Cats can be disconcerting creatures. There are the famous (or notorious) midnight activities — those times in the small hours when your cat randomly decides to get up and tear around the house. There is the apparently random screaming for no obvious reason. There are the bouts of fixed staring at a point on the wall or ceiling, with no discernable object of interest. Then there are the times when your cat will stare fixedly at you. It’s not so bad when they blink a little, showing you their trust and affection, but when your cat looks at you without blinking it can be a little creepy.
Why does my cat stare at me without blinking? You might be doing something that interests your cat, or makes her nervous. Something could be causing her stress, and she’s keeping an eye on you. Prolonged staring might also be a sign of a neurological issue.
You’ve arrived on this page because you have questions about your cat and her fixed staring habits. Maybe you’re simply a little disconcerted by having your cat stare at you all the time. Perhaps this is a familiar habit, but one which you don’t understand. Maybe it’s something your cat has started to do recently, and you want to know what’s caused the change in behaviour. Why do cats stare at you? Is it something you should be worried about? Whatever your questions or concerns, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to find the answers that you’ve been looking for.
When a cat is contented and feeling relaxed in your presence, she’ll probably break her gaze from time to time by closing her eyes or looking away. When a cat blinks her eyes slowly, it’s often called a “cat kiss” — a sign that she feels safe around you and knows that you’re not going to offer her any kind of threat.
There are a lot of possible reasons why your cat might be staring at you with a fixed and unblinking gaze. One is simply that you’re doing something which has engaged her interest and curiosity. While cats are not pack animals, they are social. They’re generally very interested in all the activities around them, even if they don’t obviously respond. Much of what humans do as we go about our lives must be frankly baffling to a cat — all sorts of curious and incomprehensible activities, undertaken by large and potentially quite dangerous creatures, with little relation to what a cat might consider normal.
Many cats are naturally engaged and curious about what their favourite humans are up to. My British Shorthair boy likes to trail around the house after me, keeping a watchful eye on whatever I’m doing. He often perches on a shelf or the top of his kitty habitat, all the better to monitor the situation. Most of my daily activities are graced with his benign feline supervision. He seems to particularly enjoy watching me work, although sometimes I worry that he might decide to pounce on my hands while I’m typing.
I suspect that a lot of kitty staring is because we’ve engaged the cat’s predatory instincts. Fast, prey-like movements of hands or feet can really draw a cat’s gaze. Something about the way an extremity is moving might resemble the movements of a small mammal or some other prey animal, naturally attracting the interest of your cat.
Another reason a cat might stare at you is that she’s alarmed or stressed. If you’re engaged in something that makes a lot of noise, you’re apt to become the centre of feline attention: my cats will often watch in horrified fascination while I operate my paper shredder, as this is both a confusing activity and one involving a noisy machine. My domestic shorthair girl gets especially attentive when I use the vacuum cleaner, sitting nearby (but not too near) with flattened ears and a wide-eyed stare as I manhandle this loud and terrifying contraption. A nervous cat might feel the need to monitor whatever it is you’re doing, in case it becomes dangerous to them or to you. I’m pretty sure my cat is prepared to do battle with the vacuum cleaner on my behalf if it looks like I’m losing the fight.
Staring can also be a display of dominance. Your cat feels threatened, for some reason, and is showing you that she is not to be trifled with. Give her space, and don’t try to get into a staring contest. She’ll calm down when she sees that you’re not going to hurt her.
Your cat might be staring at you without blinking because she’s having trouble seeing you properly. This can happen with older cats who are starting to lose their eyesight, or even with younger animals who have some kind of health problem affecting their vision. They can see or hear an activity taking place, but they can no longer make out what it is. That’s why they stare at you, hoping to make sense of whatever’s going on.
There are lots of reasons a cat might develop vision problems, or might simply be born with less acute vision. Some breeds are simply more prone to them (Siamese cats, for example, seem to be prone to nystagmus, short sight, and other issues). Cats can develop conditions like glaucoma, retinopathy or cataracts, particularly later in life. This is just one reason that I emphasise regular vet checkups, at least once per year. A lot of feline vision problems can be corrected quite easily if they’re caught early but might deteriorate quickly if they’re not addressed.
Be particularly alert to any changes in the appearance of your cat’s eyes: altered colour, pupils not dilating or contracting, redness, inflammation or discharge. All of these can be signs that your cat has eye problems, which require prompt attention from a vet.
If your cat has vision problems that can’t be fixed, don’t worry too much. She can still enjoy an excellent quality of life. The other senses will compensate. If she seems nervous or uncertain, you can help by talking to her gently and reassuring her with petting and stroking.
Other Health Problems
Staring is sometimes caused by toxicity. If your cat is looking at you with wide, staring eyes, and is showing other signs of physical abnormality such as breathing hard, she may have eaten something she shouldn’t. Other signs of toxicity include pale gums, a loss of appetite, dehydration, loose stools, constipation or vomiting. If you see any of these, speak to your vet and see if your cat needs to come in.
Another reason your cat might stare fixedly at you is that she is having some kind of neurological issue. Cognitive decline is common in senior cats and can lead to bouts of staring. You may notice other changes, such as a disrupted sleep cycle, anxiety, excessive crying or aggression. Your vet can help by giving you something to help your cat feel calmer and less distressed by the changes she’s experiencing.
One type of neurological problem found in cats is dysautonomia. This is a degenerative condition affecting the cat’s nerve cells. It can emerge early In the cat’s life, sometimes even in kittenhood. Dysautonomia affects the cat’s entire autonomous nervous system, causing digestive issues, loss of appetite, constipation, and problems with the cat’s breathing. Sadly, there is no real treatment that can be given. Effective nursing and proper care can give mildly affected cats a good quality of life and help them survive, but more severe cases may require euthanasia. This is especially hard when the condition affects a young, previously healthy cat, but sometimes it’s the kindest thing to do.
High blood pressure is surprisingly common in cats. A hypertensive cat may develop wide, staring eyes, with dilated pupils. This is something that needs to be addressed, as high blood pressure can cause the same problems in cats that it might cause in a human. Your cat may need a change of diet, or medication to help control this issue. With the right care, your cat should be back to normal and enjoying life soon.