I am going to take a more philosophical viewpoint on this topic. I think humans have a disconnect here. Firstly the word “stare” is derogatory because people don’t like other people staring at them. In the human culture looking at someone a lot is called “staring”. It is a criticism. But in the cat culture staring is not a bad thing. It can’t be criticised. It is normal and accepted. Cats are good at holding their gaze1 when hunting and in agonistic confrontations. Therefore, honestly, humans should not use a derogatory word to describe their cat looking a them a lot. If we do, we are projecting human thoughts and standards onto domestic cats.
So the question should be “Why is my cat looking at me a lot?” Well, that sounds better already, doesn’t it? My cat looks at me in the morning when he jumps up on my bed and onto my chest. He looks at me pretty intently (yes, in human terms a sort of stare). He’ll also look at me a lot when he wants to be picked up and wants to be fed. It is worth noting that the feline gaze is unaccopanied by a facial expression such as a smile. This can make it more unnerving for a human.
So the main reason why cats look at their human companion intently is because they are waiting to see a reaction from them. They want to something to happen. They are expecting it to happen. They watch and wait for a sign that it is coming. The domestic cat has no sense that this might be uncomfortable for their human companion. As I said, this is a disconnect between two species, human and domestic cat, due their different cultures and behavioural patterns.
We should accept it with good grace. It is in our power to do so. And not judge the domestic cat by human standards. Sometimes cats look intently at their human SO (significant other) with a loving gaze. The cat might have snuggled up next to her human or is on her lap and turns to look at her. She might hold the gaze. Once again I suspect the cat is expecting something to happen. That “something” will be what normally happens which is a bit of gentle and loving petting on her head. Jumping onto a person’s lap is an act of friendship by the cat. It is often followed by a reciprocal act of friendship from the human.
We should not stare back at our cat. It is ironic. Cats can hold their gaze on us but they might not like being stared at by humans as it is often an indicator of impending aggression if it comes from another cat. It is a bit of a mixed situation caused by the fact that cats are living with humans. It begs the question as to whether domestic cats see their “owner” as a cat or a human (another species of animal). We are not sure. It is likely that they relate to us as both a mother when they want food and as a human on other occasions. I believe that domestic cats can get confused by their predicament in living with humans. They sometimes act as if they are permanent kittens (when being fed and kept secure) and sometimes act as mothers when they bring home prey to train their kittens (humans) how to hunt and kill. There is an inbuilt confusion factor in the human to cat relationship. And both parties can suffer from it.
1. Gaze: look steadily and intently.
Did you find this article useful and interesting? Can it be improved? Please tell me in a comment. I am always keen to improve the site for animal welfare and reader enjoyment.