Even though cats and people don’t speak the same language, there are ways for pet parents and their cats to communicate with each other.
Maybe your cat knocks your pen off your desk to get your attention, or maybe you shake a jar of treats to get a cuddle. You don’t talk, but you understand what your cat is doing.
Many pet owners don’t know that the slow blink is a way for cats to talk. This behaviour, in which your cat narrows her eyes and blinks very slowly at you (and, hopefully, you do the same back), shows that you and your cat have a good relationship.
Several studies have shown that cats who blink slowly at people are adopted more quickly than those who don’t.
But what about other eye movements, like the way a cat winks? Is a wink a way for your cat to talk to you, or is it just a twitch? Is there ever a time when a wink could mean something really important? Let’s dissect it.
Cat Winking: What Does It Look Like?
Cats “wink” in the same way that people do, but they only close one eye at a time. Human winks, on the other hand, are usually done on purpose, while a cat’s eye movement is more likely to be a reflex.
Dr. Terri Baldwin, a veterinarian at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital in Clearwater, Florida, says that a cat’s “wink” can be as simple as the eyelids gently closing or it can be more of a spastic, fluttering closing of the eyelids.
What Does It Mean When Cats Wink?
There are three kinds of reasons why your cat might wink at you:
1. They’re Being Friendly
The first reason cats wink has to do with a blink, which is the same thing as having two eyes.
The “slow blink” is made up of two or three slow blinks where the eyelids don’t close all the way. Once that is done, they close their eyes for a long time.
Researchers have just proven what cat lovers have always thought: when people blink slowly, cats blink slowly back.
This research adds to what has already been learned about how cats can understand and pick up on our emotions.
We also tend to know, even if we don’t realize it, that a cat’s slow blinks are a sign of happiness.
The cats in shelters who blink slowly are also the ones who are most likely to be adopted.
What about slow winks?
Most of the time, both eyes blink slowly.
But there are a few reasons why a cat might instead choose to wink.
- If they are resting their head on one cheek, that side of their face is probably not moving, leaving the other side to do all the work.
- Face paralysis in cats can be caused by ear infections and accidents (such as being hit by a car). In this case, one eye might blink more clearly than the other, which would look like a wink.
2. Something Is Irritating Their Eye
There are no less than three eyelids on a cat’s eye, which makes its anatomy very complicated.
Cats and other unfortunate creatures often get grass seeds stuck in their eyes.
Your cat may blink to try to get rid of something that is bothering them.
Look for the following signs to figure out what kind of wink it is:
- that winks quickly or keeps doing it
- Weeping or turning red
- rubbing the eye with a paw
If you think your cat has something in its eye, watch it carefully.
If it doesn’t come out on its own, a veterinarian will have to take it out before it hurts the soft tissues around the eye.
3. The eye is damaged, injured or infected
Cats can get a number of problems with their eyes, such as corneal ulcers, bacterial infections (pink eye), and injuries (for example, scratches from other cats).
Because the surface of their eye has more nerve endings than any other part of their body, injuries and diseases that affect it are very painful.
When cats have eye pain, the first thing their owners usually notice is that they blink, wink, squint, or twitch (known as blepharospasm).
Other signs to watch out for are:
- white, yellow or green sticky discharge
- the third eyelid protruding from the inner corner of the eye
- redness on the eyeball, or the membranes around the eye
- cloudiness over the surface of the eye
- and over-grooming or rubbing the affected eye.
The vet will examine the eye to determine if it is injured and will advise on how to treat it.
When Winking Because Dangerous
Most of the time, it’s normal to wink and blink slowly. But in some cases, they may point to a deeper problem.
For example, if your cat blinks a lot, it could mean that something is always bothering their eyes. They might have hurt their eye, so they had to go to the vet. Eyes are very good at fixing themselves.
If your cat’s eye has been bothering them for a few days, it’s likely because something isn’t working right.
Sometimes, their third eyelid can stick out. Most of the time, it will become clear in this situation. If you can see your cat’s third eyelid, you should take him to the vet.
