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Do Cats Blink? (What Does it Mean When a Cat Blinks at You?)

Posted in: Cat Care - Last Updated: May 14, 2022 - Author: Dexter Jones
Posted in Cat Care 
Last Updated: May 13, 2022  
Author:  Dexter Jones
do cats blink

There are many mysteries related to cats, one of which is whether they blink or not. Have you ever wondered, "what does it mean when a cat blinks at you?"

Cats do blink because, like any other animal, they need to clean their cat eyes and keep them moist.

However, felines blink in their own way using the third eyelid which is a transparent membrane that spreads over the eye, removing the debris. 

In this article, we'll talk you through everything you need to know about cats blinking.

Do Cats Blink Their Eyes? (in short)

Yes, cats do blink. They blink in order to keep their eyes clean and also for communication.  Slow blinking is a form of smiling and comes from happy, positive emotional well-being. A cat will respond to a human's slow blink with a slow blink of their own, and is more likely to approach an unfamiliar person who is slow blinking at them. It can also be regarded as a 'cat kiss'.

Why Do Cats Blink?

To understand better the cat's eye and its necessity to blink, let's see first why all animals (including humans) blink. 

Blinking is a natural process that aims at cleaning, moistening, and protecting the eye. When the eyelids close, a tear film spreads over the eye surface, pushing away the dust particles and keeping the eyeball moist and smooth so light can properly focus on them. 

In all species, blinking has pretty much the same role of cleaning and lubricating. Cats are not a case apart. 

Still, they use a different way of blinking than humans using an organ that is not active in humans anymore.

what does it mean when a cat blinks at you

Cat Blinking and Hygiene

Cat's eye has the same basic anatomy as the human's eye. 

Felines have tear glands that release a liquid while blinking that cleans and lubricates the exposed part of the eyeball. If we dive deeper into the cat's eye structure, though, we can spot some significant differences from the human's eye. 

The cat's photoreceptor cells are made of other compounds than ours. 

This prevents the cat from seeing the full range of colors. In particular, felines can't perceive red, orange, and pink, seeing these colors as green or blue.

Also, while human's mechanism of blinking involves the closing of the upper and lower eyelids, cats use their third eyelid, also called the nictitating membrane, to blink. 

Since it is fully retracted, seeing the third eyelid is practically impossible. You are also unlikely to catch your kitty blinking because the membrane is transparent and moves across the eye surface extremely fast. 

The third eyelid can protrude in some situations and change its color, allowing you to see it.

Seeing the membrane is not a good sign, though, as it can indicate a health issue such as conjunctivitis, corneal ulcer, or glaucoma. 

You should contact your vet if you notice a tiny piece of membrane protruding from the inner corner of your cat's eye. 

Other symptoms that can accompany a protruded nictitating membrane include excessive tearing, eye redness, yellow discharge, and more.

Cat Third Eyelid

Located in the inner corner of the eye, the third eyelid is drawn over the eye surface to clear the dust away and moisten the eyeball. 

It plays the same role as our two eyelids closing at the same time. 

The main advantage of the third eyelid is it's transparent so when the cat blinks, it doesn't lose sight of what happens around it. 

In the wilderness, felines can't afford to have their eyes closed even for a fraction of a second as they can be attacked by predators anytime. 

That's why a cat's ancestors developed the third eyelid to clean and moisten their eyes while not closing them. 

The existence of a third eyelid is also justified by the fact that the wild ancestors of today's domesticated cats dwelled in the desert. 

They couldn't close their eyes every time sand got in their eyes because it would have put their lives in danger. 

Mother nature found a solution - a transparent membrane that removes the sand without blocking the sight.

cat slow blink meaning

Do Humans Have a Third Eyelid?

Yes, humans have the third eyelid located also in the inner angle of the eye. But it doesn't participate in blinking. 

In fact, it doesn't participate in any vital processes being considered a vestigial organ that lost its original purpose. 

Probably the change of the habitat made the third eyelid lose its value as there disappeared the need to stay permanently on high alert.

How Often Do Cats Blink?

