Cats are intelligent animals that communicate in various ways, not limited to ear and tail positions. When a cat’s eyes are closed, they’re usually at their most comfortable and relaxed.
Cats stay on high alert to flee from predators, so closed eyes indicate that your cat feels safe. In addition, cats close their eyes while sleeping, even when they’re alert to what’s happening around them. So, cats will shut their eyes while grooming themselves and being petted by owners because they enjoy the experience.
However, closed eyes also indicate an eye injury, infection, or respiratory infection. If you’re curious about the most common reasons why cats shut their eyes, this guide explains everything you need to know.
Why Do Cats Close Their Eyes When Sleeping?
Cats sleep for 12-16 hours and fall asleep really fast. As they’re most active at night, they sleep throughout the day to conserve their energy, which gets them ready for a night of prowling and hunting.
Cats close their eyes when sleeping because it provides them with the darkness they need to sleep when it’s light during the day. Some cats hide under beds to find dark conditions, but felines that enjoy being around their owners will cover their eyes with their legs.
Cats also go through two main stages of sleep. The first is rapid eye movement (REM). According to the US National Library of Medicine, rapid-eye movements are accompanied by muscle tone loss, muscle twitches, and wake-like cortical activity.
During this stage of sleep, a cat’s brain mirrors its activity when awake. However, it’s also when cats are most likely to dream. As a result, cats close their eyes during this stage because their muscles are too relaxed to keep them open.
The other sleep stage is non-REM (NREM). This is a cat’s deepest stage of sleep, allowing it to repair and rebuild its body after a night of roaming and hunting.
Cats in NREM are vulnerable. In the wild, this is when predators are most likely to attack. In the home, cats will tuck themselves into a secure hiding spot safe from home. Finding cover allows them to stay safe and sleep without fear.
Why Do Cats Close Their Eyes When You Pet Them?
Most cats love being petted by their owners. It feels pleasurable and calms them down. Touching is also a bonding tool between cats and their owners. Cats aren’t naturally trusting animals. Humans have to earn it. As a result, when cats close their eyes while being petted, it’s because they trust you.
Cats prefer to remain on high alert, keeping their eyes open and instincts sharp. This is so that they can flee danger. When they close their eyes, they understand that you pose no risk and mean then no harm.
According to Live Science, cats enjoy the feeling around the base of their ears, under the chin, and around their cheeks. This is where their sensitive facial glands are located. When cats enjoy their petting session, they’ll close their eyes and display the following signs:
- Upright tail
- Kneading with front paws
- Relaxed posture
- Ears facing forward
- Nudging with their head
However, be warned that cats don’t always enjoy being petted around their tummy, back, and base of their tail. Signs of distress from petting include:
- Swishing tail
- Ears flattening to the side
- Ears rotating backward
- Twitching skin
- A sudden turn of the head
- Exaggerated blinking
- Nose licking
- Bating or swiping with their paw
- Wide eyes and pupils
If you notice any of the above signs, try petting a different spot on your cat’s body and avoid these sensitive areas.
Why Do Cats Close Their Eyes When They Eat?
When cats eat, they’re in a relaxed state and close their eyes because they’re enjoying their meal. This is also true when they eat their favorite treats. The tastier and more flavorsome they are, the more likely cats are to close their eyes.
Cats also close their eyes to protect themselves while they eat. While wet food or dry kibble is unlikely to make too much of a mess, wild cats tear the meat off the bone using their razor-sharp teeth.
As a result, there’s the risk that meat and bone debris could fly into their eyes, hurting them and affecting their function.
Similarly, flies are a problem in warm regions. They’re attracted to dead flesh and will take every opportunity to feed off it. To stop flies from getting into their eyes, cats close them.
On a slightly different note, kittens close their eyes to feed off their mother. This is because they haven’t opened fully. After 8-12 days, their eyes begin to open naturally, and they start to see.
Why Do Cats Close Their Eyes When They Sit?
Cats close their eyes when they sit down because they’re in a state of relaxation. Felines that are comfortable around their owners’ presence are happy to relax with their eyes closed, as they know they’re safe.
They’re also likely to be in the slow-wave sleep (SWS), which is the shallowest form of rest. This sleep stage usually precedes the rapid eye movement stage of sleep, which is much deeper.
However, these sleep stages are essential for preserving the copious amounts of energy cats need to hunt, play, and roam.
During slow-wave sleep, cats lie with their heads raised and paws tucked in. They’ll also sometimes sleep sitting up, with their muscles stiffening up to keep them upright and rigid.
