What the Fluff?
Why Does My Cat Stare at Me?
If you wake up to your cat staring down at you, don’t worry—he’s not plotting your demise.
Claudia Guthrie By Claudia Guthrie Reviewed by Amy Shojai, CABC Updated January 04, 2023 Reviewed by Amy Shojai, CABC Advertisement Pin FB More Tweet Email Send Text Message Print
cat staring at her pet mom working at a laptop Credit: Kailey Whitman
Living in a home with cats might sometimes feel like you're under surveillance. Their eyes follow you whether you're in bed, making dinner, working from your kitchen-table-turned-office-desk, and even when you're on the toilet. But what does this fixation mean? Are they gazing lovingly at you, their favorite human? Or are they plotting their next pounce?
If you wake up to your cat staring at you while you sleep or catch him peering out at you from around the corner, here's what he could be trying to say.
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What Does It Mean When Your Cat Stares at You?
There are two types of kitty stares: a "hard stare" and a "soft stare," says Laura Cassiday, MS, CCBC, ABCCT. These mean totally different things, but don't stress about misinterpreting what your cat is communicating—the two stares look nothing alike.
2 Reasons Why Cats Stare
1. They Want Something
If your cat is staring at you with his tail up and ears forward-facing, this is content body language, Cassiday says, and he most likely wants something from you. He might be trying to warn you that his food bowl is dangerously close to being empty, or he might be asking for chin scritches and playtime with his favorite toy.
"If [it's] a 'soft stare,' reward your kitty by giving him what he wants," Cassiday says. "He's asking politely!"
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2. They’re Scared
While you can appease a soft-staring cat with treats or pats, a hard stare is something you definitely need to pay attention to. A hard stare means your cat is afraid or feeling threatened, and it looks very different from a happy staring cat.
In addition to staring, Cassiday says a cat that's scared of you will also:
- Have his ears facing back
- Hold his tail tight around his body or facing down and possibly twitching
- Be tense
- Have dilated pupils
- Is hissing, growling, or licking his lips
- Isn't blinking and continues to stay focused on you
Should You Stare Back at Your Cat?
This all depends on whether your cat is staring at you happily or fearfully. When you notice a hard stare, Cassiday says it's important to figure out what you're doing that might be causing kitty to be upset.
"Stay still and be boring, and slowly get up and walk away if you are able," she says. "Cats should not be punished for this behavior, as they are just trying to communicate that they are uncomfortable."
On the other hand (or should we say paw?), Cassiday says happy cats are usually pretty comfortable with soft eye contact with people. So if you find your cat soft staring at you from across the room, you can match that kitty's stare—especially if you throw in some slow blinks.
"Slow blinks are like 'kitty kisses.' They are signs of affection because they indicate that the cat trusts you enough to close his eyes around you," Cassiday says. "I like to slow blink back at cats, or I may do it first if it's an unfamiliar cat that seems nervous around me. It's a good way to communicate, 'I am not a threat.'"
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