Do All Cats Have Eyelids?

Most pet owners take for granted that their cat’s eyes open and close. But did you know there are actually myths surrounding whether all cats have eyelids? Some people mistakenly think that certain cats lack these important structures that protect the eyes.

Eyelids are folds of skin that cover the eye. They play a critical role in keeping the eyes moist and protecting them from injury. When closed, they help spread tears and block out light for sleeping. When open, they allow cats to see their surroundings.

It turns out that all cats do have eyelids, despite rumors to the contrary. Understanding feline eyelids is key to monitoring your cat’s eye health.

Anatomy of Cat Eyelids

Cats have an upper and lower eyelid that protect and cover the eye (1). The eyelids contain muscles that allow cats to blink and close their eyes (1).

Inside each of a cat’s upper eyelids is a third eyelid called the nictitating membrane or third eyelid (1). This membrane helps protect and keep the eye moist (1).

Eyelids contain glands along their edge that produce oils and tears to lubricate the eye (1). Eyelashes and the eye furrow near the edge of the lids help prevent dust and debris from getting into the eye (1).

The eyelids and associated muscles allow cats to blink and close their eyes to protect them, distribute tears, and keep the surface of the eye moist (1). Rapid blinking or partial closing of one or both eyelids helps distribute tears over the eye surface (1).

All Domestic Cats Have Eyelids

All domestic cat species have upper and lower eyelids. Domestic cats include popular breeds like Siamese, Persian, Abyssinian, and tabby cats. These felines have two sets of eyelids—an upper and lower eyelid for each eye—just like humans do. The upper and lower eyelids protect the eye and help keep it moist. When a cat blinks, the upper and lower eyelids slide over the surface of the eye to lubricate it with tears and remove any dust or debris.

Both the upper and lower eyelids have lashes. The upper eyelid usually has longer eyelashes. The lashes help keep dust and particles out of the cat’s eyes. Cats don’t have eyelashes on the lower lid like humans do. Instead, they have a row of whiskers on the upper lid near the base of the lashes. These help the cat sense when something is touching its eye area.

All domestic cat breeds go through rapid eye development as kittens. Their eyes open between 7-14 days after birth. At first, their vision is blurry. But by 2 weeks old, kittens have full sight and use their eyelids regularly to keep their eyes clean and moist.

Big Cats Also Have Eyelids

Like their domesticated cousins, big cats such as lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars also have eyelids. Their eyelid anatomy contains the same basic structures, including the upper and lower eyelids, eyelashes, conjunctiva, and tear ducts.

In big cats, the upper eyelid is larger and more mobile than the lower eyelid. It contains a cartilage plate that provides support and allows the animal to open and close its eyes. The lower eyelid is relatively small and stable by comparison.

The upper and lower eyelids work together to protect the sensitive cornea and keep it moist. When closed, the eyelids meet edge-to-edge to shield the eyes. Big cats also have a third eyelid, called a nictitating membrane, that sweeps horizontally across the eye to moisten and clean the surface.

Eyelashes on the upper lid help keep debris out of the eyes. Tear ducts in the inner corners secrete fluid to lubricate and wash away foreign particles. The eyelids of big cats contain the same essential features for protecting their vision and keeping the eyes healthy.

Blinking and Winking

Cats use their eyelids to blink and wink. Blinking is the rapid closing and opening of the eyelids. Cats will blink to moisten and protect their eyes. The blink helps spread tears across the surface of the eye to keep it lubricated. Cats blink much slower than humans, averaging around 10-20 times per minute versus our 15-20 times per minute (Source).

Cats also use slower, prolonged blinking of their eyelids to communicate positive emotions. This is sometimes referred to as a “cat kiss” or slow blinking. It signals contentment, calmness, trust and affection. Slow blinking is thought to be a way cats can bond and show affection, both with other cats and their human companions (Source). When a cat slowly blinks at you, it’s showing you friendship and love.

Winking is the closure of just one eye. It may sometimes look like a blink, but only involves one eye. Winking doesn’t seem to carry any particular meaning for cats, and is likely just the closure of one eye during the normal blinking process.

Protecting the Eyes

Eyelids play a crucial protective role for a cat’s eyes. Cats have three eyelids – an upper and lower eyelid like humans, as well as a third eyelid called the nictitating membrane or haw that sits in the inner corner of the eye. These eyelids work together to keep the eyes moist and protected.

