Skip to Content

What do cat eyes mean in mood?

Cats use their eyes to communicate a wide range of emotions and messages. The position and movement of a cat’s ears, the dilation of its pupils, the position of its whiskers, and many other factors all contribute to the overall meaning being conveyed. Here’s a guide to understanding some common cat eye expressions and what they mean about your cat’s mood and thoughts.

Relaxed eyes

When a cat is feeling relaxed and content, its eyes will appear soft and half-closed, with its upper eyelids drooping slightly. The eyes may blink slowly and sleepily, or even close for longer naps. A relaxed cat feels safe, calm, and free of stress. It may lay stretched out, yawn, or knead its paws. Relaxed eyes indicate your cat is happy and unbothered.

Wide open, staring eyes

If your cat’s eyes are wide open and staring, this signals high alertness, interest, and intensity. The eyes are taking in as much visual information as possible. A cat may stare at something that catches its attention, like a toy, prey animal or bird outside, or you when you walk in the room. Staring conveys focus, curiosity, and concentration. It can also signify nervous tension or defensive aggression if accompanied by other signals like flattened ears.

Constricted pupils

When a cat’s pupils (the black slit or circle in the center of the eye) contract into narrow slits, this indicates that the cat feels threatened or overstimulated. Narrow pupils help filter bright light and enhance the cat’s focus. A scared or nervous cat may have slit pupils, flattened ears, and arched back as it confronts a perceived danger. Overstimulation, excitement, aggression, fear, and defensiveness can all make the pupils constrict.

Dilated pupils

Pupils that are very large and dilated usually signify positive interest, pleasure, and excitement. The enlarged pupils allow more light in so the cat can see better in darker conditions. An eager, friendly cat greeting its owner will likely have dilated eyes. When playing, hunting, exploring, startled, or mating, cats often have dilated pupils to visually take in more of their surroundings. Large pupils don’t always mean happiness though – they also help cats see better when feeling fearful or defensive.

Slow blinking

When a cat slowly closes and opens its eyes once or repeatedly, this communicates affection and calmness. Slow blinking shows your cat feels safe and trusts you. It is a cat “kiss” indicating friendship and love. Give your cat slow blinks in return to convey mutual trust and positive feelings. Rapid blinking of the eyes can signify stress or uncertainty instead.

Direct eye contact

A long, unwavering stare directly into your eyes is a sign of interest, affection, and trust from your cat. Direct eye contact demonstrates that the cat feels comfortable with you and invested in interaction. However, for cats, direct staring can also be a threat or challenge, especially between unfamiliar cats. Consider your cat’s body language – if its eyes are relaxed, it’s likely showing friendly interest. If its body appears tense or aggressive, the stare may be a threat display.

Eyes shining in the dark

When light shines into a cat’s eyes at night, the eyes seem to glow brightly. This is caused by the reflective layer at the back of the eye, called the tapetum lucidum, which helps cats see better in darkness. The color varies based on the cat’s genetics. Shining eyes help cats hunt and navigate at night. If you see blazing eyes shining in the shadows, it’s likely your nocturnal feline on the prowl.

“Slow eyes” blinking

Some cats have eyelids that droop or close partially over the eyes, making them appear constantly sleepy and half-closed. This is a condition called Horner’s syndrome caused by damage to nerves that control the eyelids. It may indicate an underlying medical issue like ear infections, eye injury, or nerve damage in the chest. “Slow eyes” is not a behavioral signal but a potential health condition to have checked by your vet.

Averted eyes

When your cat turns its head or glances away to avoid direct eye contact, this communicates discomfort and lack of confidence. Avoiding eye contact demonstrates that the cat feels threatened or insecure in the situation. An anxious, timid cat may avert its gaze and turn the ears sideways or back. However, brief breaks in eye contact during slow blinking or greeting behaviors are normal and communicate friendship.

