The eyes are among the expressive parts of feline anatomy. A relaxed cat will doze or half-close its eyes. Wide, staring eyes, meanwhile, suggest a cat is wholly alert. Your cat will be attempting to communicate something.
Your cat likely wants something. You may have missed subtle cues for feeding or petting. Some cats stare in dominance, as this intimidates other felines. Alternatively, your cat may not be staring at you at all. It may be looking over your shoulder, listening to sounds in a wall.
Being stared at by a cat can be unsettling. As far as your cat is concerned though, it’s just another form of communication. Do not be unnerved by a cat engaging in this behavior. Observe your cat’s body language and a plausible explanation will eventually present itself.
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What Does It Mean When a Cat Stares At You?
A staring cat can be an unnerving sight. As humans, we are hardwired to blink regularly to lubricate our eyes. Feline anatomy is a little different. Cats have a third eyelid, the nictitating membrane, that performs this task. This makes narrowing and closing eyes optional for felines.
Many cat owners experience staring first thing in the morning. The explanation for this is simple. Your cat is waiting for you to wake up. It has noticed that your breathing has grown shallower and you’ll soon stir. This means you’ll be available to provide 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 as this can be misinterpreted as aggression.
There are a number of other explanations for a cat’s stare. Observing your cat’s body language before and after this action will reveal a reason.
The most common reason for a cat to stare is simple curiosity. The behavior of humans is baffling to many cats. They believe us to be clumsy and noisy. The cat will watch you carefully, trying to understand what you are up to.
A big part of this will be wondering if you are about to provide food. The hungrier a cat is, the most attentive it will be to your movements. If you move toward the kitchen or another food source, expect to be followed.
Your cat will also stare to memorize your movements and actions. Cats are born imitators. Your cat will acknowledge that you manage to keep yourself alive and to care for it. As a result, it will be keen to study exactly how you do so. In the cat’s mind, this information may save its life in the future.
Another likely explanation is that your cat is looking for attention from you. Think about how your cat behaved before the staring. Did it rub itself against you, jump into your lap or verbalize?
If so, the cat was trying to communicate. It feels that you are ignoring these cues and is wondering why. It will keep staring until you provide acknowledgment.
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. Offering petting and grooming until your cat starts to purr.
If the cat continues staring, slowly stand up. The cat may lead you to an empty food or water bowl. The inference here is clear – you forgot to provide nourishment or hydration.
Alternatively, the cat may lead you to the litter box. This is typically a request for cleaning. Cats dislike eliminating in a pre-soiled environment. Scoop out any used litter and replace it with a fresh alternative.
Sounds in the Home
It is possible that your cat is not staring at you at all. Instead, it is staring past you. Hearing Research confirms that cats have superior hearing relative to many mammals. It is possible that another sound has captured your cat’s attention.
It is important to identify what has piqued your cat’s interest. Ordinarily, a cat will lead you to the source of fascination. Take a slow step back and see how your cat reacts. If it walks away, follow the cat from a safe distance.
The cat may stand by a window. In this instance, it’s an external noise that is generating interest. This will usually be something harmless. Your cat may be hearing car horns, conversations in the street or shopfront shutters closing. Reassure your cat if it appears nervous and go back to your business.
If your cat leads to you to a back door, further investigation may be merited. Your cat could be alerting you to intruders. These may be human or animal in nature. Keep your cat inside in case a predator has gained access to your yard.
If your cat leads you to a wall, be particularly vigilant. Your cat is likely hearing rodents or insects inside the structure of your home. Reward your cat for bringing this to your attention and consider your next steps.
Some cats will also stare in fear. A nervous cat will not tear its eyes away from a source of anxiety. Your cat may be seeking reassurance from you, or you may be the source of apprehension.
In the latter case, tread carefully. Cats have a strong fight-or-flight reflex. Most anxious cats, especially those that are nervous by nature, prefer to hide. If the cat is standing ground, it is preparing to defend itself.
