The cat stare can be truly hypnotizing. When our furs want to get our attention, they can stare into their hooman so intensely and with such force, we know they’re doing it even without looking at them. If there was a Staring Contest, nobody would stand a chance against them and our team cat Teddy would get the medal, for sure :) But what do cats want to achieve with their game and why would they do anything to make their busy Guardian feel totally uncomfortable and turn all their attention to the cat instead? Let’s find out together, fabCats!
The role of observation in a cat’s life
Cats are incredibly observant creatures and their senses of hearing, smell and sight are very important to them, regardless of the environment a cat gets to live in. For wild cats, the heightened senses are a key to their survival - a tool that lets them hunt, find their prey, hide from danger and find a partner. House cats don’t necessarily need to stay hyper-focused all the time - food magically shows up in their bowl thanks to the hoomans and the only threat is the vacuum cleaner that even a deaf cat wouldn’t miss. But it doesn’t mean that observation skills are not important to the couch-loving felines at all. In fact, they matter a lot!
The ability to follow their target with their eyes and shifting all the focus to that target helps cats during play, whether it’s one with a hooman holding a feather toy or one where the target is a spider running on the ceiling or a fly that came into the house with a speed of light. Cats can spend many minutes watching that feather, fly or spider, staying completely still and waiting for the best moment to strike. That stage of hunting (or play) is equally as exhausting and engaging as the jump itself, but it’s one that is very important to the entire hunting cycle.
Observing the surroundings also helps the domestic cat to sate their inner curiosity. It may seem like cats spend 90% of their day sleeping, but in reality, their days are filled with naps mixed with supervising the world around. And since cats have a much wider view than people and can see things we would never pay attention to, situations when we catch our cats staring at a blank wall or stumble on them laying on the kitchen floor even though they were just sleeping in the living room a minute ago, are quite normal. What we find especially scary is when cats stare with their eyes wide open at something on the ceiling, right above our heads - a feeling that a ghost is behind us is something we can’t shake :)
The constant alertness that comes with the cats’ observational nature is also their life saver when it comes to any crisis. Our furs can trust us endlessly, but nature has prepared them to react to any possible threats or changes as well. Because of that, cats can sleep with one eye open and always follow our moves, ready to run away from our line of sight whenever necessary. After all, they can never be sure if we won’t make use of their sleepy state and pack them up into a carrier to take them to the vet or to trim their claws!
They’re staring! - Why do cats gape at their hoomans?
Observing the surroundings, following their prey, getting ready to hunt, controlling the situation - observation plays many roles in a cat’s life, but none of them explain the one, key behaviour we as their Carers see every day. Why do they stare at us? We believe every single one of you, fabCats, experienced a situation where you’re sitting at the desk, cooking, cleaning or lounging on the couch and your task is suddenly disrupted by a hard-to-miss, soul-wrenching cat stare. It’s THE stare that each one of us has learnt to understand a little bit differently. While for some cats it will be a stare saying “get out of MY chair”, for others it will be begging for the bowl to be full or a challenge and an invitation to play. So what does it actually mean?
SURPRISE - the insistent, uninterrupted staring at the hooman can mean every single thing from the list above and the right interpretation of what the cat wants is on us, their Guardians. We’ve written about the cat-hooman relationship a few times on our blog, but if we were to sum it up in one sentence, we’d say it’s a unique relationship that’s built on many experiences we share with our cats as well as us and cats observing each other on the daily basis.
A cat stare can be interpreted differently by their Guardian, who knows exactly that a stare like this at 11 a.m. is a call for play, and by a stranger, like your friend, who drops by at 11 a.m. for a coffee and doesn’t understand why is your cat trying to kill them with their eyes.
More on cat-hooman communication here:
A cat staring can mean, among others:
- calling the Hooman to the food bowl. When the plate is empty and the feeding time is coming inexorably, many cats try to get their Carer’s attention and let them know clearly how one minute of delay could have tragic consequences. And what are the threats for ignoring a cat in such situation? Well… it depends on the individual, but among the most popular implications are e.g. scratched up furniture, things falling off the shelves or even an invitation to a one-of-a-kind opera show by Meowciano Pavarotti.
- invitation to play. Happens most often when we don’t have time or energy for it or we’re doing something really important. However, since play has a vital role in a cat’s daily routine, we have to make time for it - where a dog needs a walk, a cat needs their playtime :)
In some scenarios, staring can be coupled with vocalization - meowing, purring, grunting, chirping, as well as fidgeting, rubbing against us, headbutting or even pawing at us. It all depends on the context, the situation and the methods that your cats see working the best on you.
And in what situations do your cats use their killer staring skills, fabCats? We’re very curious about your stories and will happily read the funniest of them in the comments - grab your keyboards and drop them in the comments below.