Don’t Stare at Your Cat! True or False?

Cat Stare
Kitten Stare. Super Cute. Photo Belal Khan on Flickr.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

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.

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

30 thoughts on “Don’t Stare at Your Cat! True or False?”

  1. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

    I think a much loved and happy cat doesn’t mind eye contact from his loved ones at all, but I wouldn’t actually stare into our cats eyes very long and only keep the contact at all if he started it.
    Both Walter and Jozef look into our eyes with obvious love and trust in theirs.
    But if they are having a disagreement between themselves it’s a different sort of stare they do at each other, until one looks away and the challenge is over.
    I wouldn’t stare a strange cat in the eyes, because I do think to a cat a stare from another cat is a challenge and so would be too from an unknown person.
    There are no such people as cat experts, the only expert on cats IS a cat, we can’t know everything about cats unless we are a cat!
    I love the air of mystery about them and wish people would stop analysing them and just let them be cats.

    1. You can stare as long as you like at a cat because they’ll know you love them ๐Ÿ˜‰ . Seriously, you are right. There has to be sensitivity to the cat and not all cats will respond happily to being stared at. We don’t know what is going on in the brain of a cat. We should admit that as you suggest. We can only guess from behavior. These are external signs but they do not provide the full picture.

      1. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

        It’s their air of mystery that makes cats so special ๐Ÿ™‚ and so very different from other species of animals.

  2. I am not an expert, I have not known enough cats to be one, but I do know my cat, a slow blink is usually returned and she is always comfortable with it, if I stare and widen my eyes the reaction is totally different, she does a double take and then she gets ready to run or play fight though she shows no real signs of fear, I have seen cats sizing each other up and often they seem to avoid eye contact whilst standing head to tail and growling at each other.

  3. My experience with feral cat’s colony is that at the start feral cats don’t trust the behavior of human eye to eye contact and avoid human to come near them but as the basic needs are provided by a single caretaker i.e. food, shelter, water/ milk. The ferals start to trust with the passage of time. The time within the ferals will start to trust us is different, it may be 3 weeks, maybe months ๐Ÿ™

    After you have won the trust of the colony and a little bit socialized/ tamed them, they will recognize you by smell and your voice. Then you can easily look into their eyes and call them , even pat them and touch them any where you like. No matter whether that is a new entry or kittens in the colony , they will trust you and eye to eye contact will not more be a hazard of aggression as it was in the very start. This is what I have experienced <3

    1. Well said Ahsan. I agree with you and with Dee.

      As you can see, the experts say we shouldn’t make eye contact or stare with our domestic cat companion and it is this advice that I am rightly challenging.

      The consensus so far from the expert PoC regulars is they agree with me.

  4. In feral communities, I witness an avoidance of direct eye contact when there seeme to be a potential male-to-male flurry. I think this may be a “save face” activity that allows one to retreat with dignity.
    However, with my domesticated, mostly semi-ferals that live inside with me, they seem to have no problem at all with my direct eye contact. They don’t seem to interpret it as aggression but, rather, affection. I think that it enhances trust.

    1. hat is quite interesting, Dee. And you certainly are a trustworthy source on semi-ferals/ferals. Your comment reminded me of Shrimp’s reaction to Meowth’s(once a semi-feral) subtle agression: Shrimp gave a low growl and a hiss–which I had never heard uttered from Shrimp before, in his two-yr history w/Meowth coming in to the household. Meowth had been infringing on Shrimp’s “turf,” behind me on the couch.

          1. Whoa, you must have forgotten (forgiven?) Shrimpster’s size–he is all but twenty-three lbs. of gentle force!

            1. Cal, do you have some pics that you can post?
              I’d love to see a 23 pound Shrimp.
              I guess that I always assumed that he was tiny.

    2. Dee, as usual, you have hit the nail on the head. There are body language signals between more wild behaving cats and eye contact is part of the body language set of postures but this rarely applies with domestic cats in their interactions with people, especially their caretakers, and I am pleased your experiences fit with mine.

  5. Michael, i pains me to hear that yours and your Mother’s dear Charlie passed away… you never failed to show how much you cared for hem. May he be there for you in your sleep and daily thought <3.

