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Why Does My Cat Wink? Possible Reasons & FAQ


Jun 29, 2023
scotitish fold grey cat winking


scotitish fold grey cat winking

Cats communicate with us in varying ways. They will meow, purr, paw, or rub their bodies against us when seeking our attention or displaying affection. However, some people tend to ignore one form of feline communication, probably because it is subtle: eye talk.

You can learn much about your kitty’s emotional state by looking at the eyes and a cat wink is one of the rarest forms of cat-eye communication. You have probably seen your cat do it once or twice and wondered what it meant. You are not alone.

In this article, we explore potential reasons your cat might be winking.


The Differences Between Winking and Blinking

Winking is closing one eye momentarily, then reopening it. Humans do it when being coy or sharing an inside secret. It would be cool if felines winked at us for the same reasons. But that is not the case, as you will see below.

Blinking is closing both eyes and reopening them at the same time. For humans, it is usually a rapid involuntary movement that helps keep the eyes lubricated. The action enables the eyelids to spread tears across the cornea’s surface.

Cats don’t depend on eyelids to lubricate their eyes. Instead, they rely on a third eyelid known as the nictitating membrane to spread tears across the cornea. Therefore, felines don’t blink for the same reason we do.

Usually, blinking conveys the same message as winking, as we’ll demonstrate below.

Russian Blue Cat winking
Image Credit: Melissa Sue, Shutterstock


The 7 Reasons Why Your Cat Winks at You

Winking is not a typical behavior for cats. But occasionally, some felines will surprise their owners by winking at them. Cats will wink for two reasons: when communicating with humans or experiencing a health issue.

1. Show of Affection

Cats slowly blink when they feel relaxed. So, if your kitty blinks at you, it could be expressing comfort and affection or seeking more contact. Moreover, the action is a cat’s way of showing you it trusts you since no feline would dare close its eyes when there is a perceived threat.

Although rare, the kitty can also close one eye instead of two. Therefore, a wink can also be a cat’s way of expressing comfort and affection.

Studies have shown that cats and humans respond positively to the slow blink 1. For instance, cats are likely to slow blink in response to their owners’ slow-blink stimuli. Also, people are more likely to adopt cats who reciprocate when humans slowly blink.

2. Debris Stuck in the Eye

Dust or debris can get stuck in the cat’s eye, prompting the kitty to close it while attempting to remove the foreign substance.

The action can be wrongly interpreted as deliberate. But unlike in other instances, the winking here is rapid and often followed up by constant rubbing of the eyes using the paws.

Often the cat manages to remove whatever is stuck in the eye. However, the debris or dust can sometimes damage the cornea, causing swelling and redness. It is advisable to visit a veterinarian in such instances.

White Orange Cat winks at the camera
Image Credit: Dexter Corpuz, Shutterstock

3. Allergies

Cats can be allergic to pollen, mildew, mold, perfume, cleaning products, dust, and cigarette smoke. These can irritate the eyes, causing them to be watery.

A veterinarian can recommend appropriate treatment if watery eyes accompany your furry friend’s winking. Alternatively, you can remove the allergen from the cat’s environment if it’s the cause of the allergic reaction.

4. Sleepiness

Humans often keep one eye open while the other remains closed when fighting sleep. This eye movement could be wrongly interpreted as a wink if cats do it.

Felines spend 70% of their lives sleeping and will take any opportunity to nap 2. So, if one of their eyes closes momentarily, it is highly likely the kitty is feeling tired or sleepy. A cat sleeping in your presence is usually a sign of trust.

Most felines will not risk falling asleep in front of strangers. So, if your cat sleeps beside you, it is evidence the cat feels relaxed, comfortable, and safe enough to nap.

Winking brown cat outdoors on a bright sunny day
Image Credit: Lia Kos, Shutterstock

5. Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is characterized by the inflammation of the conjunctiva, a thin mucous membrane covering the eyeball and lining the inner surface of the eyelids that allows the tears to be distributed across the eye through blinking.

Causes of conjunctivitis include irritants such as dust, allergies, and herpesvirus infection.

Signs include squinting and frequent blinking. But if the condition affects one eye, winking can also be included. Other accompanying signs include swelling and redness. You might also see a discharge, which can be colorless and watery or thick and dark colored.

6. Upper Respiratory Infections

There is a connection between the respiratory system and the eyes. So, it’s not strange that infections in the upper respiratory system can cause eye problems. The reverse is also possible.

A respiratory infection usually affects both eyes, which can result in blinking. However, it is not unusual for one eye to be worse off than the other, causing winking.

Visiting the vet is advisable if you suspect your cat has an upper respiratory infection. You can identify it by accompanying signs such as sneezing and nasal discharge.

Pretty kitten winking with month open
Image Credit: Mayflower GV, Shutterstock

7. Dry Eye

It is also possible your cat is affected by a condition known as Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca, which is also known as dry eye. The disease is characterized by inflammation of the cornea and surrounding tissues due to drying.

Dry eye results from inadequate production of the aqueous part of the tears by the nictitating membrane. Causes include certain medications, diseases like feline herpes, and immune system attacks (often inherited).

Signs include red, painful eyes, often followed by squinting, blinking, winking, or shutting off the eyes.


How Do Cats Communicate With Their Eyes

Besides blinking and winking, cats communicate through their eyes in other ways. Examples include the following.

Fully Open Eyes

A cat with eyes wide open is awake and alert. This state does not usually convey any emotion. But it can signal love and trust, especially when followed by head butting or a cheek rub.

Squinting Eyes

Half-closed eyes usually mean the cat is feeling tired and sleepy. However, it could also mean it is on defense when scared or intimidated. The cat often lies down if exhausted but is usually hunched when on defense.

Unblinking Stare

A cat staring without blinking is usually a show of dominance or aggression. You might see this stare when your kitty looks at a new pet, like a dog. The cat often follows it up with slow, deliberate movements, dilated pupils, and a large bushy tail.

Slit Pupil

Your cat’s pupils can shrink suddenly, getting to the size of tiny silvers. That often means something has caught its attention. It could be your hand, a toy, or potential prey.


Additional Information



Winking is not a typical cat behavior. But it is not unusual for a kitty to wink at its owner for positive or negative reasons. A wink can communicate feelings of affection and comfort . It can also be a sign of love and trust.

You can tell winking is a problem if it seems jerky and irregular. Also, it is usually accompanied by signs that point to a more significant issue. These include redness, swelling, discharge, rubbing or pawing of the eyes, and other behavioral changes.

It is advisable to consult a veterinarian immediately if such signs appear.

Featured Image Credit: 5464316719, Shutterstock

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