Cat Eyes - What Do They Say? - Cat Info Detective

Cat Eyes – What Do They Say?

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Greetings feline friends! Skye Blake here with a fun, fascinating topic for you… cat eyes!

Yes, those endearing pools of loveliness that capture your heart and make you fall in love with us!

Have you ever wondered what each cat “look” means?

paw prints coming in from a distance

What’s the difference between a cat’s “stare” and the “slow blink”?

Let’s take a closer look…

The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.

Who Is Skye Blake?

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a vet) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you! 

Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page. 

All sources are at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping. 

What Are Cats Saying With Their Eyes?

mysterious black cat face with glowing orange eyes

A friend asked recently how to tell whether cats are staring or just looking at each other.

That got me thinking about what we felines are communicating through certain looks.

If you haven’t noticed, you should, because it’ll give you the power to prevent problems and can even save your cat’s life!

Eyes + Body Language

tabby, white cat by activity toy

Just like people, we felines communicate clearly through our bodies.

This includes eyes, ears, whiskers, face, tail, posture, and, yes, even vocalizing.

We don’t speak human languages, though, so it’s important for people to learn to speak “cat”.

cat lying on side clawing couch, sofa

Cat language encompasses the whole body, not just eyes.

You can see if your cat is happy, in pain, focused, afraid, or angry by reading the combination of body signals.

Let’s look at what cats say with their eyes…

The Resting Glance

tabby cat with one eye closed

When a cat glances at you for a moment while in a resting or relaxed state, it shows he’s unthreatened by you or his environment.

He’s saying…

“Just checking… I see you’re not a threat and can pay attention to something more interesting… or go back to sleep.”

dark tabby relaxed, slow blink

The “slow blink” is when a cat’s eyes halfway close and open again, signaling “I trust you, and see you as a friend”.

The “slow blink” is known as the cat “I love you”.

The Judging Eyes

Oriental shorthair tabby coat cat, large ears

A confident cat sitting upright simply watching you is assessing whether you’re friend, enemy, prey, or simply boring.

People think a cat with this look is judging them “guilty as charged”.

This projection usually happens when people feel guilty for not feeding on time or neglecting to clean litter boxes.

Inquisitive Eyes

ginger, orange, white kitten on step with head cocked to side curiously

We kitties are very curious and have a distinctive way of showing our inquisitiveness.

Typically, when something piques our curiosity, we watch and tilt our heads back and forth.

From there, if that something acts like prey, we go on alert and the eyes become focused… hunting mode!

If not, we relax and either focus on something else or go to sleep.

Fear & Insecurity

a white cat sitting with a black, white cat

Did you know cats prefer to avoid fights most of the time?

Yes, we send out signals with body language that other cats (and people) can read, hoping to avoid direct confrontation.

Startled Wide Eyes

Close up of Russian Blue cat face with gold eyes

When a sudden noise or movement happens, a cat has to quickly determine whether or not there’s a threat.

Anyone or anything new will put a cat on alert.

fearful cat hiding

There’s a moment of insecurity as the cat assesses the situation with eyes wide open and pupils dilating.

This alert look will be accompanied by a tense body… preparing to defend herself and her territory.

Dilated Pupils

cat playing, wild eyed

When pupils dilate, they let in more information about a cat’s surroundings, making it easier to determine if it’s safe or threatening.

Once the need for alarm passes, the pupils should constrict, depending on the amount of light in the area.

light blue cat eye

If your cat’s pupils remain dilated even after calming down, there could be a medical problem.

This is especially true if only one eye is dilated. If in doubt, have a vet examine him to be sure.

Looking Away

tabbies sitting together, one looking away

A cat who glances and looks away is nervous… unsure of his surroundings and you.

“You’re a possible threat and I must prepare to defend myself if I can’t run away.”

This is important to read properly and either back off or get the dog, cat, or other scary thing safely away.

two tabbies meeting - one challenging, the other looking away

Cats are often under stress in multiple animal homes in ways that people don’t realize.

That initial nervousness can turn into a need to hide or defend territory and attack.

