Growing up, you learned that “it’s not polite to stare,” but it seems as if cats didn’t quite get that message. Whether you’re cooking dinner, finishing your homework, or taking a nap on the couch, your fluffy feline can’t seem to keep her eyes off of you! It’s uncomfortable, unsettling, and often downright terrifying—so why do cats stare?
Cats stare at people to get attention, especially when the eye contact comes with a meow or a slow blink. Sometimes, cats stare because they’re curious (they want to see what you’re up to or what’s on the wall). When a cat stares with pupils dilated, it’s a sign that a pounce is on the horizon.
It’s in a cat’s genes to be inquisitive and question her surroundings. But your kitty’s knack for giving you the stink-eye is an odd feline behavior you can’t quite seem to grasp. To learn about why cats stare and other feline body language cues, read on!
Why Cats Do Most Things: For Attention
Cats will do just about anything to get attention. Your cat will proudly knock things off the counter, rubbing her cheek on yours, or reach her paw beneath the bathroom door — all in the name of grabbing your attention and getting something she wants!
Ask yourself: How do I react when my cat stares?
Some cats will stare at you because they want a cuddle session, but they want to see if you’ll be receptive to the idea first. If you return eye contact or speak to her, your kitty may see it as an “open invite” to hop on the couch and cuddle up against you.
Other times, your cat may be staring at you because she’s ready to eat but doesn’t want to be impolite or aggressive. About every 8-10 hours, your cat’s brain will receive a signal that her stomach is empty and time to eat. When your cat gets this hunger signal, she may stare at you silently (or with loud meows, if she’s starving). If you usually feed your cat after these odd staring sessions, she may jump up and run into the kitchen when you get out of bed.
And sometimes, the staring isn’t for attention, but rather out of curiosity. You may be fiddling with your hair tie when you fix your ponytail or whipping your shoelace around as you tie your shoe. These rapidly moving objects — and makeshift toys — may catch your cat’s eye and attention, so don’t be surprised if she comes running over for an impromptu play session.
Cats May Sleep With Their Eyes Part Way Open
Cats are very sleepy creatures, often spending 16-20 hours a day fast asleep. But your cat isn’t always in a stage of deep REM sleep where she’s in a fully-unconscious state. Most of a cat’s sleeping sessions are nothing more than little cat naps spent in stages of light sleep. Sudden sounds and movements will quickly awaken your sleeping kitty more times than not.
A very tired young kitty may begin dreaming or be semi-conscious while her eyes are still open, all without even realizing it! Therefore, your cat may not be staring intentionally — she may merely dozing off with her eyes at half-mast.
Staring to Improve Focus
Felines may not have the color perception and farsightedness that humans do, but a cat’s visual acuity does have unique perks. For one, the latest research shows that cats may have some sense of ultraviolet vision. In other words, your cat’s eyes may see colors and brightness that you cannot, giving that tiny bug on the wall a fluorescent tinge. A cat staring at the wall — especially while yowling — is probably eyeing a moth, spider, or ant that you aren’t seeing.
A cat’s eyes also have a far larger amount of rods than humans, a feature giving your cat greater vision in dim lighting and a stronger ability to pick up on rapid movements. Your cat may be staring sternly into the backyard because a snake is wriggling through the grass or a bird’s nest is full of rambunctious young.
And lest we forget, cats have a hearing range that far surpasses humans’ (48 Hz to 85 kHz). A staring cat may not be looking at anything. Instead, your cat may be focusing on the high-pitched sounds of rodent vocalizations outside. Or your cat may be focusing on the sound of a tiny mouse rustling around in the attic.
To Express Love & Affection
Even if you don’t know a thing about cat body language, it’s generally easy to differentiate between a cat staring out of sheer anger and staring to express affection. According to cat experts, a feline’s staring — when paired with a gentle, slow blink — is your kitty’s way of saying, “I love you!” Doing this “slow blink” back will return the message and potentially strengthen the bond you share with your cat.
Here’s a video of cat expert Jackson Galaxy explaining other ways cats express affection:
Getting Ready to Pounce
Cats are always ready to be on the hunt, which is why cats sleep for up to 20 hours a day. Movement under the sheets, a sun glare, or a stationary bug on the wall may trigger your cat’s instinct to hunt. This staring comes with typical stalking behavior combined with other signs kitty’s about to pounce:
- Crouching down
- Raising her butt and wiggling it
- Dilated pupils
- Slow movements (like she’s sneaking up on something)
- Upright ears
- Direct staring
Your cat may stare for seconds or minutes before she decides it’s time to pounce, initiating an unplanned play session. Staring could also be a sign of aggression in cats, but an aggressive cat will show additional body language cues (like hair standing up on her back and tail).
Why Do Cats Stare at Their Owners When You Sleep?
There’s nothing more frightening than waking up in the middle of the night to see two beady yellow eyes glaring at you from across the room. Fortunately, your cat isn’t plotting revenge, and it’s more likely that your cat stares at you while you sleep because:
- They want to keep an eye on you: You’re the one who feeds your cat, provides her shelter, and makes her feel “at home.” Your kitty may be staring at you because it gives her a sense of calm and relaxation.
- They want to check on you: Your cat depends on you and, even though she doesn’t always show it, wants to make sure you’re always safe. Felines often pick-up the “night shift” as a nocturnal species, and your cat may stare at you to act as your guardian.
- They’re bored: Cats are nocturnal creatures, and while your feline wants to play, you’re fast asleep. Rather than sprinting around and chasing the laser, she uses this time to stare at her favorite human.
- You’re annoying her: Most of a cat’s time asleep is in a stage of light sleep. If you’re rolling around in bend or snoring, you may be keeping your cat from getting a good night’s sleep. In other words, you’re annoying her.
Of course, your cat may be staring at you at 3 a.m. because she wants a treat or thinks it’s time to play with the laser.
There’s typically no malice behind a cat’s frequent staring habit. Chances are, your cat is staring at you to ask for a treat or express love. Or your four-legged friend may be listening for the rustling of mice in the attic.
If this staring behavior comes on suddenly, you should consult your veterinarian as soon as possible. Your vet might recommend behavioral interventions or making your home more comfortable for your kitty as she progresses through her golden years.
- VCA Hospitals: Feeding Times and Frequency for Your Cat
- LiveScience: Cats and Dogs May See in Ultraviolet
- Hearing Research: Hearing Range of the Domestic Cat
- Fetch by WebMD: Behavior Changes in Aging Cats
- Best Friends Veterinary Center: Hyperesthesia
- ASPCA: Aggression in Cats
- Psychology Today: How Cats Show Us Affection