When a cat blinks, the upper and lower lids distribute tears across the surface of the eye. Blinking helps maintain moisture on the cornea and conjunctiva. The nictitating membrane also sweeps across the eye when needed to remove debris and spread lubricating tears (Merckvetmanual).

Eyelids act as a physical barrier to protect the eyes from dust, dirt, and foreign objects. They help block UV radiation as well. When cats sleep, the eyelids fully close to protect the eyes. Rapid blinking offers protection against eye irritants. By keeping the eyes lubricated and shielded, eyelids help prevent conditions like conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers, and eye infections.

Cleaning the Eyes

Cats rely on their eyelids and tears to keep their eyes clean and healthy. Tears contain enzymes and antibacterial properties that flush away dirt and debris. With each blink, a cat’s eyelids spread tears across the surface of the eyeball and cornea to wash away dust and other irritants.

Cats also have a third eyelid located in the inner corner of each eye. This eyelid, called the nictitating membrane, sweeps horizontally across the eye to remove excess mucus and foreign particles. It provides an extra layer of protection and lubrication for the eye.

Tear production is stimulated by blinks and facial expressions. If a cat’s eyes become irritated by dust or allergens, it will blink more frequently to wash away the irritation. Cats may also paw at their eyes or rub against objects to stimulate tear production.

While eyelids and tears keep cat eyes relatively clean, some debris and discharge can accumulate, especially in the corners. Cat owners can use a soft, damp cloth to gently wipe the area around a cat’s eyes every few days. This helps remove any excess buildup. Consulting a vet is advised if signs of eye infection develop.

With proper eyelid function and tear production, cats are well-equipped to keep their eyes clear and comfortable.

Signs of Eyelid Problems

There are several symptoms that may indicate a cat is experiencing an issue with their eyelids. Some of the most common signs include:

  • Excessive blinking or squinting
  • Redness or swelling of the eyelid
  • Discharge or crusting around the eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Pawing at the eye
  • Tear staining on the face
  • Abnormal position of the eyelids or third eyelid

These symptoms can be associated with conditions like conjunctivitis, blepharitis, eyelid tumors, eyelid lacerations, and eye infections. Blepharitis, which is inflammation of the eyelid, often causes redness, swelling, and itchiness. Conjunctivitis leads to discharge, redness, and discomfort. Tumors may cause bulging of the eyelid. Lacerations from scratches can make eyelids droop. It’s important to have a veterinarian assess any eyelid abnormalities to diagnose and treat the underlying cause.

Caring for Cat Eyelids

Keeping your cat’s eyelids healthy is an important part of caring for their overall eye health. Here are some tips for keeping your cat’s eyelids in good condition:

  • Gently wipe any eye discharge from the eyelids daily with a soft, damp cloth. Be very gentle and do not scrub.
  • Check for signs of irritation, redness, or swelling. Healthy eyelids should be pink and free of irritation.
  • Trim eyelashes gently if they are scratching the eye. Use blunt, sterilized scissors and be very careful.
  • Use sterile eye wash to flush the eye if debris is stuck under the eyelids. Do not force eyelids open.
  • Keep the face clean. Gently wipe away any dried discharge daily.
  • Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke, which can irritate eyelids.

Contact your veterinarian if you notice any abnormalities with your cat’s eyelids such as swelling, redness, irritation, crusty discharge, or growths. Eye problems should be examined and treated by a vet as soon as possible. Leaving eye issues untreated can lead to eye damage or loss of vision. With proper care and attention, your cat’s eyelids can remain healthy.

For more information, see this veterinary resource: https://www.ahofstatesville.com/services/cats/eye-care

Conclusion

In summary, all domestic cats as well as large wild cats have eyelids. Eyelids serve the important functions of blinking to moisten the eyes, protecting the eyes from debris and harm, and allowing cats to show facial expressions.

A cat’s eyelids consist of an upper and lower eyelid, as well as a third inner eyelid called the nictitating membrane. These eyelids work together to keep a cat’s eyes healthy and comfortable. Issues with the eyelids like swelling or the third eyelid consistently showing can indicate an eye problem, so it’s important for cat owners to monitor their cat’s eyelids. With proper care and attention, a cat’s eyelids can help support excellent lifelong eye health.

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