Some experts say that cats don’t appreciate being stared at. A full-on stare can make a cat feel uneasy and the cat may turn away to relieve tension created by the stare. In short, we should avoid eye contact. This is what we are told.
My personal experience does not support this advice and I wonder what others feel about it. However, the cat’s response is probably dependent on the individual cat’s personality to a large extent.
Domestic cat behaviour originates in wild cat behaviour and I have never read about wild cats staring at each other to intimidate or dominate. Domestic cats do participate in stand-off style pre-fight routines and look at each other but I don’t believe the stare during this ritual, is significant. Do domestic cats stare to threaten each other?
My understanding of the method of one cat threatening another is to employ body language such as making the body larger, pulling the ears back and down in preparation for a fight etc.. During these procedures the cats look at each other, and stare at each other, but I am not sure the stare plays as an important role in terms or intimidation as the other body language.
I have looked my cats in the eyes and they normally look back and that eye contact can be held for a while. Also we can participate in the slow blink. We know cats do this as a sign of contentment and recognition of friendship. But some experts say that when we make eye contact a cat blinks and then turns away. I didn’t recognise this behaviour with my late Charlie and neither do I see it in Gabriel.
Both of these support the argument that eye contact with your cat is okay.
Perhaps the reason behind avoiding eye contact with your cat is to avoid intimidating him because we are so much larger. There is this background problem in our relationship with domestic cats: we are much larger which can cause a default state of slight tension in the cat.
There is no reference to the need to avoid staring at your cat in a good book on cat behaviour: The Cat Its Behavior, Nutrition & Health.
It is said that a cat walking into a room with many people will avoid cat lovers because they are looking at the cat. For me this is nonsense.
We are bound to make eye contact in interactions with our cat. Sometimes the eye contact lasts a while and may be described as a stare. As I said I don’t recognise the need to avoid staring. I have just stared into the eyes of Gabriel while he is on my lap and he stared back. He looked very comfortable doing it.
There is also the argument that cats start to copy our behaviour and integrate into our lifestyles, which also supports the notion that eye contact between human and cat is normal and okay.