    1. Thanks Cal, I think of Charlie and all my other cats and it makes me feel sad. I try and avoid it. It is just the nature if our relationship with cats that we live much longer than them normally.

  6. Listen to the experts! Staring is a form of silent aggression. And yes, cats do stare each other away, keep each other on distance and block vital resources with staring! That is why many cat owners have no clue about the aggression going on in their home and are convinced everything is happy, happy, joy, joy, while cats are fighting their little territory in the home.
    As a cat counsellor I see this very often.
    Slow blinking is not a sign of affection. That is a misconception, romantacised by humans. In fact slow blinking is a simple statement that says: hey, I am not a threat to you! At least not right now in this moment or in this spot. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Then there is conditioning. Many home cats that have been socialized to humans very well, may also be conditioned to the human stare. Even though they may respond affectionately to the human stare, that does not mean that they will accept similar behaviour from colleague felines. Similarly cats hardly ever meow to each other. Mostly that is used for cat to human communication.

    1. Well, that is strong. You see, many here on this site are so thoroughly comfortable and knowledgeable about our beloved domestic felines behaviors that we certainly do know that slowly closing our eyes and opening them is to relieve potential stress in theirs and our minds. Winking is not, although it does occur now and then. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      1. Cal, you and I and the other regulars are experts and we are as expert as the experts. I believe that.

        I try and challenge the status quo because experts regurgitate what is considered to be fact but it is not.

      1. How many ferals have you, personally, observed or studied, Oker?
        I would love to have a fellow feral lover’s point of view.
        Roger Tabor is a wildlife biologist whose focus isn’t specifically on cats. If I recall correctly, and could be wrong, he sided with Jim Stevenson (Woody) who shot and killed the feral cat in Galvenston.

        1. Enough Dee. And what about you? How many have you studied? Never mind.
          Roger Tabor is an international authority on ferals/cat behaviour. His bio is on his page:
          He’s not the only one that states that a cat’s stare is aggression. Most feral experts (if not all) will agree with him.
          But I suppose feeding a back yard colony and having a few moggies at home makes one an expert too these days…

          1. I’m no expert, Oker; merely, an observer.
            Mr. Tabor is very knowledgeable, but I disagree with some of his conclusions.
            His interests are broadbased, making it hard to call him an expert in any particular area. I’m familiar with many of his books, especially his “How to be…” series; ie, “How To Be a Deer, How To Be an Otter, How To Be a Squirrel, How To Be a Fox”. He wrote no “How To Be a Cat”, much less “How To Be a Feral Cat”.

      2. Osker, Roger Tabor is just another so called expert. I am sure he is good. But he is not necessarily any better than me or other regular PoC visitors who I respect.

        I certainly believe I know as much as Tabor and I probably question more which is good. I don’t have an axe to grind. I just seek the truth.

    2. Thanks Oker for commenting. However, I am an expert ๐Ÿ˜‰ . I believe I am more expert than 90% of experts and as for the rest I am as good as them. I am not boasting. It is just I have studied and written 8,000 articles about the cat (wild and domestic) for 8 yrs 24/7. That is a good education and better than most of the experts.

      whereas many experts recite the known, I ask questions and challenge the status quo.

      I think you are reciting the known and failing to ask questions.

      Also as mentioned in my article, my direct first hand experiences don’t bear out what the so called experts say.

      The big issue is that the domestic cat adapts to human living and sociable living and making eye contact is, as a result, normalised.

      1. Well Michael, you’re certainly asking questions, but then read selectively only what you want to read. If you’d read my comment thoroughly you’d know -as the “expert” that you are- it does not necessarily disagree with what’s being said here. In fact it gives an answer as to why some cats are not frightened (anymore) by a human’s stare. Obviously you don’t want to know, so I’ll leave you “experts” amongst yourselves. I really have no time for this.

  7. Well, this is interesting. From my close bond with Shrimptaro, I am comfortable with him staring at me from his tummy-up position, upside down. I still tend to blink at him slowly. He and I seem to be comfortable with staring lovingly with a smile, but I confess that only when I am deeply focused on something mentally do I tend to stare. ๐Ÿ˜‰ He does it whenever he pleases from this tummy-up position, and it makes me smile every time, Michael.

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