Your cat has been staring intently at the birds outside the window. He has been at it for several minutes, seemingly worried that he will miss his quarry if he closes his eyes momentarily. When you think of it, you wonder when was the last time that you have seen your cat blink.
How often do cats blink?
Cats blink their eyes, but not often as humans do. And they do not need to, primarily because of the anatomy of their eyes, and in part, because blinking can be detrimental to hunting.
Unlike humans, cats do not need to blink to moisten their eyes. Furthermore, cats need every advantage when they are out on a hunt. Blinking their eyes for even a fraction of a second can mean losing prey.
A brief glimpse into the anatomy of your cat’s eyes
To better understand why your cat does not blink that often (and why he does not need to), it is a good idea to have some understanding of how his eyes work.
Cats rarely blink in the conventional sense. Rarely do felines blink in such a way that their upper and lower eyelids meet. Instead, cats squint instead of blink. And just like how humans automatically blink when they perceive something is about to enter their eyes, cats squint instead.
One curious fact about cats is that they have a third eyelid, apart from the upper and lower eyelids. This third eyelid is called the nictitating membrane. This thin membrane moves diagonally and moves faster than the other eyelids.
Unless you move your face close to your cat’s eyes, you cannot see the nictitating membrane moving because it is too thin, almost transparent. Furthermore, when your cat is blinking with his third eyelid, the movement is almost imperceptible, especially if you do not know exactly what you should be looking for.
Usually, when a cat squints, the third eyelid is also blinking.
Understanding how feline eyelids work
Compared to your eyelids, your pet’s work a little differently. Your cat uses his eyelids in a variety of ways.
For starters, cats do not use their eyelids to spread moisture in their eyes as people do. Although their eyes have tear glands that are located in the corners, cats do not need to blink to move tears. Instead, tears evaporate once the debris has been removed. This is because the third eyelid helps remove the debris from the eye’s surface.
Experts believe that this function is an offshoot of the modern housecat’s origins. If you look back at the origin of the domestic cat, you will see that he evolved from African wildcats that lived in dry areas.
These locations were surrounded by sand which is often blown by winds. It is possible that cats evolved to develop this third eyelid to protect their eyes from bits of sand that can enter their eyes. But because this membrane is thin and transparent, it did not compromise these animals’ ability to see their prey.
Why cats slow blink
When cats are in an aggressive mood, whether they are looking intently at prey or if they are trying to intimidate an invader, they will not blink their eyes.
But if you happen to catch your cat in an affectionate mood, perhaps after a relaxing grooming session, you will notice him doing a slow blink. What does this action mean?
When a cat slow blinks, his pupils are not dilated. Furthermore, a feline will deliberately and slowly close and open his eyelids. Finally, his body is relaxed and comfortable.
In a multi-cat household, each cat will do these actions with their eyes to greet other felines. Slow blinking indicates that a cat trusts the other feline members of the household.
And when your pet slow blinks at you, it means that he is content. Some cat behaviorists will even dare say that slow blinking is a sign that your cat is telling you that he loves you.
Again, you have to remember that cats rarely show signs of vulnerability, like keeping their eyes closed, even momentarily. This is vital in environments where larger predators can take advantage of vulnerable moments. When your cat slow blinks, it means that he can let his guard down because he feels safe around you.
If you want your cat to slow blink at you, you must resist the urge to smother him with attention. Instead, allow him to come to you voluntarily. As much as possible, you should be in a calm and relaxed state. Cats can pick up the energies of their humans. And if you are tense, your cat may ignore you.
When your cat comes close, look at him and perform slow blinks. After a few tries, your cat should slow blink in turn.
Why your cat is blinking excessively
When a cat is blinking excessively, you should schedule a visit to the vet immediately. Excessive blinking is a sign that there is something wrong with his eyes. These include infections, corneal ulcers, uveitis, or glaucoma.
Apart from excessive blinking, your cat may exhibit other symptoms like red eyes and tearing. These indicate that your cat is hurt and needs the immediate attention of a qualified professional.
Do not attempt to treat your pet’s eyes with a home remedy. In any of these cases, there is not much you can do but visit the vet.
Cats can blink
Cats can blink, but not as often as people often do. And they do not need to because of the fascinating structure of their eyes. Do not worry if you have not yet seen your cat blink. It is no cause for concern. What you have to worry about is excessive blinking which may indicate that your pet has an eye problem.
Image: istockphoto.com / Mark_KA