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Why does my cat stare at me? Meanings behind the feline gaze

Close-up photo of a staring cat
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you've ever asked yourself, "Why does my cat stare at me?" we're here to give you some answers. 

Cats can be difficult creatures to read, and if you've done a bit of reading into feline behavior you may well have feared that a staring cat is a dangerous beast. In which case your follow-up question may well be, "Is my cat planning to kill me?"

Let's allay that fear from the start. No, your cat probably isn't planning to kill you. While staring between cats is often the prelude to a session of posturing, yowling and fighting, when a cat stares at its human the reasons are generally more benign, if not always positive.

As with other cat behaviors, the meaning of a stare may not always be apparent, but by observing cat body language you can get a much better sense of what a long, hard stare might mean. 

And if you're baffled by other weird feline habits, we can help with those, too. So if you have questions such as, "Why do cats meow?" or, "Why is my cat walking in circles?", click through to find the answers. Alternatively, see our guide to 7 common cat behavior problems and what you can do about them.

What does it mean when a cat stares?

1. Curiosity

Cats have keen eyesight that, in combination with impressive hearing, helps to make them exceptional hunters. 

As your feline friend is always on the lookout for potential prey (not to mention potential threats), you may find that their natural curiosity simply means that they're on the lookout for interesting stuff, and that's likely to be you and whatever you're doing.

So one reason your cat might be staring at you is just simple curiosity; it'll probably get bored in a bit and head off to gaze out of the window or at a perfectly ordinary patch of wall.

2. Hunger

If it's getting near feeding time, another reason your cat may be staring at you is that it's hungry and would quite like you to get on with preparing its food, if that's quite all right. 

A hungry staring cat will probably exhibit other classic signs, such as a loud solicitation purr and, of course, rubbing around your ankles with its tail in the air, both of them clear indications that you'd better get a move on with serving up their meal!

3. Safe and happy

Then again, there's always the sweetest interpretation: your cat's showing you that it loves you. The best sign that you have a completely besotted kitty is if it stares then blinks very slowly and gazes at you through half-closed eyes. It means that your cat feels safe and relaxed with you, and you can repay the compliment by slow-blinking in return.

Understanding a staring cat through body language

Still not sure what your cat's trying to say when it stares at you? Taking stock of the rest of its body language should give you a much clearer idea of its mood; here's what to look out for.

Relaxed and happy cat

A happy and relaxed cat staring

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A cat that's feeling chilled and cheerful is mostly likely staring you as a way of demonstrating affection. 

And a happy cat is easy to identify; it'll have a relaxed and loose posture throughout its body, and as mentioned above, a good slow blink is a sure sign that it's delighted to be in your company, as is a tail held high as it approaches you.

Scared cat

A scared cat staring from under a bed

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If your cat's staring at you with big, wide eyes and its pupils thoroughly dilated, then what you probably have on your hands is a scared kitty. 

It might be staring at you from the safety of a hard-to-reach place, such as under your bed or up on a high shelf or one of the best cat trees, and it'll be keeping its body low with its tail most likely between its legs; the fur along its spine may be up slightly, too. 

A cat staring at you like this has probably been startled by something; you may have made an unexpected noise or knocked something over, and your cat's watching out for possible danger. The best thing to do in this situation is reassure kitty by speaking to it in calm, soothing tones, and maybe offer it a delicious treat.

Angry cat

An angry cat staring

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Being stared at by a cat whose general demeanor resembles the specimen above? Uh-oh, you're in trouble, because you're looking at a properly furious moggy. 

The stiff posture, the puffed-up fur and the tail hanging down – or thrashing around from side to side – are the classic signs of a cat that's absolutely livid and prepared to do you some damage if you don't back off right this very second.

This isn't a situation where you should return the stare, as it'll be interpreted as a challenge and make things worse. The only thing to do when faced with an apoplectic kitty like this is to avoid eye contact, step away and leave your cat to calm down.

Summary

Chances are that if your cat's staring at you, it's probably for good reasons, the most likely explanation being that you're its most favorite human in the whole wide world and it's demonstrating its affection for you. 

But a cat stare isn't always good news, and by watching out for the other tell-tale cat body language signs, you should easily be able to recognize whether you're simply the subject of a loving gaze or being eyed up as a possible threat. And by being more aware of your kitty's moods you'll be able to bond with it even better, so watch out for all those little cat signs!

Jim is a writer, performer and cat-wrangler based in Bath, who last year adopted a pair of sibling rescue cats who turned out to be effectively feral, and has spent a lot of time since then trying to get them accustomed to people (some success) and each other (ongoing project).