Have you ever glanced up from reading a book and found your cat staring at you from across the room? There may be other times when you’ve observed your cat staring at a wall or with their head angled upwards, gazing intently at the ceiling. There are many reasons why cats stare, so let’s explore this feline behaviour.
What does it mean when your cat stares at you?
So why does your cat sit and stare at you? What is your cat trying to communicate? We know that cats can’t speak as humans do, so they have to find other ways to let us know what is going on. By learning to read non-verbal cues such as body language we can understand why our cat is staring at us and what we can do about it.
Staring is an interesting cat behavior. In the wild, it is either a sign of aggression or a predatory behaviour associated with stalking and hunting. In domesticated cats, when a cat stares at you – it can mean much more. Staring has become a way for cats to communicate with their humans.
When cats stare each other down this is definitely a sign of trouble. Sometimes, this is also how your cat communicates that they are losing patience with you. An angry cat will have a stiff or rigid body, poised to attack. Their eyes may lay flat and be dilated. Common vocalisations of an angry cat include hissing and a low growling meow. Their tails will often swish and swat.
If your cat is staring you down and seems to be upset, you need to break the tension immediately. To break eye contact throw a toy across the room or make an abrupt sound. After that, you need to give your cat space. Don’t try to grab or scold your cat. Just leave your cat alone and ignore them for a while. This gives your cat time to calm down and prevents you from being attacked, scratched, or bitten.
Scared or stressed cat
Another reason you may see your cat staring at you is because they are feeling scared. A cat can be easily frightened by loud noises, sudden movements, or even strangers in your home. The body language of a scared cat is also a tense body but they may also try to hide under or behind furniture. A scared cat is likely to crouch down with their tail tucked closely around them.
Cats who have been spooked by something will look to you to help them understand what scared them and to get cues on how to react. When your cat is scared, try your best to remain calm and reassuring. Quietly call your cat while also respecting their need to feel safe in their own way. A frightened cat can also lash out by biting or hissing if you try to move them before they are ready.
Your cat wants your attention
Cats, much like dogs, have learnt that making direct eye contact is often a great way to get your attention. It is common for cats to stare at their owners when they think it is time to be fed, when they want you to wake up in the morning, or when they want to play or be petted. They may also stare at you to get an idea of how to react to new situations.
Cats in the wild never display this kind of behavior as a solitary species. Domesticated cats though, have been subconsciously taught that there may be a reward e.g. food or treats, if they stare at you long enough. The body language of a cat looking for attention is usually relaxed and curious.
A sign of trust and love
Lastly, you might find your cat staring at you just because they trust you and like to be near you. Cats who are staring out of affection will have a relaxed, calm presence and will often give you slow blinks. Blinking is a friendly, affectionate gesture. They feel comfortable closing their eyes in your presence. A cat who is staring at you and seems calm and relaxed probably just wants to be pet or cuddled. Or they are just happy to be sitting near you and resting.
Why does my cat stare at the wall?
What about when your cat is staring at the wall or staring at the ceiling? If you see your cat staring into space or looking at nothing in particular, it’s likely that your cat has heard or seen something you can’t. Cats have eye rods capable of seeing light humans can’t and exceptionally sharp hearing. They may be watching a tiny bug crawl along the floor or a speck of dust sparkling in the sunlight near the ceiling. A cat who is staring at the wall may be listening to something within the walls. They could be hearing rodents, the whistling sound of air, or even the creaking of the house. Cats are predators and stalkers by nature. This means they can keep their attention focused on seemingly small things much longer than other pets, such as dogs.
When to be concerned
Is your cat staring at you, ever something that is cause for concern? While staring is usually normal feline behavior, there are some signs to look out for that could indicate your cat has something more serious going on. If your cat stares with dilated pupils that seem glassy, empty, or unresponsive it could be a symptom of hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, heart failure, or a condition called hyperesthesia. If you suspect a more serious health problem, please take your cat to a vet so they can conduct a complete physical exam.