If you've been around cats, you know the look - that vacant stare into the distance, a corner of the room, or toward an empty chair. Is he or she gazing at a ghost you can't see? Is it a bug, or God forbid, a spider? Maybe it's a daydream about catching the squirrel that sits tauntingly just outside the window, or kittenhood memories of frollicking with brothers and sisters. And staring at you, well, perhaps it's the look of affection, or is it a not so subtle message, such as, "Hey, don't you realize there's an empty food bowl over there?"
The first thing to consider is that a cat's ability to stare without blinking for a good deal of time plays an important role in their survival in the wild. It makes it difficult for their stalked prey to run away "in the blink of an eye." So, if you've been contemplating a staring contest with your cat, it's your cat who is eyeing the prize, not you.
When your cat stares at you, he/she could be keeping a vigilant eye out for a change in your behavior. For instance, "Will she give me a signal that it's OK to get on her lap?" Other times, it may an affectionate gaze. One of my family members has a big orange tabby who imprinted on him as a kitten and just adores him. Suddenly, the cat will get a dreamy-eyed fixation then is compelled to come over and start licking his cheek. It's actually very endearing!
When your cat gets into a stare down with another cat, it could signal a rivalry. The cat who looks away first is surrendering. The feline stare down in my house usually ends with one casually releasing the stare as if to say, "This is stupid. I could care less and it's boring. Game over." That's a pretty mild show down. If there's aggression involved, maybe over turf (remember, cats are super territorial), a cat fight could ensue.
Last but not least, there's that loopy, wild-eyed look that may seem like your cat is experiencing a bad acid flashback. Is it a phantom or a fairy? Probably not. A 2014 study reveals that cats can see things the human eyes can't because they can see into the ultraviolet spectrum. So much for the pixie sighting theory, but it's fun to consider anyway!