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Cat Talk: Eyes

Understanding Cat Eyes

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Kitty with wide open eyes.

An alert cat or kitten holds her eyes wide open. Placing wide eyes near your own face, as when cheek rubbing, indicates great trust.

Photo Credit: © Amy D. Shojai, courtesy of "Complete Kitten Care"

Cats talk with their eyes. What they say is determined by the position of the eyelids and dilation of the eyes. The messages vary from subtle to overt, and can be incredibly powerful. Kitty doesn’t need to vocalize to get her message across, although the intent often is reinforced with tail talk, ear positions, and fluffed fur.

Cat Eyes and Arousal

Any strong emotional arousal—fear, anger, pleasure, excitement—can result in the sudden contraction of the cat’s pupil into a slit. You may see kitty’s pupil contract when presented with a full bowl of favorite food, for instance, or a catnip mouse. Other times, her eyes might do this when surprised by the introduction of a new cat.

Cat Eyes and Trust

Cats open their eyes wide when they are alert. Exposing wide-open eyes to potential injury can be a sign of great trust. For example, cats that head-butt your cheeks or do the same to a friendly dog indicate calm trust, and perhaps even love.

Cat Eyes and Dominance

Cat eyes that stare unblinking from a distance can be a sign of control, dominance, or even aggression. Owners often won’t recognize this subtle behavior, which can be used to control access to resources in multicat households. Simply by using this unblinking stare, a single cat can warn off and keep other felines from approaching an “owned” pathway to food bowls, litter box, or other important territory.

Cat Eyes and Aggression

A slit-eyed look indicates strong emotion—fear or aggression. Squinting also protects eyes from potential claws of an opponent. Avoid locking eyes with a cat you don’t know, or you may prompt an attack.

Cat Eyes and Kitty Kisses

A relaxed and trusting kitty has droopy, sleepy-looking eyelids. Try sending a “kitty kiss” to your distant pet—meet her sleepy gaze with a relaxed gaze of your own, and slowly “blink.” If she blinks back, you have been honored with the deepest affection!

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