Cats have been celebrated in culture, worshipped as heavenly gods, and feared as demons from hell. This is very likely because of the intimidating power of expression cats communicate through their eyes. Their gazes can hypnotically enchant us, or unnerve and terrify humans in a way not many other animals can. Read below to learn about cat eyes and the meaning of their expressions.

Eye shapes: Cats generally have three different shapes of eyes depending on the breed. For example, there oriental based cats often have almond-shaped eyes that are set off to the sides of the head, and have a minor upward slant to them. Persian cat, Exotic shorthairs, (among other breeds like Bengal cats, or Scottish Folds) and are known for having large round eyes. However, the most common of eye shapes in cats are the oval eyes as found in Maine Coons and Ragdolls, etc.

Eye communication:

  • Pupils: Cat pupils dilate generally to absorb more light, but dilation is also is an indication of what mood your cat is in. Usually when the pupils dilate at night, it is because it is dark outside and he is trying to absorb as much light as possible to be able to see clearly. If the pupils are fully dilated in bright daytime, he may either be in panic mode, in physical pain, or preparing to fight or flee. If your cat’s eyes are dilated as such in the day, use caution in your movements, and be careful not to do anything sudden that might seem like a threat to your kitty. Slit-like pupils: Similar to pupil dilating, the slit-shaped pupil is a cat’s natural defense against burning his eyes, or taking too much light in. Therefore it is quite common to see a cat with smaller pupils out on a sunny day.
  • Semi-closed/Fluttering eyes: The fluttering of eyelids usually reflects fatigue in your cat, and shows that he is relaxed or ambivalent to his surroundings. Squinting eyes is a sign of distinct contentment and carefree rest, since your cat is in what he feels to be a safe environment, and is evidently not on the alert. Some regard this as their cat’s “smiling face” when his eyes are little upward-pointing lines of happiness. The semi-closed, squinted, fluttering eyes indicate that the kitty is off his guard and is inclined to doze off, or launch into a full-fledged cat nap.
  • Winking: Some believe that winking is a subconscious reaction in cats that has no reflection on the animal’s emotion or state of being. However, others believe that winking is a sign of trust, security and confidence that cats only seem to communicate with their owners on occasion. When a cat is worried or feels threatened, he eyes are wide and engaged, as opposed to relaxed and winking which he does when in a secure and peaceful zone.

Staring contest: Unswerving eye contact occurs often between cats and humans. Cats lock eyes to engage in battle of “who will look away first” or to challenge an opponent.   Staring is a way cats “read” if someone is a threat or enemy, or asses how willing the person may be to back down. Intense eye contact between animals might build to hissing/howling and even scratching/biting and other physical attacks. Or it could serve as a territorial warning system between creatures.   Whoever seems the more determined of the two establishes dominance and is deemed the winner. With humans, the cat can see that you are a much larger creature than he, but the age-old instinct that eye contact suggests a challenge runs deep in your feline’s blood. This is why cats will relentlessly hold eye contact with their humans until one of you looks away. If you are trying to institute yourself as the leader or authority in the home, don’t give into eye contact intimidation from your cat. Hold your ground!