Do you ever get that feeling that someone is watching you, only to discover that it’s your cat who is fixing you with an unwavering stare? Or does your cat seem to ‘zone out’ and fixate on a random wall for periods of time? Staring can have many causes, from the amusing to the more serious, so let’s delve into this topic a little more.
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Cats are visual hunters; they rely upon their eyesight to track fast-moving prey in the low light of dawn and dusk. Feline eyesight differs from ours. They have better peripheral vision, see well in low lighting and can track moving objects well. But their colour vision and distance perception are inferior to ours.
Cats also use their eyes as a form of communication, alongside body posture, facial expression and various vocalisations. Cats have multiple levels of aggressive and defensive escalation before a confrontation turns physical. And an intense staring match can be an early stage of this process. A cat’s stare has therefore become thought of as a negative, even aggressive sign, but this is not entirely true and depends a lot on context and accompanying body language.
My cat is staring at me, what does that mean?
If you find your cat fixing their eyes on you, pay attention to what other signals they are giving you. Is their posture relaxed, and their stare sleepy and involve slow blinking? Or are they tense and hunched, with puffed-up swishy tail and flattened ears? Staring in these two concepts can mean entirely different things!
Known as the ‘love blink’, cats who maintain eye contact and give a series of slow blinks are actually displaying affection. Make sure to give them a few slow blinks back to let them know how loved they are in return!
Cats have a long reputation for being curious. They like to keep a close eye on everything that goes on in their immediate environment. That includes you, and whatever you are up to, and your cat will happily watch you go about your daily life.
Feline intelligence is not to be underestimated, and cats swiftly learn which behaviours lead to certain outcomes. Cats love attention, play, food and fuss and may solicit these attentions from you in various ways. Some pets vocalise at their owners, some wind their way around your legs… and some just sit and stare intensely at you until you give in and give them what they want!
Cats can, creepily, sleep with their eyes partially open. If your cat appears to be staring at you, but is curled up, relaxed and breathing deeply they may well just be taking a nap. Cats sleep for up to 18 hours a day, so this may be a recurring theme in your household.
A fixed stare from a cat, accompanied by a tense posture, flattened ears, swishing tail and even a hiss or growl means bad news. Whatever you’re doing, your cat is not a fan! Probably best to back off and let them calm down. If this occurs when you are grooming or handling them, it would be worth speaking to your vet about ruling out pain as a cause.
Rarely, staring in cats can be associated with some diseases, including visual problems and high blood pressure (hypertension). If your cat is staring more than usual, has pupils dilated even in the light, has a cloudy or reddish tint to their eyes or is pawing and rubbing at their eyes, take them to the vet for a check over.
My cat just stares at walls, what does that mean?
If you are not the focus of your cat’s hard stares, but they appear to be spending time admiring your internal décor, there are some potential reasons for this seemingly odd behaviour.
Vision and Hearing
Cats have quite different vision to ours, with a superior peripheral vision and excellent eyesight in low light levels. They also have very acute hearing, much more sensitive than ours. If your cat is fixated on a wall or door, it might well be because they have seen or heard something which has piqued their interest.
As predators, cats are very attuned to quick movements, small sounds and things that we may ignore, such as a small rustle or a flicker of shadow, might well catch their attention. They are stealthy hunters, relying on cautiously approaching prey before making a grand pounce; so can be very patient at waiting and watching. Cats also have episodic memory, allowing them to recall specific incidents that occurred. So if they once heard a mouse in a wall, they might well return to study that same wall multiple times, in case the mouse comes back.
There may be an underlying medical cause to your cat’s staring habit. Especially if this behaviour is new, or progressing in time and intensity.
Feline cognitive dysfunction occurs in older cats, and has some similarities to human dementia. Affected cats may become disorientated and confused, vocalise more, change their feeding, toileting and sleeping patterns and have altered interactions with other pets and humans. If your older kitty seems to get confused, stare into corners or forget where their food bowl or litter tray is, they may be showing signs of cognitive decline.
Cats can also suffer from a type of seizure activity where instead of a full-blown fit with spasmodic jerky activity, they instead seem to ‘freeze’ and have a fixed stare. They may be unresponsive to voice or touch, or seem disorientated.
Feline hyperaesthesia syndrome is mostly characterised by cats aggressively self-traumatising, frantically grooming and biting and scratching at themselves, which can be very distressing. However, these cats will also show periods of intense calm and focus, entering a trance-like state where they may sit very still and fix their gaze on a wall or other surface.
If any of these descriptions is striking a chord with you about your cat, or you are concerned that their staring habit is excessive, changing or new, then seek veterinary advice.
Staring: final thoughts
“It’s rude to stare!” I was always told as a child, as I gazed, entranced, at some drama playing out in a playground or restaurant. Cats, however, have very different social conventions to us!
If your cat is staring at you, they may well be looking for affection, interest or even their next meal. They might even be minding their own business catching forty winks. If your kitty seems inherently interested in a patch of wall, it may be that some small sound or shape has caught their ever-present curious attention. However, staring can be an early sign that something is amiss. If your cat’s behaviour has changed, or you feel that perhaps something is not quite right, always take them to the vet for a check-up.