Every cat owner knows that felines can be pretty strange and mysterious creatures. For example, how often have you been minding your own business — watching TV or relaxing on the couch — only to glance down and suddenly discover two small eyes staring intently in your direction? It can honestly be a little unnerving. And we’re often left wondering what exactly is going on inside their kitty brains. To find out we asked animal expert what it means when your cat stares at you, and to be honest, some of the reasons are pretty adorable! Read on to decode the meaning behind that stare, plus keep scrolling for funny videos of the cat stare in action.
Why does your cat stare at you?
There are many reasons Felix is fixated on your face. And depending on the situation, it could be positive or negative. Keep reading to see why your cat might be staring at you.
1. Cats stare because they want your attention
The most obvious reason your cat stares at you is because of attention: Either she wants yours, or you have hers. If you tend to talk to her, or give her treats or head rubs when she stares at you, she’s learned that staring is a key to getting what she desires.
She also may be staring to understand what you’re doing. “They might just be keeping a close eye on you to see if you might be heading for the cabinet where you keep treats!” says Dr. Mikel (Maria) Delgado, cat behavior expert with Rover.
It’s similar to the way felines love to snuggle their favorite humans or hover around our computer keyboards while we work. They just want to know what we’re doing at all times while also getting plenty of attention in return. (Click through to learn more about why your cat lays on you.)
2. Cats stare when they’re saying “I love you”
This is our favorite reason! If your kitty is staring at you, she might just be telling you she trusts and loves you. “Cats tend to fixate on their owners since they are their source of safety, security and food,” says Dr. Wendy Wilkins, DVM, PhD, and creator of Cat Bytes. “If your cat is relaxed while they stare at you, it is likely that they are showing affection or love.”
Another surefire sign your kitty is love-staring? Observe her blinking patterns. “Cats who stare at you with affection are also likely to slowly blink while staring,” says Dr. Wilkins. “This behavior, known as ‘cat-kissing,’ is a sign of trust and love.” She notes that you can slow-blink back your cat to show that you reciprocate the feeling. Aww!
3. Cats stare as way to tell you to back off
A cat staring, along with specific body language, may be a sign of anger or aggression. “If you notice that your cat is staring at you with ears back and a stiff body, this could be a sign of aggression,” says Dr. Wilkins. “Staring can be a warning signal before they attack, so pay attention to the context or change your behavior to help defuse the situation.”
Other signs to look for, says Dr. Wilkins, include flattened ears, a twitching tail, dilated pupils, arched back with raised hair and growling or hissing. “If your cat is staring at you and you think it is because of anger or aggression, it’s best to remove yourself from the cat’s vicinity,” she advises.
That said, the aggression may be more playful than serious. “Cats will stare at their prey before they pounce and bite/scratch,” says Dr. Delgado. “If your cat is staring at you as if you are a tasty prey animal, or staring at you then biting, grabbing or scratching you, they may have what is called ‘play aggression.'” In other words, she may not be angry but rather just looking to make mischief. Observe her body language — if she’s not growling or arching her back, she may just want to play.
4. Cats stare because they’re feeling nervous
Your cat may also stare because she’s anxious or afraid, and she’s trying to assess the thing that’s scaring her. “Cats can become scared by many things, including loud noises, new people and animals in the home or even changes to their daily routine,” says Dr. Wilkins.
“A fearful or anxious cat will have tucked-back ears and a hunched body, essentially trying to make itself appear as small as possible,” notes Dr. Wilkins. “They are also likely to seek a safe space to hide and will continue to stare at you from there.” Dr. Wilkins notes that the best thing to do if your cat is staring at you out of fear is to give her space or mitigate the stressor in the environment.
Should you stare back at your cat?
If your cat stares at you often, you may be tempted to stare right back. After all, how cute are those big kitten eyes? While you have the best of intentions in returning her stare, though, she may not interpret your gaze as one of love. “Eye contact for cats can be a sign of threat,” says Dr. Delgado. “I don’t recommend staring back at your cat.” Slow-blinking is the perfect response to your kitty’s stare, she says, since it’s a sign of relaxation. Fluffy might slow-blink back!
When staring is a concern
Many cats stare, so it’s not a sign of underlying issues alone. But if it’s excessive, or paired with negative body language, you may want to ask your vet for advice. “If your cat is engaging in lots of attention-seeking behavior, such as staring, you may want to work with a qualified behavior professional to see what the underlying issue is,” recommends Dr. Delgado. “Is your cat bored or stressed? She may need more play or exercise, as well.”
How to handle cat staring
Because staring is a natural behavior that has many potential underlying reasons, it may be difficult to get your cat to stop staring at you. “Instead of trying to stop it, consider redirecting your cat’s attention with toys or playtime,” says Dr. Wilkins. “Discouraging staring may cause stress in your cat.”
What it means if your cat doesn’t stare at you
If your cat doesn’t stare, it’s not that she doesn’t care, reassure the experts. “Cats have different personalities, and not all stare at their owners,” says Dr. Wilkins. “Lack of eye contact doesn’t mean your cat is unhappy. Cats express their affection in various ways, like purring or being close to you.”
Cute videos of cats staring
Check out these adorable videos of cats staring — and see if you can tell what they’re saying based on their body language.
1. Surveillance cat
Who needs a security camera when you’ve got a kitty with her eyes on your house at all times?
2. Staring contest
We’ll never know which cat won that stare-off.
3. Purring and staring
Turn up the volume because this kitty is using more than just her eyes to say ‘I love you!’
4. Goofy stare
We would love to know what’s going through this silly cat’s head.
5. Slow blinking and staring
This cat is blinking as slow as can be, which is a sweet sign of love and relaxation.
Click through to learn more about quirky cat behaviors