Learning your cat’s body language is one of the best ways to understand what it’s trying to tell you. While cats do communicate vocally, they mostly use their face, body, and tail to express themselves to other cats and people.
Staring often means that it’s watching what you’re up to or are stalking. Sometimes cats detect behavioral changes in human companions, other times they’re just learning from their actions. Some cats stare when they want something, such as rubs or food. However, when combined with ears rotated backward, an uneasy tail, and a tense body, a continuous stare means that your cat feels threatened.
Cats are visual predators that keep a close eye on their prey without regular blinking. Unlike humans, cats don’t need to blink frequently to keep their eyes lubricated. This allows cats to maintain a steady gaze and take in as much visual information as possible.
What Does Your Cat’s Stare Mean?
Cats use their eyes more than their voice to communicate. As pets, they’re known for their standoffishness and lack of emotional clarity. Cats are highly independent and are, therefore, easy to misunderstand, but there’s a lot to gain from learning your aloof cat’s body language. A cat’s stare can mean many things, whether it is focused, haphazard or hostile.
Your Cat is Curious About What You’re Doing
Cats are notorious for being curious. Sometimes, a cat’s stare can appear hostile, but in most cases, it means that your pet is trying to track your activity using head and eye movements.
Cats are highly sensitive to changes in our body language. Therefore, your pet may be watching you because you’re behaving differently.
Another reason cats stare at their owners is that they’re learning from what they do. This type of staring behavior may not be necessarily focused on your eyes alone. By learning from your actions, cats can customize their behavior to communicate with you more effectively.
Why Does My Cat Stare At Me While I Sleep?
If you fear that your cat is plotting against you during your sleep, take heart. The chances are that it’s just eagerly waiting for you to wake up.
Remember that cats are nocturnal and they do most of their hunting in the night. If your cat were outside, it would perch in a suitable location and stare for prolonged periods, looking for the slightest movement from a small animal, such as a mouse.
If your cat is staring at your face while you sleep, it is probably checking for movement or seeing if you’re awake. Most of the time, your cat is waiting for you to wake up and give it food.
Your Cat is Feeling Insecure
Your cat may stare at you because it doesn’t know how to react to a particular situation. Cats have a plethora of emotions, and it’s common for them to feel confused when they experience an unfamiliar sound or odor.
Your cat may watch you in such situations for affirmation. By watching your body language, actions and emotions, your cat can gain confidence in how to react to specific environmental changes.
Cats are highly expressive creatures. Your cat may be staring at you to watch him in return, to share a family bond. Watching him in return can reaffirm feelings of bonding and trust, creating more stability in your relationship. In most cases, if you are calm, your cat will be calm too. If you are jittery, your cat may sense this and reflect it through his behavior.
Cats can have emotional disturbances as well. Therefore, if your pet appears to be irritated, anxious or slightly under the weather, try calming it with a few slow blinks and a gentle rub.
If you haven’t given much attention to your cat lately, try playing a game your pet enjoys. If playtime doesn’t work, check the time to see if you’ve delayed his meal.
Your Cat is Bored
Cats get bored when they have nothing to do. While in some cats, this can result in haphazard, destructive behavior, most resort to stalk or stare at their owners. Your pet is probably staring at you hoping that you will provide it with some form of entertainment.
However, this doesn’t always mean that your cat is demanding playtime. If you are occupied with another task, your cat will entertain itself by watching what you’re doing.
Your Cat Wants Food
Most cats like to stare at their human companions without blinking when they want food. Your cat has been learning from his experiences and your behaviors ever since he came into your house. This allows your cat to get what he wants, when he needs it – a type of learning called operant conditioning.
A cat’s stare is very different from a dog’s. However, just like in the case of dogs, a cat’s gaze can appear pleading at times. This can cause some pet owners to give their cat a treat every time their feline friends stare at them this way. Cats are quick to learn that this type of behavior is an effective way to receive snacks.
Over time, your cat may use this same technique when he wants you to feed it, play with it, give it rubs or open a door.
Your Cat Feels Threatened
Sometimes a cat may stare continuously if it feels threatened. However, this typically occurs when a cat meets a feline rival or a human he isn’t familiar with.
Cats don’t have to vocalize their thoughts while communicating with other cats. Adult cats only meow at humans, not at each other. Kittens meow when they want their mother to know they’re hungry or cold. Adult cats use their tails, fur, ear positioning, eyelids and the dilation of their pupils to get their message across.
Cats are highly territorial and incessant staring often indicates that your feline is stalking or showing dominance. Cats find direct eye contact threatening and the more threatened they feel, the wider their pupils become. In most cases, cats only show hostility or aggression towards people they don’t know, for example, if they’re approached by a guest. This is why cats are likely to gravitate more towards people who seem to ignore them.
If a cat perceives a threat, its adrenaline levels will spike, initiating its fight or flight response. It’s common for cats to stare at each other when they have a rivalry. If staring is ineffective in warding off a potential rival, a cat may proceed to take physical action, leading to a catfight. In multi-cat households, a cat may use his unblinking stare to warn other cats from coming close to his food bowl, litter box or other vital territories.
Cats Staring at Other Cats is a Show of Dominance
A common belief is that a cat’s unflinching stare means that he is being hostile or attempting at dominance. However, this mostly true only valid when a cat is around other cats. With humans, a continuous stare often means that the cat is curious, wants food or is feeling threatened. However, a cat may naturally exert his dominant behavior if there aren’t any other cats around as well.
Cats that are more dominant than others will show a set of behaviors depending on their situation. It typically happens at a young age, but becomes more apparent when the cat is socially mature (about 2 to 4 years of age). If you have a dominant cat in your house, you’ll notice him testing his boundaries with other cats to establish a social hierarchy. Cats may establish their dominance in multi-cat homes by staring, hissing, growling and sometimes even hitting other cats.
