Even though dogs often get all the credit for being expressive our cats can be just as communicative- if we know what to look for. Cats are constantly using their body language to let us know how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking.
When cats slowly blink at us with soft eyes, they’re letting us know that they’re feeling comfortable and relaxed. It’s also one of my favorite ways to communicate with my cats!
But what about the opposite?
What does it mean when a cat stares at you and doesn’t blink at all?
It could be a sign of interest, fear, or excitement but regardless of the motivation if your cat is staring at you without blinking they’re very curious about whatever it is that you’re doing. Holding something strange or making an unusual sound are just a few of the things that could trigger this response.
Let’s take a closer look at all the possible reasons to explain this cute but strange cat behavior starting with one important fact about your feline friend.
Cats Don’t Blink Very Often
Well, cats do blink but just not in a way that we can easily notice.
Cats have something called a nictitating membrane that allows them to effectively blink without closing their eyelids.
Also called the third eyelid, the nictating membrane is common with desert creatures, like our cats, and helps clear the eye of dirt and debris without blocking their vision. That’s why it seems like cats barely blink at all when in reality they’re using their nictating membrane to “blink”.
If you think about the world from the perspective of your wild cat’s ancestors something like a third eyelid makes a lot of sense. Not only does it allow cats to easily remove dirt and debris but it also prevents them from having to close their eyes completely. Closed eyes put cats in a vulnerable situation!
Because of the fact that cats don’t often blink by closing their eyes, and instead use their nictating membrane, their stare can often feel more intense. Keep that in that mind as we review these reasons and ask yourself if your cat is really staring or just looking at you with their normal and mostly unblinking gaze.
Reason 1: You’re Doing Something Very Interesting
Cats are constantly intrigued by all the strange things that humans do but sometimes much more than others.
The most obvious example is if you’re holding a toy or something that looks like a toy, your cat won’t be able to resist staring you down.
But the explanation doesn’t always have to make sense and cats may become very interested in objects that can feel a bit random to us. With close inspection, we may be able to figure out what’s motivating our cats but many times it will remain a mystery.
For example, when I was growing up, we had a cat that loved the little flippy part on the top of milk containers. He also knew that’d I’d always toss them his way whenever I opened a new jug of milk.
This little cat would stare me down if I went to the fridge and he thought there was even a chance that new milk might get opened!
Reason 2: Your Cat Is Afraid Of What You’re Doing
Sometimes what can look like interest is actually fear and that’s part of what makes decoding this behavior so confusing.
But it may not have anything to do with what you’re holding and instead, your cat could be afraid of you. If we’re talking about a cat that you’ve lived with for months or years, it’s unlikely that they’ve suddenly decided they’re afraid of you without some sort of major event proceeding it.
Instead, the focus should be on what you’re doing at that moment. Maybe you’re practicing the newest Tik Tok dance or you’re exercising inside. Whatever it is, it’s got your cat concerned and they’ve decided it’s best to play it safe by keeping a close eye on what you’re doing.
Reason 3: You’ve Made A Strange Noise
Most of the time, you’ll know if you’ve made a strange noise that’s attracted the intense curiosity of your cat. But other times it could be a laugh, an imitation of some other noise or even singing that suddenly attracts the attention and staring of your cat.
You can actually turn this into a bit of a fun game at home where you try to get the attention of your feline friend with an unusual noise.
You do not want to scare your cat here!
Instead, you can do something silly like this guy and his cat:
Notice how this adorable little cat stops what they’re doing to stare and their humans and basically asks, “Uhh, are you okay?” Again, don’t try to your scare your cat but mixing in a strange sound now and again can be one of many fun things to do with your feline friend.
Reason 4: Your Cat Isn’t Actually Staring At You
I know it might not feel like it, but it’s possible that your cat isn’t staring at you.
The equivalent in the human world is when someone waves at someone that’s behind you. I know when that happens to me, I can’t help but wave back and then immediately realize what happened.
Although a stare is quite a bit different and I’m not saying that your cat is trying to stare through you, instead they’re most likely trying to locate a sound from somewhere in the house or outside.
Some studies suggest that, at least in humans, our eyes can reduce the resources needed for hearing. You’ve probably experienced this first hand when you found yourself staring at nothing in an effort to hear a faint sound. Or when you’ve turned down the radio while you’re trying to follow directions in the car.
There’s no equivalent study on cats, but it’s reasonable to think they’re doing something similar.
Not only that, but with 32 ear muscles in their ears, cats are able to twitch and adjust their large ears to find the source of the sound which means the staring to listen process could be even more intense for cats.
On top of all that, cats can hear a massive range compared to us and even most other species. Not only can they hear plenty of deeper sounds just like we can but they can also hear at ultrasonic frequencies up to 79 kHZ. That means cats have a better range of hearing than dogs!
So even if you can’t hear it, your cat’s unblinking stare may be their way of zeroing in on a specific sound.
Reason 5: Asserting Dominance
This one can be a little tricky to explore and ideas of dominance are often misunderstood or convoluted with ideas from humans and dogs.
In the wild, cats would live mostly solitary lives where they would control large areas of land. Unlike dogs, they wouldn’t naturally form packs and so they don’t have the same complicated social structures that a pack of dogs would.
That’s not to say that cats can’t show dominance, and they most certainly do, but there isn’t some kind of alpha cat pack leader that stares down his feline friends in order to secure a spot as a top dog…or top cat.
