Not only are cat eyes big and beautiful, they’re also extremely expressive. If you’re ever interested in getting to know your cat a little better, my advice is to pay attention to their eyes. Where they direct their gaze, the intensity of their stare, and even how often they blink can tell you a lot about their current mood and their overall personality. And while you’re staring deeply into your kitty’s eyes, you might notice that your cat does everything they can to avoid eye contact—especially with other cats.
For our feline friends, eye contact is a complicated thing. It can send different messages depending on the situation and who else is involved. It’s a fact that cats often go out of their way to not make eye contact with their fellow felines. But why?
Eye Contact Between Cats
While humans make eye contact to show they’re interested and engaged in an interaction, cats consider a pair of locked eyes to mean something completely different. In cat language, prolonged eye contact is anything from a stern warning to a serious threat. It implies intimidation, and it’s almost never shared between friends.
Cats are territorial and predatory. When your cat is approached by another cat they’re not completely comfortable with, the interaction could go one of two ways. If your kitty is the friendly, submissive type, she might try her best to avoid looking the newcomer in the eyes. This is her way of saying she comes in peace and doesn’t want any trouble. She hopes her new acquaintance will get the message and return the favor.
But if two cats are feeling feisty, territorial, or uncomfortable, they might not do each other the courtesy of averting their gazes. They won’t start an outright fight, but a staring contest will get their point across. Cats make eye contact when they want to send an assertive message. They’ll try and out stare each other as a way of establishing who’s in charge. The first cat to look away surrenders. And if the staring goes on for too long, it will eventually escalate to a physical altercation.
If you ever catch your cat making eye contact with another feline, it’s a good idea to try and distract them and redirect the situation. Pay attention to the body language coming from both competitors. If their bodies are tense and their hackles are raised, bad things are coming. Cat fights can cause serious injuries, so it’s best to avoid a confrontation if you can.
Special Exceptions for Special Humans
While cats do their best to not make eye contact with each other, you’ve probably noticed that eye contact can mean something completely different with humans. Cats have been by our sides for so long, they’ve learned to adopt some of our human behaviors. They’ve figured out that with humans, a staring contest doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.
Some friendly kitties will make eye contact with their favorite humans as a way to show affection. If that ever happens to you, it’s good etiquette to offer your kitty a slow blink. A sleepy blink or wink is cat language for “I love you.”
Don’t assume, however, that this rule applies to all humans. A lot of cats are only comfortable making eye contact with their closest family members. If a guest comes over and tries to stare at them, there’s a good chance your cat will turn tail and flee. They prefer unfamiliar guests greet them with a peripheral glance rather than a direct stare. It’s more respectful and doesn’t suggest a rivalry.
In most situations, cats don’t want to make eye contact with other cats. Two cats that live together but never make eye contact are probably the best of friends. They respect each other and never feel the need to threaten or dominate. But just because you catch two cats staring each other down, that doesn’t mean they’re bound to be enemies forever. Making eye contact can be a non-violent way to settle disputes. It helps cats determine status and set boundaries.