A dominant cat may even urinate in areas that are important to it, push other cats away from the cat bowl and perform other similar actions to exert his dominance. Cats can smell changes in other cats, causing a dominant cat to target sick cats in the house. Stress can cause a cat to become pushier than usual. It is common for indoor cats to see outdoor cats through a window and take out their anger on a different cat as a show of aggression.
Socialization is critical in a cat’s upbringing. Kittens who haven’t had the chance to interact and play with littermates may display more dominance because they haven’t learned self-control or the limitations associated with being in a social setting. Other kittens who grow up to be more dominant cats include, kittens who had to fight for food, feral kittens and kittens that weren’t stopped when they played too aggressively.
How to Prevent Dominant Behavior in Cats
Most individuals aren’t able to supervise all life stages of a cat, especially if they’ve adopted an older one. Cats learn to become dominant during the first eight weeks of their life. Not being able to oversee them during this time can contribute to dominant behaviors in cats.
However, there are ways to decrease your cat’s aggressive or dominant behavior, even if it is well past its age. Start by discouraging any hostile play and never let your cat grab or bite you.
In multiple cat households, owners need to make sure they don’t give a single cat more attention as this can result in jealousy and subsequent aggression. Another excellent way to reduce dominant displays among cats is to separate their bowls, keeping them in different locations if possible.
Should I Punish My Cat?
Understand that punishing a cat isn’t effective in the long-term. It can encourage them to elicit fearful responses and further aggression. If you find your cats spending time together without fighting or having stare-offs, be sure to reward them with a treat and a gentle pet.
Play with your cats together, give them treats together and praise them if they are showing signs of getting along. Doing so will help reinforce positive behaviors that you want to see in your cat family, even if one of them appears to be more dominant than the others.
In extreme cases, you may have to consult your vet about medicating your cats if you’re planning on doing a behavioral modification program. Avoid giving your cat any over-the-counter or prescription medication without seeking advice from your veterinarian. Humans and animals respond to drugs differently. Therefore, a drug that is safe for humans, may not necessarily be safe for your cat. Keep in mind that medication is not a permanent solution by itself, and should only be sought if you’re working on behavior modification in an aggressive cat.
Your Cat’s Predatory Instincts
Cats are masters of their environments and use their vision for many activities. An outdoor cat, may keep a lookout for small animals to stalk, keeping a steady gaze when it finds one. It also remains alert in case of any potential predators, or another cat walks into his territory. These are a cat’s innate instincts, which he carries with him when it moves indoors.
It is common for a cat to lock its gaze on a moving object nearby – whether it is inside, outside or is looking out through a window. When inside your home, your cat may enjoy stalking you to keep him entertained.
If a cat appears to be hostile, it’s best to avoid locking eyes with him – especially if it’s a cat you aren’t familiar with. Staring back at a cat may prompt an attack.
Understanding Your Cat’s Eyes
Cats are nocturnal predators, which makes their eyes and sight slightly different from humans. When cat’s eyes are fully dilated, their pupils may be twice as large as a human’s, allowing them to hunt in partial darkness. Research shows humans need six times more light than cats to see. A reflective membrane, called tapetum lucidum, at the back of the eye, allows cats to see in low light conditions.
A cat’s gaze may change due to ambient light. Bright light causes discomfort in cats. Therefore, cats have a natural protective mechanism where their pupils constrict into slits. You may have noticed that your cat’s pupils appear much narrower in the daytime than in the night.
Another noteworthy difference between human eyes and cat eyes is that cats possess a “third eyelid.” Also called the nictitating membrane, it functions as a windshield wiper that helps in removing dirt. It also helps in moistening a cat’s eyes, which is the reason cats don’t have to blink as much as humans do, especially during stalking.
Why Is My Cat Staring at Nothing?
If you have an elderly cat that frequently stares into space, this may be a sign of feline dementia. According to a University of Edinburgh’s Royal School of Veterinary Studies research conducted by Danielle Gunn-Moore, a feline medicine specialist, elderly cats are more susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease. As the life expectancy of cats is increasing, so is their risk of developing dementia.
According to research, 28 percent of domestic cats, aged 11 to 14, are likely to have at least one age-related behavioral problem. The risk increases by 50 percent among cats older than 15 years. If you suspect that your cat may be developing cognitive issues due to old age, see a vet for advice. There are medications that slow down the development of the condition.
Does My Cat Stare at Me Due to a Health Problem?
In most cases, a cat’s stare isn’t a cause for concern – as long as any aggressive behavior doesn’t follow. Rarely, staring may be a symptom of an underlying health condition, such as:
- Kidney disease
- Heart failure
The above conditions can result in hypertension, if left untreated. In cats, the normal systolic blood pressure should be about 120 mm Hg, which is similar to the blood pressure in humans. If the blood pressure rises above 180 to 200 mm Hg, your cat may become susceptible to ocular injuries.
Research conducted by Ontario Veterinary College shows that high blood pressure can cause retinal detachment in cats, resulting in dilated pupils and making it look like the cat is staring.
Therefore, if your cat stares at you with empty eyes or if his pupils are inexplicably dilated, visit a vet for a blood pressure check. Hypertension and chronic kidney disease are common health problems in senior cats, aged 12 to 15.
Furthermore, if your cats stare is a sign of aggression, seek ways to stop it as early as possible. If you have multiple cats and you find them having frequent, hostile “stare-offs,” try breaking the fight by making a loud noise to scare the two apart.
Cats tend to size each other by staring without blinking, especially when they are first introduced. If you’ve brought a new cat home, you can avoid fights by introducing them slowly, keeping a barrier between both cats in the beginning and supervising them until the cats are more acquainted.