The eyes are among the expressive parts of the feline anatomy. A relaxed cat will doze or half-close its eyes. Wide, staring eyes, meanwhile, suggest that a cat is wholly alert. A cat that stares directly at you is most likely attempting to send you a message that it considers important.
Your cat likely wants you to do something. Perhaps you have missed subtle cues for feeding, cleaning its litter box, grooming, or petting. A cat that stares without blinking could have a medical condition, such as dysautonomia, hypertension, and feline cognitive dysfunction. Some alpha cats will stare as an act of dominance. Of course, your cat may not be staring at you at all. It may be looking over your shoulder because it can hear a bird, or listening to sounds in a nearby wall.
Being stared at by a cat can be a little unsettling. As far as your cat is concerned, it’s just another form of communication. Do not be unnerved by a cat engaging in this behavior, though. Observe your cat’s body language closely, and a plausible explanation will quickly emerge.
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What Does It Mean When a Cat Stares At You?
As humans, we are hardwired to blink regularly to lubricate our eyes. Feline anatomy is a little different, though. Cats have a third eyelid, the nictitating membrane, that performs this task. This makes narrowing and closing eyes optional for felines.
Many owners experience staring first thing in the morning. This is because your cat is waiting for you to wake up. It has noticed that your breathing has grown shallower and you’re about to awaken, meaning that you’ll be available to provide it with food and attention.
Sometimes, staring is a precursor to affection. If your cat stares at you, hold your gaze for a second or two. If the cat slowly blinks, it is demonstrating love. This is sometimes called a ‘cat kiss.’ Don’t stare back if the cat does not blink because this may be misinterpreted as aggression.
Cats stare because they’re curious about peoples’ actions, and want to know what will happen next. Cats see humans as clumsy and noisy. So, a cat will watch carefully, trying to understand what will happen next.
Your cat will definitely want to know if you are about to prepare food. The hungrier a cat is, the most attentive it will be to your movements. If you move toward the kitchen, or a known food source, you should expect to be followed, most likely with the cat rubbing against your legs.
Consider how your cat behaved before the staring began. Did it rub itself against you, jump into your lap, or verbalize (meow)?
If so, the cat was trying to communicate a message to you. It feels that you are ignoring its cues, and wants you to respond in some way. It will keep staring until you acknowledge its needs and take immediate action.
Address your cat verbally and see how it reacts. The cat may jump back into your lap. This means that the cat wanted physical attention. If so, offer petting and grooming until your cat starts to purr.
If the cat continues staring, the cat may lead you to an empty food or water bowl. The inference is that you forgot to provide nourishment or hydration. Alternatively, the cat would like you to clean out its dirty litter tray.
Sounds in the Home
Perhaps your cat is not staring at you at all. Rather, it is staring past you. Hearing Research has said that cats have better hearing than most mammals. So, a sudden noise may have captured your cat’s attention. You need to identify what has piqued your cat’s interest.
Ordinarily, a cat will lead you to its area of focus. If your cat leads you to a window, it may have heard another animal outside and be feeling a little anxious. If your cat leads you to the back door, it may want to go outside, or could be alerting you to the possibility of intruders.
If your cat leads you to a wall and stops, it may have heard rodents or insects inside the structure. Human hearing isn’t good enough to detect the presence of insects like bed bugs and cockroaches, inside of walls.
Some cats will also stare due to fear. A nervous cat will not take its eyes away from a source of anxiety. Your cat may be seeking reassurance from you, or your actions may be the reason for your cat’s anxiety.
Cats have a strong fight-or-flight reflex. Most anxious cats, especially those that are nervous by nature, prefer to hide in secluded places. If the cat is standing its ground, it may be preparing to defend itself from a predator.
If your cat is staring at you, it can be a sign of dominance. If you stare straight into a cat’s eyes, it may be seen as a hostile gesture. Your cat may then become aggressive to assert its alpha status.
Dominance toward humans from felines is uncommon. Only the bravest cat would pick a fight with somebody so much larger than itself. However, if this is the cause, it will manifest in other problematic behaviors.
Perhaps the cat will block your path when you attempt to enter or leave a room. It will refuse to use a cat flap, expecting you to let it in or out of the home. A dominant cat will scratch and claw if not fed or petted on demand.
Loss of Eyesight
The vision of cats starts to deteriorate with age. Consequently, the cat will likely remain still, relying on its hearing and scent to understand the world around it. This may result in abnormal staring behaviors.
If your cat has started bumping into furniture, or is reluctant to jump or climb, it may be struggling to see well. A blind cat will also keep its nose to the ground while walking. It will likely use scent to follow a specific path and perhaps feel its way around using its whiskers.
Staring usually has a behavioral explanation. However, you still need to be aware of the following health concerns that can lead to staring:
Dysautonomia (Key-Gaskell Syndrome)
Dysautonomia, or Key-Gaskell Syndrome, is a condition that impacts the automatic nervous system. This can lead to wide, staring eyes. Not surprisingly, it is sometimes referred to as Dilated Pupil Syndrome.
As explained by the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, dysautonomia occurs when the autonomic ganglia degenerate. The autonomic ganglia are clusters of nerve cells. Eyes are not the only body part impacted, though.
The digestive tract will suffer, leading to constipation, inappetence, and dehydration. Vomiting and diarrhea have also been linked to dysautonomia. Most cats develop dysautonomia as kittens.
Wide, staring eyes are sometimes associated with toxicity. This is one of the warning signs that your cat has consumed something unsafe. Labored breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, and discolored gums are also common.
Intravenous fluids will be required to flush out any toxins. If the toxin was solid, surgery might be needed to remove it. If action is taken early enough, most cats will recover from the ingestion of toxins.
Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
A symptom of hypertension is staring eyes that don’t constrict in light. It’s common among older cats that are overweight. A cat with systolic blood pressure above 160mm Hg will be diagnosed with high blood pressure.
Staring into space, seemingly for hours on end, is a common warning of feline cognitive dysfunction. Other signs include a reversed sleep-wake cycle, clinginess, and behavioral problems, including aggression.