It's hard to say how often a cat blinks with its nictitating membrane because it's transparent and moves really quickly. 

But it's fair to assume that a cat will put its third eyelid into action every time it will get dust in its eye. 

So a cat that spends most of its time roaming around outside is likely to blink more often than an indoor cat due to the dust and the wind that dries its eyes.

As long as human-style blinking is concerned, with the top and bottom eyelids closing at the same time, cats are very rare to do it. 

Given that the third eyelid is in charge of cleaning and moistening the eyeball, closing the other eyelids seems useless. However, you can see your cat activating its top and bottom eyelids from time to time. 

But it's more of a squint given that the eyelids don't meet in the middle to close the eye completely.

Slow Blinking

So if eye cleaning is done by the third eyelid, why does the cat blink with its remaining two eyelids?

Well, blinking is part of the cat's menace response which causes the eyes to close when something gets close to its face. 

Humans have a similar response too. 

For example, it happens when you close your eyes when a ball is about to hit your face. 

Since the eyes are a vital part of the body, by issuing the menace response, your brain tries to protect your vision. 

The same does the cat's brain. 

Felines close their eyes when something gets too close to their face. You will notice your cat squint in windy conditions and in dusty environments. This reflex keeps the eye clean and prevents it from drying while protecting it from injury and infection as well. 

Blinking is also a way a cat expresses its love, trust, and gratitude. 

If you notice your cat slowly blink, be sure it feels comfortable with you and tells you how much it loves you.

It's a kitty kiss!

What Does a Cat Slow Blink Mean?

When a cat slowly blinks at you, it means that it feels safe and likes you.

You're a good cat owner! 

A cat will keep its eyes wide open and not blink when it faces danger or when it watches something captivating. 

Slow blinking is a luxury for cats and they can do it only when they are sure that there is nothing around them that puts their life at risk. 

So when your feline blinks gently at you, it means that it doesn't see a threat in you. It's a clear indicator that it feels comfortable and safe with you. 

So safe that it lets its guard down for a couple of seconds.

how often do cats blink

Why Do Cats Blink Their Eyes At You?

There is no evidence that cats blink to say I love you, but one thing is for sure, they do feel relaxed and happy in your company. 

Blinking is also considered a "buddy gesture" as cats use it to create bonds with humans and other cats. 

By slow-blinking, the feline tells you that it has peaceful intentions and wants to be friends.

Communicate With Cat Blinking

Blinks are a great communication tool that helps establish a strong human-cat bond.

  1. 1
    Go to your cat and make swift eye contact, then blink slowly several times.
  2. 2
    Keep the eyes shut for a moment then open them gently.
  3. 3
    Don't make a long eye contact as your cat may perceive it as aggressive behavior.
  4. 4
    After a couple of slow blinks, wait for your cat's reaction.
  5. 5
    If it trusts and likes you, it will respond by slow-blinking.

This exchange of blinks will strengthen your bond and make you understand each other better.

Soft blinking can be used either to greet each other, express trust or show love and affection. 

It's a gesture that can be used in many situations and bring your communication with your feline to a new level. 

Yet, make sure you do it right. 

As we said before, staring at your cat for too long after slowly blinking at it will make it perceive you as a threat. Keep eye contact short and combine the blinks with petting since physical touch strengthens the emotional bond even more.

Cats also use slow blinking to each other. 

They do it to greet each other before they start to touch their noses and rub on each other. Soft blinks have the role of telling the other cat that you are here for making friends, not for fighting.

Do Cats Blink? The Verdict

Do cats blink, Oh yes!

While it's hard to catch a cat blinking, they actually do it. The reason why you may fail to see your kitty blinking is its transparent third eyelid which she uses to clean and moisten its eye. 

Aside from blinking in their own way, cats do the human-style blinking as well. They close the top and bottom eyelids to protect their eye from something that gets close to their face.

About the author

Dexter Jones has been a solid member of the ‘Mad Cat Dad’ club since time began! Dexter has been a keen cat writer for many years and lives in Croatia. He lives with his two tabby cats, Milly & Marly, who also flew in from the UK to start their new Adriatic island life together.