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There you are, minding your own business, when you notice out of the corner of your eye your cat — glaring at you with the fire of a thousand suns. Apparently, no one told cats it’s rude to stare. Don’t be offended. Your cat could be trying to get your attention or show affection (albeit in a creepy way).
Cats have enviable vision, especially in the dark, which is why they are such prolific little predators. But you already knew that. They are also a bit near-sighted, which might explain why they like to get all up in your face to stare at you. Dr. JoAnna Pendergrass confirms they aren’t casting a hex. “Over thousands of years, cats have become well attuned to human behavior,” she explains. “They have learned how to interact with people to communicate their different emotions, needs, and wants.”
If you can’t figure out why your cat is staring at you, pay closer attention to their body language. For example, you may notice your cat staring at you when it’s coming up on mealtime. If you’re running a few minutes late, they’ll move a bit closer and lower their gaze. And if you still don’t dutifully fill their bowl, your cat might just paw something off the counter. Now they’ve got your attention.
Some scowls have more pointed calls to action, like, back off. “Your cat may also stare at you if they’re fearful,” says Dr. Pendergrass. “That kind of stare would be accompanied by a hunched body posture, with their tail tucked under.” You’ll probably also notice their pupils dilate in defense. On the other hand, if your cat is more angry than afraid, their pupils will constrict to focus on their perceived enemy.
They could also be feeling out of sorts. Cats are pretty stoic when in pain (it’s a survival mechanism), but they may squint or appear to stare into the void. Are they looking at you? Past you? It goes back to learning their body language: a stiff or, obviously, pained posture might signal it’s time to call the vet.
Or. It could be you. Many feline behaviorists theorize that cats view people as bigger, less agile cats (who must somehow catch their food for them). In any case, your cat could be reading your body language just as you are theirs, finding certain behaviors questionable — petting the dog, throwing away leftovers, taking a bath — and staring at you in disbelief.
Not into cuddling? Too bad — they’re spending the night.
Hey, everybody’s got their thing.
A cat pawing at your face at 4 a.m. is hard to ignore, but cat behaviorist Cristin Tamburo suggests you try.
Your brand new iPhone, antique figurine, full glass of water — they will swat it off the table. A cat behaviorist explains why.
Elisabeth Geier is a writer, teacher, and animal advocate with extensive pet handling experience and a soft spot for bully breeds and big orange tabbies.