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Cat Eye Meaning: Your Cat’s Pupils And Pupil Dilation

What Changes in Cats’ Pupils Can Tell You

Cat eyes and pupils meaningYour cat probably won’t be giving too much information away with their facial expressions, but there are some other observations you can make if you want to understand what your kitty is feeling.

When trying to understand your cat, a great starting point is their eyes and pupils. There are very obvious changes to pupil dilation that can tell us quite a bit about what’s on the cat’s mind.

Obviously, cats use their eyes to see - the pupil controls how much light is allowed to reach the retina - so similar to our eyes, a cat’s pupils will contract in bright light and dilate in low light situations. You might notice your cats’ pupils dilate to cover almost all of their eye – this allows them to see in close-to complete darkness.

As well as being a useful accessory to vision, the size of a cat’s pupils can also indicate what they’re feeling.

The meaning of small or slit pupils

If your cat’s pupils are contracted into a very slim vertical slit, it’s likely they are feeling one of the following;

  • Agitated
  • Angry
  • Observing
It can be difficult to tell what these eyes mean sometimes and lots of bright light can cause slit eyes regardless of your kitty's mood.

Your cat might be concentrating, in stalker/hunting mode or just feeling a bit grumpy. This might also be caused by another animal nearby or maybe you’ve just told your kitty off for doing something bad. Or they might just be looking around and keeping a watch on things.

Slit eyes will make cats able to focus on a target and increases the accuracy of their depth perception, which is very useful for hunting and pouncing.

Consider your cat’s posture and what is going on around them, if they're relaxing on a chair or eyes partially closed, they're likely in a good mood. Whereas, if they are looking tense with ears slightly back and tail waving they might be agitated.

If you see these pupils with eyes wide open, ears slightly back and/or tail a waving or flicking, think twice before startling your kitty or trying to pick them up!

The meaning of wide, dilated pupils

At the other extreme, your cat’s eyes might be close to fully consumed by their dilated pupils, this can mean a couple things too;

  • Excited
  • Scared

As these are completely different emotions you should look for some other body language before trying to play if they have these eyes - startling your cat when they are anxious you might scare them even more. Sometimes cats can give this look when they’re feeling guilty or have just been cheeky.

Again, consider your cat’s posture and what is going on around them, if they are backed into a corner with wide eyes and dilated pupils, you should try not to intimidate them further. On the other hand, if you’ve just brought out a toy, treat or meal and their pupils expand they’re probably showing some anticipation and excitement.

The meaning of almond-shaped pupils

If your cat's eyes are anywhere in between the two extremes, they're likely feelin' fine - when they have almond-shaped pupils, your cat is probably feeling happy, relaxed and contented. Have they just woken up from a snooze? Or they might be roaming around the house looking for someone to cuddle up with.

If your kitty is looking at you with almond pupils and slowly blinking, squinting or partially closing one or both eyes, they’re showing you how much they appreciate and love you. Reciprocate the expression to keep building the relationship with your cat.

Changing pupil sizes

Cats can change their attitude very quickly – you’ve probably watched as your cat’s pupils grow from almond to fully dilated circles when you’re playing or getting them excited. Paying attention to these and other body language cues can tell you when your cat wants some attention or to play some games. For example, if they get the chasing look (slightly rigid body with dilated pupils and careful movements) try using a wand toy and play some stalking and pouncing games.

Also, keep in mind that the amount of light in the room can have a big effect on pupil size, lots of light will cause pupils to contract and the darker it is, the more they will dilate.

Staring cats

Cats like to watch over and observe things, so you’ve probably caught your cat staring at you or others in your family before. This can also mean a couple very different things;

  • Watching you calmly – this is a sign of affection similar to almond-shaped pupils, your cat might be slowly blinking or winking as well.
  • Holding eye contact or staring you down – this can be more sinister, felines use staring to determine dominance, if your cat stares at you they may be feeling threatened or trying to intimidate you (all cats love to be the boss of the household). To make your cat feel comfortable you can break the staring contest by looking away this will reduce the anxiety your cat is feeling.
  • Breaking eye contact – if your cat starts staring then breaks eye contact it shows they are comfortable around you and are content with the situation.

Anisocoria or different sized pupils

You might notice some cats have one large and one small pupil, it’s not your cat making up or changing their mind, but might be a symptom of a medical problem known as anisocoria.

Anisocoria can be caused by a range of health problems and some are serious emergencies – if you notice this happening to your cat you should get in touch with a vet immediately as it could result in permanent damage to your cat’s vision.

Some conditions that can result in anisocoria include;

  • Brain injury after trauma or impact (falling or being hit by a vehicle)
  • Injury or physical damage to the eye or facial nerves
  • Glaucoma or retinal diseases
  • Cancer or feline leukemia

You can also check for other symptoms such as cloudy eyes, discharge or droopy/non-responsive eyelids. Your vet will be able to diagnose and treat most problems if caught quickly, but if not, it could result in permanent blindness.

Cat’s eyes and pupils can be a window to their thoughts – understanding what your cat is trying to say to you with their eyes can be a valuable relationship-building tool to increase the bond you share.

Have you noticed any specific behaviour that ties in with any of the different pupil sizes your kitty has?

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