Have you ever tried to win a staring contest with a cat? Well, trust me, you can’t! Cats have a marvellous unblinking gaze, and this post will shed some light on why, and what that fixed stare might mean for you.
Where it all began
Cats in the wild survive by hunting small prey in dim light – and they are extremely good at it. This is partly due to their excellent vision which has developed specifically to be able to keep track of fast-moving creatures in poorly lit environments. They need to be able to lock their eyes onto a target and keep track of it, or else they risk losing their dinner! This means they have highly developed eyes, and using them is an important part of their lives – even if your average pet cat nowadays doesn’t have to stray far from their cosy bed to find regular meals.
Cats have also evolved a finely tuned communication system based on body language: mostly posture, facial expressions and noisy vocalisations. Intense staring can be an important form of this communication between cats and is often the first stage in various confrontations, including territorial spats. A cat’s ‘hard stare’ has therefore developed a bit of a reputation as a sign of aggression, but that is not always the case and depends a lot on other body language.
So, what does it actually mean now?
Eye contact is important to cats, but it is worth remembering that it is only one form of body language! Look for additional signs to see how your cat is feeling. A happy cat will likely be in a relaxed posture and may be blinking slowly whilst maintaining eye contact. Angry cats may hiss or growl, swish their tails and flatten their ears. Scared or anxious cats will often hide behind or under furniture in a crouched position with their tails tucked underneath them. All of these cats may also be staring at you!
Here are a few common scenarios in which you might glance up and see those eyes fixed on your face.
Your cat wants something
Cats quickly learn that we are their servants in life, catering to their every need and whim! We provide their food, their shelter, their affection and comfort. Unlike humans, they cannot put into words what they want us to do, and so they merely stare and assume we will figure it out eventually. This may be why you notice those eyes becoming particularly intense just around dinner time!
Your cat is curious
Cats are notoriously nosy creatures: curiosity killed the cat, after all! They are constantly keeping an eye on us (literally!), reading our body language and looking out for subtle signs that all is well. Cats rely on us both for food and shelter, but also because we are part of their social group, and regular eye contact is important for them to maintain that stable family.
Your cat is sleeping
This may seem like an odd one, but your cat may merely be catching forty winks! Cats sleep a lot (really, a LOT), and they can sleep with eyes partially open, so they can appear to be staring at you for long periods of time when in fact they’re well away in dreamland. Uncomfortable and a bit weird, maybe, but harmless.
Your cat is unwell
This is an uncommon cause of staring, but some diseases, mostly of older cats, can cause high blood pressure. This in turn can cause their pupils to dilate and their eyes to take on a slightly fixed stare. If you notice your cat staring more than usual, having dilated pupils even in good light, or a reddish look to the eyes, take them for an appointment with your vet.
Your cat just loves you!
Intense, staring eyes and a slow blink…. congratulations! Your cat just really loves you. Fixed eye contact and regular slow blinking is a sign of affection in cats. So, look straight back, indulge in some slow blinks and enjoy an affectionate moment with your feline friend.
The reality is, it’s very difficult to be absolutely sure why your cat enjoys watching you so much. Unless they’re giving off some other angry body language, or have an underlying medical issue, though, it’s likely because you are hugely important to them and they want you to know that. What to do? Well, perhaps just acknowledge it, give them a stare and a few blinks back and revel in the attention. Oh, and maybe fetch them some dinner.