Even if you’re not a cat owner, chances are high if you’ve spent a good chunk of time with any cat, you’ve noticed a tenancy our feline friends have to – every once in a while – stare directly at human being for a pretty extended period of time in a concentrated and unwavering gaze. It can be a little unsettling, especially for those of us who come from cultures where staring is considered both socially unacceptable and downright rude. I’m sure there are many cultures that are much more accepting of staring than North American culture – still, cats seem to take the staring even further than what would be considered comfortable for most.
I’m not going to lie, as hard as I tried to dig for answers to this question – why cats stare at humans, and what that staring means – there didn’t seem to be a lot out there, certainly no concrete answers. Everything we have on this topic is conjecture, and that includes what pet experts like vets have to say about the topic.
Obviously, this is a touch frustrating because it leaves our curiosity hanging, but since there are so many more pressing issues for scientists to research when it comes to our feline friends – like their ideal diet and the composition of the perfect cat food – I’m really happy for scientists to continue to ignore this one until the more important queries are solved.
Here are a few different theories on why cats stare at humans, some that I found browsing, some that I made up myself. Let me know which you think are the most likely to be true or if you have any theories of your own that didn’t make it to the list in the comments down below!
Theories on Why Cats Stare at Humans & What the Staring Means
1. You’re the most interesting thing in the room.
Having interacted with a lot of indoor and outdoor cats, I feel they all do the staring shtick just the same. To an extent, I feel like no matter where we humans are – no matter how many birds, bees, and insects, how much wildlife, how many toys scattered around the house, or what happens to be playing on TV – we flesh-and-blood humans typically are the most fascinating things for cats to entertain themselves by watching. Yup, saying cats stare at humans because they enjoy entertaining themselves with people-watching is absolutely a human-centric theory, and I definitely could be off, but based on my experience, it rings true.
2. Staring is natural. Humans would probably stare just as much at other humans if it was socially acceptable.
Let’s be honest, we humans like watching other people, too. If we could get away with doing it more without incurring any losses – suffering through awkward encounters, making other people confused or upset, or even instigating conflict – I think we’d all stare at our fellow human beings a lot more.
I mentioned in the intro that staring is considered incredibly rude and socially unacceptable in many cultures. This is definitely not true in all cultures, and obviously, those cultures where it’s more socially acceptable to stare do a lot more staring. Because it’s fun. Because it’s fascinating watching to see what other humans are doing. Why wouldn’t we stare if no one (including ourselves) had any issue with it?
3. Cats stare at humans because they don’t know we dislike it.
If a cat doesn’t like something another cat does, he or she shows it through specific actions – hissing, scratching, even downright attacking another cat – to show displeasure.
When humans are very displeased with something a cat does (like jumping up on counter tops or scratching up furniture), we obviously don’t react in the same way, but we do often make it pretty obvious to a cat we’re upset by using actions cats can interpret – yelling something like “No!” or “Stop,” exaggerating body language in a way that possibly looks a little aggressive (pointing, standing taller, etc.), spraying cats with water – all these things register on a cat’s radar as “Human = upset.”
What do humans do when cats directly stare at them? Shift in their seat, furrow their eyebrows out of confusion or anxiety, maybe leave the room? I don’t think any cat, no matter how intelligent, can interpret human “I’m weirded out” body language. So they must think, to an extent, we find it socially acceptable for them to stare at us. Why not stare if the humans don’t mind it?
4. Your cat is asserting its dominance with a stone cold stare.
This is not a theory I personally believe explains most cat staring, but I’ve seen a lot of vets state it because they’re trying to base their explanations on something they already know to be true – cats stare down other cats in order to assert their dominance over them.
Is it possible your cat is doing this to you? Why not. I just don’t think it’s the main reason cats typically stare. I think more staring happens out of curiosity or to remedy boredom and you just so happen to be the most interesting thing in the vicinity. Oh, and for yet another theory of mine, which is…
5. Your cat’s just zoning out.
Ever stared at a wall because you were bored in math class and just thought about nothing until the time passed? Ever done this to the back of someone’s head? Ever happened to be looking at someone’s face then zoned out completely, only to have the person catch your gaze and ask, “Why are you staring at me?”
You weren’t really staring, you just spaced out, and they happened to be the last thing you looked at before it happened. A lot of times, looking at my cat staring at me, I feel he’s doing the exact same.
Picture from post 01/09/16
6. Your cat’s staring out of fondness and because he or she loves you.
I’ve seen this theory floating around the net and I actually believe there’s something to it, though not for every single stare, certainly. I do feel every once in a while that Avery gives me a loving gaze because he’s comfortable and happy and just so happened to be watching me to see what I’d do, and typically if I meet his gaze when he’s in this kind of an “I love you” stare, he’ll slow blink at me and I’ll melt in happiness. Ah, life with cats… full of so many short, heart-warming moments like this.
7. Your cat is trying to tell you through a stare that he or she’s hungry.
Okay this also happens sometimes. But I think we as pet owners usually eventually recognize the “I’m hungry” stare and know to do something about it. There are many times when your cat’s belly is full and he or she still has plenty in the slow feeder bowl and still comes and stares at you, though. Times like that you know the staring’s not about food this time.
8. Your cat’s trying to tell you he or she’s bored and wants to play.
I seriously have never experienced a stare without a whiny-cry like meow or two accompanying the long hard stare, personally, but I’m sure there are cats who just stare hopefully when they really want to play and don’t make a peep. Again, totally the kind of thing I think most pet parents catch on to and eventually recognize, and absolutely does not explain most staring in my opinion, but I do think this does happen.
9. Your cat’s afraid.
Cats will absolutely stare if they are afraid of something and want to assess it to make sure it’s not going to harm them in any way, shape, or form. This one is so ridiculously situational, however, and in my opinion everyone would know what a scared cat looks like without even thinking about it (pupils dilated, ears back, etc. – I mean a lot of them actually have a literal scared face in the same way humans would with eyebrows furrowed and wide eyes so I don’t think you’d miss this one if you tried).
Still it’s a possibility that a few of the times your cat has stared at you in the past it’s because he or she was scared – maybe that you were going to stuff him or her into a carrier and go to the (shock, horror!) vet, or something along those lines. Again, I don’t think this one explains most cat-staring-at-humans behaviour, but it does account for at least some feline stares.
Picture from post I Never Used to Think I Was a “Cat Person”
Why Do You Think Cats Stare at Humans?
Have you ever wondered why cats stare directly at humans in sometimes unwavering, unsettling gazes? Have you ever been made uncomfortable by a cat staring directly into the depths of your soul through your eyes?
Did any of the theories I listed about why cats might stare at humans ring true for you? Did you think any were unlikely, ridiculous, or didn’t really do the trick of explaining most cat staring behaviour? Are there any theories I didn’t add that should be listed?
Can’t wait to hear what you have to say on this topic in the comments down below!