Rubbing eyes and squinting

If your cat is rubbing its eyes excessively or squinting, this often signals irritation, discomfort, or pain in the eye. Eye rubbing and squinting should prompt an examination for potential health issues like eye infections, ingrown eyelashes, foreign bodies, scratched corneas, glaucoma, and other ocular problems that may require veterinary attention.

Uneven eye sizes

You may notice one of your cat’s eyes appears more closed and smaller than the other. This asymmetric appearance can indicate a condition called Horner’s syndrome, which impairs nerves that control the eyelids and pupils. It’s often a sign of inner ear infections and eardrum damage in cats. Uneven pupil sizes may also be present. See your vet promptly if your cat’s eyes appear uneven.

Eyes not lining up

Normally a cat’s eyes move together in unison. If they do not align properly, this is called strabismus and may indicate vision problems or nerve damage. The eye may turn inwards, outwards, upwards, or downwards while the other eye looks straight ahead. Strabismus generally requires veterinary care. The earlier treatment begins, the better the chance of preserving vision.

Clouding in the eyes

A cat’s eyes should be completely clear. Any cloudiness or bluish-gray haze in the lens indicates the development of cataracts. Cataract opacity obstructs light from entering the eye, causing blurred vision and eventual blindness if left untreated. Surgery to remove cataracts may be an option to restore a cat’s vision. Contact your vet at the first signs of clouding in one or both eyes.

Red or bloodshot eyes

Red, bloodshot eyes accompanied by discharge often signals conjunctivitis, an infection or inflammation of the mucous membranes around the eyes. Conjunctivitis causes irritation and itchiness. The eyes may water excessively, narrowing the cat’s vision. Other potential causes of red eyes include eye injuries, glaucoma, corneal ulcers, ingrown eyelashes, and allergies. Red eyes warrant a veterinary visit.

Yellow eyes

Some cats naturally have yellow-colored eyes due to their genetics. However, an abrupt change from normal eye color to yellow may indicate jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin and eyes. Jaundice results when the liver isn’t properly processing and removing waste from the bloodstream. Several conditions can cause jaundice like liver disease, cancers, and infections. Consult your vet about any yellowing in your cat’s eyes.

Third eyelid showing

At the inner corners of a cat’s eyes, you may notice a pale pink membrane slide horizontally over part of the eye. This third eyelid helps protect and moisten the eye. If it is frequently visible, the cat may have an eye problem causing irritation or pain. Conditions like conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers, dry eye, ingrown lashes, and glaucoma can cause the third eyelid to protrude more often.

Crusty eyes

Thick, yellowish-green discharge and crust accumulating in the corners of the eyes often indicates conjunctivitis. This contagious eye infection causes redness and irritation. Other causes of eye discharge include corneal ulcers, dry eye, blocked tear ducts, ingrown eyelashes, and allergic reactions. Any crusty buildup around the eyes warrants seeing your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.


Cats rely heavily on their expressive eyes to share information about their mood, thoughts, and well-being. By learning to interpret key eye signals like pupil dilation, slow blinking, staring, squinting, and more, you can better understand your cat’s perspective and needs. Familiarize yourself with your cat’s normal eye appearances so you can detect any abnormal changes that may signal health issues requiring veterinary attention. With increased understanding between you, the bond with your cat will only continue to grow.

Cat Eye Expression What It Means
Relaxed, half-closed eyes Content, calm, comfortable
Staring High alertness and interest
Constricted pupils Fearful, aggressive, defensive
Dilated pupils Excited, curious, playful
Slow blinking Affectionate, trusting
Direct eye contact Interested, affectionate or threatening
Averted eyes Insecure, anxious, uncomfortable
Uneven eyes Possible Horner’s syndrome
Squinting, rubbing eyes Eye pain or irritation
Cloudy eyes Cataracts
Red eyes Conjunctivitis, injury, other eye conditions
Yellow eyes Potential jaundice
Third eyelid showing Eye irritation or disease
Crusty eyes Conjunctivitis