Cats are fascinating creatures to observe. We could watch them endlessly and ponder their various distinctly feline behaviors. Their fantastic array of eye movements is hugely expressive, and many of these expressions leave us certain of what they are communicating—either to you or to another cat or animal.
Cats’ eyes appear similar to ours, and it could be assumed that they perform the same function. But is this actually the case? Is their eye morphology and function like ours? Well, if you had never given it much thought before now, you’re going to be interested in the answer. Yes, there are some similarities. Cats do, in fact, blink. But a cat’s eye is significantly different to ours in many ways aside from its characteristic pupil shape.
Read on to find out more.
Cats certainly do blink. Their eye morphology and blinking mechanism are more complex than a human’s, however. While humans only have two eyelids, cats have three.
Same as a human, cats have upper and lower eyelids. They also have a third inner eyelid called the nictitating membrane. When a cat blinks, their upper and lower eyelids move towards each other but may seem as if they don’t actually meet. Rather, your cat may look like it’s squinting, much like we do in bright sunlight.
The nictitating membrane is located in the inner corner of your cat’s eyes and moves across the eyeball diagonally. All three of the eyelids have a protective and lubricating function.
Yes, a cat’s blink and a human’s blink serve the same functions. But the greater environmental demands on a cat result in their blinking having more functionality than a human’s blinking.
As mentioned, blinking provides a protective function and is involved in the lubrication of the eye. The nictitating membrane provides a unique protective function when the cat is moving through long grass or undergrowth. It will also extend over the eye when there’s a scratch or an injury to the eye as a response to pain.
In both humans and cats, blinking also serves a communicative function. The manner, frequency, and timing of your kitty’s blinks convey information about what’s going on for them. Understanding their various eye expressions can be helpful.
We’ve summarized some of the main kinds of blinks you may observe your kitty performing below.
You may have guessed that when your cat blinks slowly that it is relaxed and happy. But these slow blinks are more than just a sign of feeling content. They are more like kitty kisses. If your cat slow-blinks in your direction, they are telling you unequivocally that they love and accept you as one of their own.
Slow-blinking is often coupled with lazy, half-open eyes. When a cat’s eyes are half open, coupled with relaxed body language, they are signaling that they feel safe and secure with the situation or environment.
Half-blinking can be coupled with both slow-blinking and half-open eyes. It’s simply a more active expression of the kitty’s affection for you or another party. Think of this as you would a human’s eyebrow movements. If you have a chatty feline, the half-blinking will frequently be coupled with purring, chirruping, or moaning.
Rapid blinking signals a more alert state. It can mean that the kitty has seen, heard, or smelled someone that requires their full attention. This can be something that is worth preying on or something that has made them start to feel scared, usually the latter. As this state progresses, staring will often follow. This is discussed further on.
It might also be in response to some kind of eye irritant or condition. The cat’s body language will enable you to distinguish between the two scenarios.
Cats don’t blink as often as humans, so not blinking doesn’t necessarily mean anything. If their eyes are open wide and unblinking, this most likely just be a default semi-alert state of normalness. Not to be confused with staring, which we’ll discuss next.
What Does It Mean When My Cat Stares at Me?
There are a few reasons your cat may stare at you. To correctly interpret the stare, you need to take into account the circumstances and your cat’s body language.
If their stance is neutral, tail down, and otherwise composed while they stare at you, this probably just means they’re tuned into you. Your cat is waiting for your next move, and it better be to fill its food bowl! If your cat throws the odd slow blink in your direction while staring at you, this means that it’s also very relaxed and happy.
If a cat is staring at you with dilated pupils, a stiff posture, ears to the side (or even worse, flattened) and a swishing tail—you’re in trouble. You have been a bad human and you had better remedy the situation fast. Usually, there’s not much more you can do other than give your cat some space to unwind. You could also try engaging them with some rough play so that they can get their anger out of their system. Try not to stare back at a kitty when they’re in this kind of mood, you’ll just enrage them further.
If your cat is staring at you in combination with a crouched-down position with their tail tucked in, and maybe even trying to hide, they are most likely feeling scared. First, try and work out what has made your kitty scared—maybe the vacuum or the noisy kids—and remove the cause. Thereafter, you can slowly approach your frightened cat and reassure them with caresses and treats.
We’ve established that the feline species has a wonderful array of different blinks. We know that they don’t only reserve communicative blinks for their own species. But how about when another species blinks at them? Specifically, do they understand it if humans blink at them?
The answer is, absolutely! They understand that you are a different species with unique human ways of communicating. In most loving cat-human relationships, each species learns the other’s cues. However, you are hard-wired to predominantly “speak” human, while cats are hard-wired to communicate in a feline manner. This hard-wiring is to such an extent that cats will even respond to humans adopting feline communication methods, including particular cat-like blinks.
Go ahead and engage in some slow-blinking or even staring if the situation calls for it. Your cat will get the hint.
If your cat is blinking excessively and/or squeezing its eye shut with each blink, that is likely an indication that something is amiss. Other symptoms of eye distress are the partial protrusion of the nictitating membrane and reluctance or inability to open the eye. This may be accompanied by excessive tear production or a purulent discharge. If the discomfort is severe enough, your kitty may also be pawing at its eye or trying to clean it all the time.
Sometimes, the culprit may be a foreign body lodged in the eye. You may be able to remove this at home in much the same way that you would do for yourself or another person. That is if your kitty will allow you to! If you do choose to attempt this yourself, ensure that you do so very carefully with clean hands and sterile equipment.
If you are unsure of the cause of the discomfort, then it is always wise to seek immediate veterinary assistance. Eye conditions must, understandably, be taken seriously. More severe cases of eye problems include laceration, ulceration, uveitis, glaucoma, and growths.
If you need any further proof that cats are indeed superior to humans, this is it! Jokes aside, whether you consider your kitty to be the pinnacle of intelligence or not, their eye structure and function are fascinating.
We hope that you found some interesting bits of information in this article. If nothing else, it may have helped increase your feline communication repertoire with the inclusion of ocular cues.
Featured Image Credit: Adina Voicu, Pixabay
- Do Cats Actually Blink?
- Does a Cat Blink Serve the Same Function as a Human Blink?
- How Many “Kinds” of Blinks Do They Have?
- What Does It Mean When My Cat Stares at Me?
- Do Cats Understand When We Blink?
- What is Abnormal Blinking and What Should I Do About It?
- In Conclusion