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Do Cats Have Eyelashes? The Surprising Answer!

Cat eyes are fascinating things to observe, but have you ever wondered if your cat has eyelashes? If you ask this question, you’re likely going to get mixed answers. Some people say yes, and others are adamant that the answer is no.

Technically, cats do have eyelashes! They are not easy to see and they don’t resemble human eyelashes, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. The proof of this is that cats can develop medical conditions related to their eyelashes. These include ingrown eyelashes or multiple lashes that grow through the eyelid. If cats didn’t have eyelashes, they wouldn’t be able to have these conditions.

Read on to decide for yourself if cats have eyelashes or not!

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Why Are Cats’ Eyelashes Heavily Debated?

A cat’s eyelashes are different from ours. As humans, we don’t have fur covering our faces, so our eyelashes are clearly visible. Eyelashes on humans are often used as beauty enhancers, but their main function is to keep particles like sand, dust, and other debris out of the eye.

Another role that eyelashes play is to warn if something is getting too close to the eye. Eyelashes are sensitive to touch and will alert the person if the eye is in danger of being injured.

Since a cat’s eyelashes are not well-defined and instead blend in with the surrounding fur, it’s easy to think that these animals don’t have them at all. Their eyelashes are short and aren’t easily detected. Long-haired cat breeds may have longer eyelashes that are more noticeable.

Do All Cats Have Eyelashes?

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Hairless cats are the exception. They have no hair anywhere and this includes no eyelashes. Their eyes are protected by another part of the cat eye anatomy: the third eyelid.

Inner Eyelid of Cats

The inner eyelid that cats have is called the nictitating membrane, third eyelid, or properly, the palpebra tertia. This is a translucent membrane that covers the eye to protect it from debris and keep the eye moist without the cat having to close their eyes. They can still maintain their vision, which is especially important in dangerous situations.

The third eyelid acts as a windshield wiper blade to the cat’s cornea, removing dirt and distributing tears. As cats move and hunt through bushes and tall grass, their eyes can be protected while they watch where they’re going.

It does a better job than the regular eyelids of keeping the cornea hydrated. For cats that had to have their third eyelids removed, their eyes are then chronically irritated and may require supplemental artificial tears.

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Do Humans Have Third Eyelids?

Humans lack the third eyelid but did have them at one time. The evolutionary proof is the fleshy bump in the corner of each human eye. They are the remnants of the membranes. We don’t hunt for food or walk through dense vegetation as cats do, so our third eyelid was likely phased out because we don’t have a need for it.

What About Whiskers?

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Image Credit: Stanislav Kim, Shutterstock

You may have noticed whiskers around your cat’s nose and mouth, but they also appear above the eyes, on the chin, near the ears, and on the front legs. Whiskers grow out of hair follicles on cats, but whisker hair follicles are full of blood vessels and nerves. This makes whiskers much more sensitive than the rest of the hair that covers a cat’s body.

Whiskers are one of a cat’s ways to navigate their surroundings. Their sensitivity to touch warns cats of potentially dangerous situations. They let cats know when they’re getting too close to objects and should change direction. They help cats stay out of harm’s way.

Whiskers located above the eyes are another layer of protection that cats have to keep their eyes safe. Since cats have better vision from far away, they can’t focus on objects that are close to them. Whiskers help them determine what’s around them by acting as radar sensors.

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Cat Eyelash Disorders

Eyelash disorders rarely affect cats, and these conditions are not life-threatening, but they can cause discomfort, irritation, and pain. Long-term conditions can affect the overall health of the eye.

Symptoms

Usually, any of these symptoms will indicate that something is wrong with your cat’s eyes. Just one eye can be affected. Some of these symptoms mimic those of eye infections. If you notice any of these symptoms, bring your cat to a vet so a proper diagnosis can be made and treatment can begin.

  • Color changes in the eyes
  • Frequently twitching the eyelid
  • Excessive tearing
  • Skin around the eyes swelling
  • Pawing at the eyes
  • Corneal ulcer
  • Red eyes
  • Discharge from the eyes
  • Painful eyes

Your vet will ask questions about the symptoms and examine your cat. Further testing may be necessary to diagnose and treat the condition.

Distichiasis

This most commonly occurs in dogs but it’s occasionally seen in cats. Distichiasis refers to eyelashes that grow in abnormal locations. Eyelashes typically grow on the edge of the eyelid skin, but errant eyelashes can grow on the eyelid margin. This condition also includes eyelashes that grow from the correct place but curl in the wrong direction, typically into the eye instead of away from it.

This constant aggravation to the cornea is extremely unpleasant and requires treatment to correct. Treatment can include lubricating the eye, plucking the eyelashes (a repeated treatment since the lashes grow back), surgery to remove the hair follicle, or laser treatments to destroy the hair follicle.

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Image Credit: MLARANDA, Pixabay

Ectopic Cilia

Ectopic cilia is similar to distichiasis. While distichiasis means extra eyelashes that grow in abnormal locations or patterns, ectopic cilia refer to regular eyelashes that grow abnormally through the conjunctiva of the eye and touch the cornea.

Treatment includes removing the harmful eyelashes with a scalpel or freezing the hair follicles to kill them.

Trichiasis

Trichiasis means ingrown eyelashes. Some cases can clear up on their own and no treatment is necessary. Some cats will need to have their hair cut short around the eye to prevent irritation and discomfort. In severe cases, surgery is necessary to correct the problem.

Can Cats Recover From Eyelash Disorders?

Early treatment is necessary to ensure that your cat makes a full recovery from any eyelash disorders. Detecting the issue early and working to fix it will prevent further damage to the eye. Your vet may prescribe medications or lubrication to help your cat recover faster.

You may need to keep your cat’s eyes clean by washing them every day with a prescribed eyewash. If the eyelashes were removed by plucking, they may grow back in a few weeks and need to be plucked again. Follow-up appointments are important to keep your cat’s eyes healthy and pain-free.

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Final Thoughts

Though the topic is widely debated, cats do have eyelashes. They blend in with their regular hair, and this makes them hard to see. They are designed to keep dirt and other debris out of the cat’s eyes, but their hair also helps prevent this. In addition to eyelashes, cats have a third eyelid and whiskers above the eyes to help keep them safe and protect against injuries.

Eyelash disorders happen more frequently in dogs than cats, but it’s important to make sure your cat’s eyes are healthy. If you notice any signs of eye problems, see your vet right away.

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Featured Image Credit: chromatos, Shutterstock

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