Address your cat in a high-pitched voice and avoid sudden movements. Keep your hands open and visible. Slowly but surely approach the cat. If you are met with a hiss, walk away. The cat is frightened of you. You’ll need to learn why you are causing such fearfulness.
If you keep approaching at this stage, you will be attacked. When cats fight, they fight for their lives. You will likely experience deep, painful scratches and bites. To protect your health, and your bond with your cat, do not let things escalate this far.
Alternatively, the cat may approach you. This means that something else is frightening it. The cat is looking to you for reassurance. Gently pet and soothe the cat but watch it carefully. Your cat’s body language will reveal what has spooked it so much.
If your cat is staring at you, do not be tempted to stare back. A staring competition is not a game for a cat. It can be a sign of dominance. If you stare straight into a cat’s eyes, it may be seen as a hostile gesture. The cat will then become aggressive to assert alpha status.
Dominance toward humans from felines is rare. Cats do not regard owners as their masters. Felines consider themselves our equals. All the same, cats are safety conscious. Only the bravest cat would pick a fight with somebody so much larger than themselves.
It remains possible that your cat is trying to dominate you, though. This will manifest in other problem behaviors.
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. A dominant cat will also quickly anger when expectations are not met. The cat will scratch and claw if not fed or petted on demand.
This is problematic and must be managed. Speak to a professional feline behaviorist about managing your cat’s dominant tendencies. The longer the issue continues, the harder your cat will be to re-train.
Loss of Eyesight
The vision of cats starts to deteriorate with age. The cat will remain still, relying on hearing and scent to understand the world around it. This may result in staring behaviors.
The first warning sign of a cat going blind is clumsiness. Cats are graceful and elegant movers. If your cat has started bumping into furniture, it may be struggling to see. Such a cat will also be reluctant to jump or climb. It cannot see to judge safe distances.
A blind cat will also keep its nose to the ground while walking. This serves two purposes. The cat is using scent to follow a path and feeling its way around its whiskers. Cats often use whiskers to accommodate poor short-range vision anyway.
Place soft obstacles in front of a litter tray or food bowl. If your cat is blind, it will not notice these changes. It is following a pre-established path that it has memorized. You could also wave a soft toy, such as a feather, in front of the cat. If it shows no reaction, the cat is likely blind. Flickering light switches should also capture a cat’s attention.
Blind cats can still live full and happy lives. Most felines rely more on hearing and smell anyway. You’ll just need to introduce some safety measures to the home.
You should also ensure that the blindness is due to natural ageing. Some health concerns send cat’s blind, including diabetes and hypertension.
Staring usually has a behavioral explanation in cats. Do be aware of potential health concerns that lead to staring, though.
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. This means the illness 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. These are clusters of nerve cells. Eyes are not the only body part impacted.
The digestive tract will suffer, often leading to constipation, inappetence, and dehydration. Vomiting and diarrhea have also been linked to dysautonomia. The root cause of the illness is unknown. Thankfully, it is rare in senior cats. Most cats develop dysautonomia as kittens.
A cat with dysautonomia will require medical attention. Further tests will be run, and medication prescribed to control particular symptoms.
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, and diarrhea and discolored gums are also common.
Intravenous fluids will be required to flush out the toxins. If the toxin was solid, surgery may also be needed to remove the item. If action is taken early enough, most cats recover from the ingestion of toxins.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often linked to staring eyes. Blood is rushing to your cat’s brain at a rate of knots. This will leave your cat is a constant state of vigilance and high awareness. Also, as discussed, hypertension can lead to feline blindness.
Senior cats should be taken for regular health check-ups. Ideally twice a year. As hypertension typically impacts older cats, a vet will always test for this. The sooner your cat is placed on medication, the better the prognosis.
If your cat is older than 15, it is considered geriatric. This means that the cat’s brain is aging as much as its body. Feline cognitive dysfunction, or cat senility, could follow.
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.
Staring is a common behavior in cats. It’s often harmless, but there will be a reason for it. Do not just write staring off as a quirky cat habit. Observe your cat and look for an explanation.