Their eyelids could be hurt in different ways. It can sometimes get sick without hurting the person in any way. Sometimes, a scratch or other injury can get infected or just irritate the skin for a few days.
Most of the time, it’s fine to wink. If your cat winks a lot for about an hour and then stops, there’s no need to rush to the vet. When you can see that your cat’s eye has been irritated for more than an hour, you should be worried.
She will look at you for a long time. Also, your cat might not close her eyes all the way. A half-closed eye is still a good wink.
When is Cat Winking a Problem?
If your cat winks a lot, especially in a jerky or irregular way, you should look for other signs of an eye infection, such as:
- Eyes that are red and swollen
- What appears in the eyes
- eyes that are cloudy, being scratched or rubbed,
- sensitivity to light
- Your cat has stopped coming around.
- Your cat doesn’t clean himself as well as he should.
- Nothing is getting into your cat’s mouth.
Since nerves control a cat’s ability to blink, neurological disorders may also cause the cat to blink in a strange way. Facial nerve paralysis is rare, but it can make a cat unable to close one eye, which can cause it to wink.
“Take your cat to the vet if you notice that one eye closes more often than the other, especially if the blinking is jerky, flickers, or is followed by discharge,” says Baldwin.
“You should also take your cat to the vet if you notice any changes in his behaviour, if he loses his appetite, or if he loses weight.”
She strongly suggests that you don’t give your cat any over-the-counter medicines or eye drops before talking to a vet.
If your cat blinks or winks at you slowly and steadily while you’re hanging out, that’s a good sign. It’s a sign of trust and love, and you can show her how you feel by slowly blinking back at her.
If, on the other hand, the winking or blinking is out of control and looks spastic or fluttery, you should see your vet.
Conditions that Can Cause Eye Infections
There are many things that can make a cat blink too much. So, if you notice anything strange about your cat, you should take it to the vet.
Here’s a quick list of things that could be making your cat blink too much:
Several eye diseases can cause people to blink too much. If your cat gets an eye injury, it’s likely that the wound will get infected.
Eye injuries that aren’t too bad usually get better on their own. After all, our cats probably hurt their eyes all the time by getting grass and dust in them.
If the eye doesn’t heal properly, it could get an infection. Most of the time, the cat will act like their eye hurts. They might rub it hard and blink a lot more than usual. Both of these are clear signs that your cat has an infection in its eye.
Redness and swelling are often signs of an infection.
One or two winks aren’t anything to worry about, but if their eye bothers them after a day, you should take them to the doctor.
Upper Respiratory Infections
Problems with vision are rarely caused by upper respiratory infections. But it’s clear that the lungs and the eyes are connected. If your cat gets an infection in one, it can cause problems in the other.
Most of the time, both eyes will get sick. It happens often that one eye is worse than the other.
Sneezing and mucus coming out of the nose are common signs. Your cat will sound like it has a cold and will probably have the same symptoms.
These infections do not always go away on their own.Because of this, we strongly suggest that you take your pet to the vet. They may need antibiotics and other therapies to help them get better.
Third Eyelid Infection
When this eyelid gets inflamed, it is often easy to see. Most of the time, it is clear and can’t be seen unless you look very closely. When it gets infected, however, it becomes clear. It will often stick out of the eye.
These infections are very dangerous and need to be taken care of by a vet. If you don’t treat it right, the rest of the eye can get sick.
Your cat may lose an eye because of the infection. Because of this, it is very important that they get medical care right away.
If this illness is caught early, it is often much easier to treat. Also, even if treatment is available, putting it off could have complicated and long-term effects. A cat’s third eyelid is very important, so it needs to work well.
Most of the time, if your cat winks at you, it’s because they have something in their eye. As long as it only happens once or twice, you don’t need to worry!
But if it lasts for more than a few days, it could be a sign of a bigger problem. For example, eye infections can make your eyes hurt more, which can make you blink more often. If your cat winks a lot in a day, you should take him to the vet.
Your cat will almost certainly show other signs. For example, their eyes may get red and swollen. They may paw at one eye too much. If they have an infection in their lungs, they will probably sneeze and cough!
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