For humans, the presence of thick, long eyelashes is considered beautiful. But when it comes to our feline friends, it might be confusing to figure out whether they have any eyelashes at all!
First and foremost, cats do not need eyelashes to look adorable – their fluffy coats and rumbly purrs are enough to make us all fall in love. However, curious owners often wonder if their furry companions have eyelashes like humans do.
The answer to this question might depend on your standpoint. Technically, cats do have eyelashes, but they are quite different and less noticeable than those of humans and other animals. Most owners can hardly see any eyelashes at all, especially on short-haired cats, and they simply assume everything they see on their cat’s face is fur.
Let us dig deeper to find out more about cats’ eyelashes and whether they serve the same important function as human lashes do.
Do cats have eyelashes like humans?
Technically, most cats do have eyelashes, but these tiny hairs are difficult to see unless you look really closely, because their faces are already covered with fur. Instead of dark, long, curly strands of hair, what you will see is a row of short, stiff hairs that blend with the color of the cat’s fur, making them less visible to onlookers.
Just like on humans, cats’ eyelashes grow on both the upper and lower eyelids, and these small hairs are known as cilia. Some long-haired breeds might have more defined eyelashes because they are longer and hence more noticeable, while certain hairless cat breeds may not have any eyelashes at all. But, if you own a typical, short-haired feline, then your kitty will most likely have eyelashes – just very short and less obvious.
What breed of cat has eyelashes?
Some cat owners swear that their pets have visible eyelashes, while others claim they don’t see anything at all! The truth may depend on the breed of cat you own.
Most long-haired cats, like the Ragdoll, Maine Coon, and Persian cats, have longer, more voluptuous eyelashes. And the longer and thicker the eyelashes, the more visible they will be. Other breeds, like the Sphinx and the Rex, have no eyelashes at all, because their entire bodies are completely hairless.
Do cats need eyelashes to protect their eyes?
For humans, the purpose of eyelashes is not just to enhance our facial features but to protect one of our most important organs – the eyes. These long, curved strands of hair serve as a barrier against dust, debris, and other irritants to protect the eye’s delicate tissues. The eyelashes also protect your eyes from the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. Moreover, human eyelashes are very sensitive, triggering an automatic response to shut the eyelids if an external threat is about to enter the eye area.
Surprisingly, the short, stiff row of hairs around your cat’s eyelids may not have the same critical functions. Our furry companions have evolved with other features to protect their delicate eyes, and instead of eyelashes, they protect their sense of sight through their whiskers, fur, and third eyelids.
Whiskers serve many purposes in your cat’s daily life. First, these extra-sensitive tactile hairs act as a cat’s GPS and radar system. They help your cat navigate his environment by sensing space and distance. It is through their whiskers that cats are able to approximate how high they need to jump to reach the top of your closet, or whether they can fit inside a shoe box. And, just like human eyelashes, a cat’s whiskers can tell when an object is coming too near their face and help them instantly avoid it.
Another tool your cat uses to protect himself is his fur. Yes, cats look adorable with their soft, shiny coats, but they have these not just for aesthetics purposes but also for protection. Feline fur acts as a first line of defense against extreme weather conditions and also against predators. The fur around the face can also deter airborne debris and other irritants from entering your cat’s delicate eyes. The longer the coat, the better protection they have!
Finally, your cat has a third eyelid that covers the entire eyeball as a protective layer against external irritants. You may have noticed the edge of your cat’s third eyelid when he is relaxed or has just woken up from a deep sleep. Scientifically known as the nictitating membrane, this translucent sheet also provides lubrication to the eyes to keep them moist and clean. Your cat uses his third eyelid to protect his eyes from foreign objects and maintain healthy, crystal-clear vision.
So, as you can see, cats do not rely on their eyelashes to protect their eyes. And, since they do not serve a critical purpose, cats’ eyelashes have evolved to be smaller and less noticeable than those of other mammals.
Do cats have eyebrows?
Cats do have eyebrows, but they may not look like you would expect. Instead of well-defined eyebrow hair like humans have, cats have whiskers on the area of their face where you would expect to see eyebrows. However, these function differently from human eyebrows. These specialized, firm strands of hair, as mentioned before, protect your cat from threats in his environment and help him judge the size and distance of objects around him.
Common cat eyelash disorders
Although cat eyelashes do not have defined or critical functions, felines may still develop certain eyelash disorders that cause discomfort and irritation. These problems occur due to abnormal growth of the hairs around the eyelids, which can misdirect the lashes inward and irritate the eye surface. Unfortunately, the cause of this abnormal eyelash growth in cats is not yet fully understood.
Some of the eyelash-related disorders in cats are:
- Trichiasis, a condition that causes the hairs to grow at different angles and in different directions. This random growth pattern may cause the lashes to come into contact with the eyes and cause irritation.
- Distichiasis, a disorder caused by the growth of full or partial rows of hair around the eyelids. Some of the hair strands may grow closer to the eye surface and cause discomfort.
- Ectopic cilia, an eye problem in felines where the eyelashes grow inwards and touch the eye’s surface.
Eyelash disorders in cats are fairly rare and if your cat has one, it is often easy to identify. Some of the obvious symptoms of eyelash problems are:
- Eye discharge or excessive tears
- Stiff eyelashes
- Red or pinkish, swollen eyes
- Constant pawing of the eyes
- Excessive blinking
- Presence of ulcers around the eyes
Eyelash problems can cause your cat pain and discomfort. Your vet can recommend the best treatment approach to prevent the symptoms worsening and give your cat some relief. If untreated, the symptoms might lead to corneal ulcers and other severe problems that increase your cat’s suffering.
Depending on the condition, cutting or plucking the eyelash that causes the irritation might work. But, if the hairs grow back too fast, this method can become inconvenient and surgery might be the best and most permanent solution.
Wrapping it up
Cats do have eyelashes, but not in the same form you see on humans and other animals. Long-haired cats might have more noticeable eyelashes, while most short-haired breeds have short lashes that blend in with their fur and look less distinctive.
Unlike humans, cats’ eyelashes do not serve an important purpose in a cat’s life. SInce our feline companions have whiskers, third eyelids, and fur, they do not need eyelashes to protect their eyes. And anyway, they look beautiful enough without them!
Image: istockphoto.com / SValeriia