Why does my cat stare at me?

Why do people ask questions like this? I think that this is a poor question. Cats look at their human caregivers and friends but when does a look become a stare? I don’t think cats do stare at their owners. They might look intently because they are talking to their owners and asking for food. Normally looking at an owner is accompanied by a vocalisation such as a meow which, we know, is a request for something.

But staring is another thing. Cats will stare at each other as a precursor to hostility. And cats will stare at prey animals as a precursor to an attack. But I would prefer to use the phrase “look intently” when cats look at us if they want us to respond to a request. Another instance when a cat might look at us intently is to wake us up in the morning. When they want to get us up and be a bit more active when they are active. Or they might look at us adoringly 🙂 .

Maine Coon "staring"
Maine Coon “staring”. Looking intently is a better term. Photo: Helmi Flick.
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I don’t think cats stare at their owners. I prefer to say that they look with intent when they are asking for something which is entirely acceptable. It is more likely that they think that we are staring at them.

But normally cats don’t like to stare. I suppose it’s a matter of interpretation by the human. I’ve described it as looking intently, meaning with the intention that the recipient responds, which is a much more kindly way to describe how a cat looks at their human caretakers.

Staring is human behaviour which people don’t like to see. It’s unwelcome and sometimes considered impolite. So if people say that cats stare at their owner it is a derogatory statement. I think it’s unfair.

The only time my cat looks at me with intent is when I’m in bed and he’s on my chest looking down at my head expecting me to do something which is normally to get up and feed him or intereact with him. Or he might look at me with a clear indication through his body language that he wants me to remove my computer from my lap and sit in its place. These are simple requests for me to do something but a stare? No, I don’t think I’d describe the way he looks at me as staring. And if a cat does look at their owner with a little bit too much intent it may be because their owner is ignoring them.

One of the problems with domestic cats, from their point of view, is that they are a bit slow in coming forward really. I think you could say that they are quite un-demanding normally. This is one of their strengths in the human-cat relationship. It’s why a lot of people like domestic cats compared to dogs. They are considered to be more independent. This is why they can be neglected by their owners. This trait is opposite to staring.

I think we have to be careful about using human concepts to interpret innocent and natural feline behaviour. We do it all the time. People sometimes project their emotions onto their cat or dog. This is because they treat them as family members and little humans. It’s quite nice to do this but you have to respect the cat, the wild cat heritage in them. In that way you treat them as they should be treated, as they need to be treated.

Saying domestic cats stare at us is similar to describing cat behaviour as “weird”. There are a lot of articles on the internet about “weird cat behaviour”. What the author of the articles is writing about is feline behaviour that people don’t understand. It is positively not weird because it is entirely normal and natural. People like to describe something they don’t understand as weird, which is putting the problem onto the cat when the real problem is with them; their lack of understanding of feline behaviour. It’s a deliberate passing of the buck, to offload ignorance. That’s not weird human behaviour. It is typical human behaviour. I’m writing this in defence of the domestic cat as you can see. I always feel you have to defend the cat because they are at the mercy of humans. They can’t argue back. They can’t write an article and explain to humans why they do things and why they don’t stare unless they are confronting one of their kind who has happened to come on to their territory and needs to be chased away.

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