how often a cat blinks is only one part of the staring story – we also need to look at body language.
The body language of a cat
There are three areas to consider when deciphering your cat’s body language: their ears, tail, and body posture.
Happy body language: A happy cat will display a relaxed posture. The tail may move slowly from side to side and their ears may be perked up and not pinned or to the side. Your cat may purr, give you slow blinks, a headbutt, or rub against you. Your cat’s pupils will be steady and not dilated. This cat will be open to your attention and may seek it by staring at you.
Agitated or scared body language: An angry cat will show an agitated posture and an intense stare. Their tail will swish back and forth rapidly, their pupils will dilate, and their ears will be turned to the side or pinned back. This is an angry or upset cat who may need some distraction or some space away from whatever is bothering them.
You can distract this cat from fear by throwing a treat in their direction or a cat toy. Avoid the direct approach when dealing with a scared cat.
Now, let’s look at some reasons why your cat may be staring at you.
Why is your cat staring at you?
Staring is a common cat behavior. This form of communication can mean a couple of things:
Hunger: If your cat is hungry, they may stare at you trying to get your attention for some food. If your floof is standing near the food bowl, or it’s nearing mealtime, you may receive direct eye contact and a meow until you satisfy their requests for cat food.
Signs of affection: When your feline friend is staring at you with squinted eyes and gives you a slow blink with a relaxed body, your floof is showing you the kitty version of affection and love. Affectionately called cat eye kisses, a study about cats and blinking found that cats are more likely to respond to humans that return or initiated the slow blink, so it must be an important component in cat communication.
Purring and kneading while staring at you is another way cats show their love for us. It’s interesting that both adult cats and kittens use the same forms of non-verbal communication. Kittens will purr, knead, and stare at their mom for attention.
Hunting: Behind that purring lump on your bed is a fierce predator. In order for them to focus, they stare at their prey. You’ll notice during a stare-down with a bird, for example, your cat may flinch with each birdie movement. They are hyper-focused on staring that bird down.
Curiosity: Cats are very curious and will stare at objects that interest them to get a feel for what’s going on. This could be you, or what’s outside the window.
Other Cats: If you have multiple adult cats, you’ve more than likely caught them in stare-downs with each other. Staring between cats can mean a display of dominance (remember that cats are all about territory), or even start play, wrestling, or aggression over the bed or litter box accessibility.
Visual contact is the starting point for interactions between cats. If the stare is about territory, they will typically display dominance, posing a threat or challenge to the other cat.
When to be concerned about cat stares
If your cat stares at you constantly, there could be a health issue going on and a visit with your veterinarian may be in order. Your vet can help rule out any health problems that cause too many staring episodes.
Pet insurance can help you afford the best care should those staring contests be an indication of a deeper health issue in the future. Giving pet parents peace of mind is our #1 priority, that’s why Pumpkin Pet Insurance plans help pay 90% back on eligible vet bills.