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In the Eyes of a Cat

Part 1: What you Can Tell by Looking into a Cat's Eyes


Cat eyes photo

Narrowed pupils protect Bubba's eyes from the sun.

Franny Syufy
It has been said that eyes are the window to the soul, and nowhere is this more evident than in the eyes of a cat. Nothing is more mesmerizing than gazing within the deep, green, liquid pools of a feline companion. Even someone who thinks he doesn't like cats may find himself hopelessly lost. Aside from romantic gazing, there are also a number of things you can learn by looking into a cat's eyes.

In the photo above, Bubba was relaxed, but anticipating a leap to the shoulder of the photographer. His eyes were wide open, clear, and alert, although his narrowed pupils reflected the shaft of sunlight shining off his left eye. As in humans, a cat's pupils should normally be of the same size. A change in the size of the pupil in one eye can indicate a number of conditions, ranging from mild to serious. They include:

  • Inflammation of the eye
  • Horner's syndrome (a neurological disorder)
  • FeLV (may cause pupillary spasms)
  • Tumors
  • Central nervous system injury

The "Third Eyelid"

Cats have an inner, third eyelid, called a nictating membrane (also spelled "nictitating"), which serves to protect the eye from dryness and/or damage. When a cat is sick, the third eyelid will partially close, which is a signal to get him to the vet immediately if other symptoms present. Curiously enough, a very happy cat will also show that nictating membrane.

    Moody Eyes
    Like many other physical characteristics of the cat, his moods are reflected by his eyes. Pupil size changes are the clue: an angry cat will have narrowed pupils, while an excited or frightened cat will have eyes wide open, with large pupils. A mellow, happy cat's eyes will sometimes appear a shade darker than normal. I can't explain this one; it's just an observation.
    From "What Makes Cats Work"
Other Diseases and Conditions of the Eye

Cats are subject to a number of the same conditions we are, including cataracts, glaucoma, and conjunctivitis (Pinkeye). The latter, if caused by the chlymidia bacteria, may be contagious to humans.

Because cats' eyes are so important to their general welfare, it is crucial that you take your cat to a veterinarian at the first sign of trouble. Many conditions can be treated easily if caught in time, but can lead to months of veterinary expense and possibly even blindness, if ignored.

Next > Why cats see better at night

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