Image via iStock.com/SashaFoxWalters
By Dr. Wailani Sung
Do you ever wake up and find your cat lying on your chest, staring right into your eyes? Or maybe you feel those green eyes boring a hole into your back as you are working on your computer? What is your cat thinking about?
You have read that direct eye contact in the cat world is considered a threat, so you may be wondering, “What did I do?”
The answer may be nothing. There are several different scenarios that might involve cats staring at you—here’s how you can tell the difference.
Assess Your Cat’s Body Language
Eyes may be the window to the soul, but before you get too worried that your cat may be engineering your imminent demise, remember that cat communication involves more than just eye contact. Your first step is to read his body language—all the way from the eyes to the tip of the tail.
When you find your cat staring at you, is he standing tall with a stiff stance with his tail down? The way in which your cat postures himself can say a lot about how they are feeling.
Two different body postures accompanied with a stare provides two different stories. If your cat is staring at you, blinking slowly while he is inches away from your face, this cat behavior is actually a sign of affection.
Blinking is a friendly gesture, so we can safely assume that when combined with loose, relaxed body language, your cat is telling you that he wants to be close to you and spend time with you.
Or, this could be his way of waking you up. Whether he wants his breakfast right away or wants you to get up and provide him with company, this body language is friendly and means he simply wants your attention.
A loose, relaxed body language is not seen in cats that are about to attack. A cat that is upset will exhibit telltale signs, like pupil dilation, ears turned to the side, a stiffer body and an agitated tail that’s swishing side to side.
That body language, in addition to direct eye contact, is definitely a potential threat and a signal that your cat needs some space. In this case, the best thing to do is avert your eyes, distract your cat and redirect his attention to another activity to add some space between you and your cat.
You can make a slight knocking noise on your desk or toss a crumpled piece of paper or a pen across the room for your cat to chase.
Whether or not your cat engages in play, it helps break eye contact and defuse tension. When your cat appears calmer, engage him in an activity that he truly likes, such as chasing after a fishing pole toy or batting around his crinkle cat toy.
If your cat is staring at you and he is crouched down with his tail tucked under his body, or if he is hiding behind a piece of furniture, this is an indication your cat is fearful.
Whatever you inadvertently did, such as jumping up and cheering when your football team scored a touchdown or accidentally tripping and dropping an item, you have spooked your cat. Sometimes it could be a noise that your cat heard outside your house.
In his mind, he is keeping an eye out for danger. He will stare at whoever may be closest, is making the loudest noise or is moving around. This would be a good time to take a few deep meditative breaths to calm yourself down.
While maintaining a good distance to not scare your cat further, grab some tasty cat treats, like the PureBites chicken freeze-dried cat treats or Life Essentials wild Alaskan salmon freeze-dried treats, and toss them towards your cat.
If he is a big fan of his treats, it would be really difficult for him to remain fearful and eat his favorite goodies. You can also try placing those treats in an cat interactive toy or feeding center, such as the KONG active treat ball cat toy or the Trixie activity fun board interactive cat toy. Working for his treats will help take his mind off whatever had previously scared him.
How Cats Learn to Get Your Attention
Cats can be very smart when it comes to learning ways to grab their owner’s attention. From the outright vocalizing to the more subtle cat stares, felines are no strangers when it comes to saying, “Hey! Look at me.”
I know that I always I talk to and pet my cats more when I see them looking at me. So, the cat staring in my case is my cat’s way of signaling their desire for me to engage with them.
Some cats have learned, just like some dogs have, to sit in front of their owners and stare to get their owners to feed them or play with them.
Staring may be rude in human society, but in the animal world, it conveys many different messages. Learn what your cat has to say to you to strengthen your bond with your cat.