It’s important to read the signals each cat or dog gives the others, even the subtle ones.

This allows you to create a happy, calm home for everyone… preventing trouble before it escalates into behavior problems.

The Grimace

white sick kitty, pain

The “cat grimace” is when the eyes are at half-mast or completely closed.

It might be mistaken for a relaxed or slow blink but there’s an important difference.

The grimace is always accompanied by…

sleepy or sick fat cat
  • a huddled body (a version of “the loaf”)
  • tense muzzle
  • head forward and down
  • whiskers facing forward
sick tabby, white cat, grimace

A sick or hurt cat will have a facial grimace and huddled body… the more pain the cat is in the more pronounced the grimace.

We felines hide pain well as a survival mechanism so it’s important for people to read the signs.

Learn how to use the Feline Grimace Scale that vets use to gauge a cat’s pain level.

Staring Eyes

Focused Stare

tabby  looking alert - fleas

The unblinking focused stare in a crouched posture is intense concentration.

This allows a cat to identify and gear up to pounce on potential prey.

hunting tabby

This stare is at the beginning of the hunting sequence, progressing to butt wiggling, then a pounce.

It’s the same sequence when playing with toys as with real prey… as long as the toy “acts” like prey.

Challenge Stare

grey cat sitting staring

The “unblinking stare” is when a cat is motionless, watching with dilating eyes without blinking.

The cat’s body is tense and “frozen”, ready to challenge you to a duel!

“You are an enemy, and I will fight you to the death if necessary!”

tabby, white cat, angry, ears back, irritated

This stare is very intimidating, even to people, and should never be ignored.

This cat is dead set on making you go away and stay away!

The challenge stare is always part of making his entire body as intimidating as possible.

angry ginger, orange tabby cat

This can include body postures, raised fur, flattened ears, growling, and caterwauling noises.

Sometimes the object of his wrath can slowly slink away, poised to defend itself if necessary.

But if not, a cat trapped in a corner with no escape routes will fight for its life.

2 cats preparing to fight

This most often happens with intact tomcats fighting for territory and females, but it can also happen in homes where people don’t speak “cat”.

They miss the warning signs and don’t diffuse the situation before it leads to a fight.

Distracting the would-be attacker is key to defusing the situation safely as quickly as possible.

angry cats, fighting

If you can’t break the stare with distraction like toys or treats, put a sight barrier between the cat and his intended victim.

A cat may try to get around the barrier so it’s best to remove the potential victim completely from the area.

Experts recommend using something stiff like a large piece of cardboard to break that focus without getting your hands or other body parts in the middle.

cat claws closeup on arm

Blankets or towels will not work… the cat will charge right through it!

This is important because you’re dealing with a dangerous situation… never try to pick up a tense or angry cat!

Discover more at “How to Stop Cat Fights“.

Conclusion

Green cat eye

The important thing to remember when trying to understand what a cat’s eyes are saying is to read all the signals together… body, tail, whiskers, mouth, ears, and eyes.

After all, we felines are an entire package of mystery!

Discover more at “Cat Behavior…Is My Cat Nuts??

Is your cat having eye problems? Learn all about cat eyes and their problems at “Eye Problems In Cats“.


Sources

Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.

Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.

Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.

However, sometimes they refer to primary sources.

When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.

List of Sources

“CatWise”, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2016, pp. 49-50, 55-56, 59

“Decoding Your Cat”, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, edited by Meghan E. Herron, DVM, DACVB, Debra F. Horwitz DVM, DACVB, Carlo Siracusa DVM, PhD, DACVB, DECAWBM, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., New York, NY, 2020, www.hmhbooks.com, pp. 9, 97-98, 176-77

“Total Cat Mojo”, by Jackson Galaxy with Mikel Delgado, PhD, Tarcher Perigree, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2017, p.47

“What Your Cat Wants”, by Francesca Riccomini, Thunder Bay Press, Octopus Publishing Group, San Diego, CA, 2012, pp. 32-33

Updated April 1, 2024

Scroll to Top