Why does my cat stare at me?

According to Google search, people are asking, “Why does my cat stare at me?” There are variations on the theme with people asking why their cat stares at them when they are asleep or in bed or their cat stares into their eyes or at the wall! You’d be forgiven for thinking that in a lot of homes domestic cats are doing a lot of staring. This is a meandering discussion on the topic of cats staring.

Cute cat stare!

Cute cat stare! More a charming gaze. Photo: Twitter. I think it was taken in China. Certainly Asia.

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I think the problem here is that people are getting mixed up between staring and looking. I guess we know that staring is looking fixedly or vacantly at someone or something with eyes wide open. However, there is a fine dividing line between looking with intent and staring.

If a person believes that their cat is staring at them and perhaps meowing at the same time it may be because their cat wants attention. And they may want attention because they want something from the person. It’s probably food or an interaction of some sort, such as a cuddle. A cat might stare at their owner at a particular time because of a routine that has been set up.

The interactions between domestic cat and their owner are a bit like a dance played out in slow motion. Everybody has their routines and cats certainly do as well. And within the routines these two creatures’ movements intersect and then they interact. At these moments a cat might expect something to happen because it has happened in the past.

This is when they will look at their owner in expectation. Yes, they may stare but it won’t be an unpleasant stare or a stare designed to intimidate. It’s just a cat looking at their human companion; looking for something to happen in anticipation.

If a cat stares at their owner when they are asleep in bed, it is probably because it is the middle of the night, a time when a domestic cat is likely to be active, and they want their owner to be active as well. There may be an element of confusion as to why he or she isn’t. They want them to wake up and join them. They may be slightly unsure if their owner is alive and well! They might think that something has happened to their human companion because they can’t figure out why they’re not active during nighttime like they are.

After all, there is a general belief that cats relate to us as if we are also cats, albeit somewhat bigger. Therefore the may aske themselves why can’t we have the same circadian rhythms as felines? They don’t really understand which may encourage them to stare a little bit.

One problem with the question in the title that I have is that in the human world staring is impolite. So when people ask why their cat stares at them they are being slightly critical of their cat. This is unfair. Cats are not aware of the etiquette of human life. This points to another issue which is always in the background in the human-cat relationship: whether people see their cat as a little person and a member of the cat family or an entirely different species with entirely different behaviours.

Cat stare

Cat stare. Image by Aamir Mohd Khan from Pixabay.

Because if we see cats as a member of the family and as miniature persons (to some extent) we allow ourselves to describe our cat looking at us as being a stare when it’s not.

There are other aspects of domestic cat staring which might bemuse or amuse people sometimes. For example, they stare at a blank wall with nothing on it. You can’t see a thing so why are they staring at the wall. Or when they stare outside when there’s nothing happening outside? The answer is that something is happening. Perhaps there was a noise behind the wall. Perhaps there was a noise outside which your cat picked up but you didn’t. Cats can hear things that we can’t because there auditory system is sensitive to sounds beyond the limit of our hearing. So when they stare at something they’ve heard something that we can’t hear.

Cat Field of Vision Compared to Human

Cat Field of Vision Compared to Human. Image: PoC.

Cats also have a wider peripheral vision than people. They may pick up things visually which we haven’t picked up at least as quickly as them. This may certainly happen more at dusk and at night because we know that they have more sensitive eyes designed for hunting under darkened conditions.

The conclusion really has to be that if a cat is staring at something for no apparent reason it is because they have seen or heard something that we can’t. Everything that they cat does is, when you analyse it, logical and consequential. It is a reaction to something, a stimulus. There is always purpose behind it and their behaviour is natural and often instinctive. Instinctive behaviour must be entirely natural.

I’m not sure that I would say that cats stare at us. It is the wrong word. They look at us for attention and sometimes they look at us lovingly because they know they’ve got a good life! My cat certainly does.

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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