The Real Reason Your Cat Won't Stop Staring At You

It didn't used to be that curiosity killed the cat. ("Satisfaction brought it back" is even more recent.) The original proverb, dating back to 1598, was "care'll kill a cat," as written by playwright Ben Jonson, says the UK's Phrase Finder. Curiosity being a death sentence doesn't appear in print until 1898. That's odd in and of itself, because cats appear to be notoriously curious creatures — for instance, when they're batting around a captive mouse, maybe they're just trying to figure out how it works.

Cats are known as a group to have other behaviors that are, say, mysterious to their humans. Some are known to act almost insanely elated after using their litter box — "bolting out," as The Dodo describes it; some refer to it as "poo-phoria." Why it happens hasn't actually been the subject of a lot of research, oddly enough, but maybe there's grant money waiting somewhere for the properly motivated student.

Is it curiosity, or something else?

Another cat behavior that can befuddle a human observer is The Stare. You're watching TV, and suddenly you look down and there's your cat, eyes laser-focused on your face. You wake up, and there's the cat, and what's more, there are the cat's eyes, locking onto yours. (Disconcerting? You be the judge.) Doing most any human activity, and without warning, you find yourself under feline scrutiny that's just a little unnerving. It's not much fun to have another human stare, really stare, at you. That's just creepy. And cats?

There are different theories to explain the phenomenon. Veterinarian Marty Goldstein posits that "it's likely harmless." Positive explanations: They care about you. Like we said, cats are curious animals, and if there's bond between the two of you, the cat will express interest by staring. First for Women quotes Dr. Kathryn Pimm: "Your shared look can reaffirm your bond and assure the social stability of your group." Which is sweet, really, when you think about it.

Another, more mundane motivation would be hunger: the cat wants food, and you're the source of the food. Or maybe the stare is a holdover from the ages before domestication, when cats had to constantly pay attention to their environment in order to hunt and avoid being hunted. Modern Cat wonders if it isn't affection: it wants bonding time with you.

Or maybe it's just bored. Your guess is as good as anybody's.