Still, staring without blinking is an almost universal sign of aggression, dominance, and threatening behavior in the animal kingdom. Again, comparing this to humans imagine how you’d feel if you notice that another person was staring at you from across the room without blinking or smiling.
Not good, right?
Most folks would take that as a direct challenge or at least some kind of threat even more so depending on the rest of the circumstances. Cats that are aggressive will generally proceed an attack with a stare, sometimes called a hard stare.
But cat attacks are rare and in my many years of experience with thousands and thousands of cats, the staring into attack behavior was most often seen in intact males cats. Just another reason to neuter your cat!
So should you be worried here?
This type of aggressive behavior towards humans is rare, especially if your cat is in a loving, peaceful home. Unless your cat is showing other signs of outward aggression like vocalizations or swatting then the other possible reasons for starting without blinking probably make more sense.
Reason 6: Your Cat May Be Suffering From Feline Cognitive Decline
Just like most living creatures, as cats age they’re more likely to lose some cognitive power. In cats, the official name for this is feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD). According to the ASPCA, it’s estimated that FCD “affects more than 55% of cats aged 11 to 15 years and more than 80% of cats aged 16 to 20 years. Memory, ability to learn, awareness, and sight and hearing perception can all deteriorate in cats affected with FCD.”
That doesn’t mean all cats with FCD will stare without blinking but it could certainly be a side effect of cognitive decline. Some cats may stare ahead with no intention at all and sadly it’s impossible to know what’s really going on inside our cat’s mind.
It could be that cats think they hear or see something interesting or they may have just “gone blank” for a few moments.
Even with feline cognitive dysfunction, cats can still live happy lives but it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian if you feel this may be the cause of your cat’s staring.
Reason 7: Your Cat Wants Something
In some cases, your cat may be trying to get you to do something for them. For example, staring at a closed door could mean that your cat wants you to open it. That’s an easy one since we all know that cats hate closed doors. But other requests may not be so obvious at first.
In these types of situations, cats may also meow to get your attention or use other vocalizations like trilling or chirping to get you to follow them. However, it can be hard to really appreciate or notice the staring when cats are making other vocalizations.
Cats will rarely just stand still while they’re trying to get you to do something as well and so they’re usually looking around the room. But if you’re in the same room as an empty food bowl or a closed door you may just get an unblinking stare letting you know about the “problem”.
Why You Shouldn’t Stare Back
It may be tempting to try and stare back at your feline friend. After all, it might not seem like that big of a deal.
But in reality, it is!
As we’ve already discussed, staring can be a threatening sign in the wild and it’s typical to see an animal staring intently before an attack. Which just makes sense. You wouldn’t expect a lion to look down at this paw in the middle of hunting a gazelle right?
In order to appreciate this idea, even more, consider the opposite of staring and that’s the slow blink. Cat experts like Jackson Galaxy refer to this as the cat version of saying I love you and it’s a great way to communicate with your feline friend!
You can learn more about the slow blink (and how you can use it to talk to your cat) in this video:
But the main takeaway here is that cats don’t stare at friends.
Instead, they blink slowly and almost sleepily. After all, if you had absolute trust in your feline companion why would you feel the need to stare? That type of action is reserved for potential threats and isn’t something you should be doing to your feline friend!
So How Should You Respond?
Your exact response will really depend on what your cat is trying to tell you!
But there’s never a scenario where you should try to stare your cat down. That’s likely to just confuse your cat in the best case or escalate the situation in the worse case.
Instead, start with a slow blink like in the video above. In many cases, you’ll see your cat slowly blink back which tells you that all is well and the staring without blinking could have been anything.
If your cat’s focus continues just as strong, then consider the options above to figure out what could be triggering your cat’s intense interest.
In most cases, there probably isn’t anything to worry about but if you think that your cat is showing a fear response then it’s important to address that!
Could It Be An Illness?
Besides feline cognitive dysfunction, there are few illnesses that would cause cats to specifically stare at you.
Very sick cats may stare but usually, their gaze is directed towards the floor and they’re generally less responsive to all kinds of stimuli- including you. In other words, a very sick cat probably won’t acknowledge you much at all.
Other neurologic disorders could cause malfunction of the eyes and one of the more commonly mentioned conditions is feline dysautonomia or known as Key-Gaskell syndrome. These cats will have several neurological deficits and sometimes dilated pupils. In these cases, staring at your without blinking will probably be the least of your worries and you’ll see several more concerning symptoms.
Should You Worry?
In most cases, there’s nothing to worry about. Cats often like to stare whether that’s while you’re sleeping or even when it has nothing at to do with you.
Remember, cats don’t blink as frequently as we do and because they use their third eyelid to blink, their stare can seem more pronounced.
Unless you’re seeing other abnormal behavior or aggression, staring is usually nothing to worry about it.
But if you’re ever unsure it’s always a good idea to consult your veterinarian.
While there are plenty of reasons for cats to stare without blinking, it could just be a normal look from your cat. Remember, our feline friends have a powerful third eyelid that “blinks” or clears the eye of dust and debris without cats ever having to close their eyes.
But that doesn’t explain every feline stare and in many cases, a cat’s curiosity has taken over and they’re simply trying to figure out what’s going on!
What do you think? What reason best explains your cat’s stare?