While cats look as if they’re in a deep sleep with their eyes closed, they’re fully aware of what’s going on around them. As a result, you’ll see their ears rotate backward and forward as they home in on the environmental sounds.
This alertness allows them to pounce or flee whenever they need to react to danger. Cats exhibit this sleep behavior multiple times throughout the day, especially when it’s cold and rainy outside and there’s nothing else to do.
Why Do Cats Close Their Eyes When You Talk To Them?
Many cats exhibit a slow blink when their owners talk to them. Both the squint and slow blink is a form of communication.
Cats can’t understand their owners’ sounds, but they know that their owners are talking to them, especially when they maintain eye contact.
A study by Scientific Reports has found that the eyes are essential in signaling emotions in human-to-cat communication. The narrowing of the eyes is associated with positive emotional responses.
When humans slow blink alongside high-pitched sounds, cats repeat the action in response. Eye narrowing movements produce a similar reaction to a genuine human smile.
As a result, this helps build a strong bond with cats who recognize this communication technique and repeat it. While cats aren’t strictly closing their eyes during this form of communication, it looks very similar and can be mistaken for tiredness.
Why Do Cats Close Their Eyes When They Groom?
Cats only groom when it’s safe for them to do so. As a result, they don’t need to be on high alert and are comfortable closing their eyes as they clean themselves.
Cats don’t just groom themselves to clean their fur, but they do it to soothe and comfort themselves. Animal experts believe this is in reaction to threatening or embarrassing situations. It’s a form of self-medication and helps to relieve tension – like a natural form of medication.
This means the grooming process feels nice, and cats close their eyes as a sign of enjoyment.
Similarly, cats close their eyes when grooming their facial area. This is for practical reasons, as it reduces the risk of their claws scratching and cutting their eyes. It also prevents debris from dropping into the eyes as they clean.
However, if your cat closes its eyes as you groom it with a brush or comb, it probably not very happy. Eye-closing is a sign that your cat is trying to get through the uncomfortable process, especially if they’re a long-haired breed with lots of knots and mattes.
This behavior is sometimes followed by a bite or scratch, as the cat attempts to warn its owner to stop.
Are My Cat’s Eyes Closed Due To A Health Problem?
While cats close their eyes for a range of positive reasons, this behavior can also be a sign that something’s wrong. Cats are experts at hiding sickness and illness. In the wild, this keeps them safe from predators.
As a result, paying close attention to your cat’s overall behavior can help you diagnose a potential problem. Your cat could be closing its eyes because of the following issues:
Cats are prone to several eye infections. Injuries cause many of them, but they are also the result of harmful health conditions.
A healthy cat’s eyes should be clear and bright. Discharge or inflammation are both noticeable signs that your cat is suffering from an eye infection. The following eye conditions are painful and cause cats to keep their eyes shut for extended periods:
- Eye ulcers
As eye infections develop and get worse, they make cats unwell. Many animals lose their appetite, leading to unhealthy weight loss. Sight problems are also a likely side-effect. This affects a cat’s safety and wellbeing when roaming outside.
Injuries caused by scratches or foreign bodies are uncomfortable and painful, making it difficult for your cat to keep its eyes open.
Cats that fight with other felines are most likely to get hurt. However, accidents also happen when cats are out and about, particularly when climbing up trees. As a result, they’re at risk of scratches from the thin branches. Other symptoms of an eye injury include:
- Increased blinking
- Yellow discharge
You must treat the injury before it becomes infected. In the worst cases, cats can lose the affected eye.
If your cat closes its eyes and sleeps more often than usual, there’s a chance it’s suffering from lethargy or extreme tiredness.
Lethargy is caused by several health problems and is a common indication that something’s wrong with your cat’s health. The following signs commonly accompany low energy:
- Reduced vocalization
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of interest in playing and going outside
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of lethargy. It can be due to an injury, such as an abscess, or a more serious health condition, such as kidney disease or diabetes.
Upper Respiratory Infection
Cats that suffer from upper respiratory problems will squint and close their eyes more often because their sinuses are close to the eyes. As a result, the eyes become irritated and sore.
Respiratory infections are common in cats. It’s caused by viruses and bacteria and targets the nose, throat, and sinuses. Symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Nasal discharge
- Hoarse voice
- Loss of appetite
You can treat most infections with a course of antibiotics. Affected cats may also need fluids to hydrate them and improve their recovery chances.
Cats are intelligent animals that are capable of communicating a range of emotions. As a result, paying attention to your cat’s overall behavior can help you determine why your cat’s closing its eyes. In most cases, it isn’t something to worry about, but be mindful of health conditions.