Cats Understand When You Slowly Blink at Them, Study Shows

narrowing eyes and blinking slowly is similar to smiling, study shows

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

So-called “slow blinking” at cats makes them more receptive to humans, Science Alert reported. When cats keep their eyes narrow and slowly blink, it means they are content, and is similar to smiling. The cat family Felidae exhibits many shared behaviors.

Two lions cuddling
As people observe big cats of the wild and domesticated cats, it’s clear that all types of cats share traits and behaviors. Photo By Thomas Retterath / Shutterstock

According to Science Alert, people may have finally learned how to “smile” at house cats. “By observing cat-human interactions, scientists were able to confirm that [narrowing your eyes and blinking slowly] makes cats—both familiar and strange—approach and be receptive to humans,” the article said.

“If you’ve spent any time around cats, you’ve probably seen their ‘partially closed eyes’ facial expression, accompanied by slow blinking. It’s similar to how human eyes narrow when smiling, and usually occurs when puss is relaxed and content. The expression is interpreted as a kind of cat smile.”

Moving away from domestic house cats, the rest of the feline family—including lions and cheetahs—exhibits many specific behaviors that give us clues to their personalities.

Whatever’s Lion Around

Lions are known as the kings of the jungle. Although we wouldn’t expect to see them playing with a ball of yarn, they do share some commonalities with their domesticated cousins.

“Lions, like other cats, have relatively short, powerful skulls that are adapted for killing and eating prey, and like other cats, they rely on keen vision and hearing,” said Dr. Donald E. Moore III, Director of the Oregon Zoo and Senior Science Advisor at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

“Their snout is short relative to dog snouts, and this indicates that smell is less important to these species than is vision. Their jaws are still strong; they are known to eat prey ranging in size from hares and rodents to wildebeest and water buffalo—even rhinos and elephants sometimes.”

Lions tend to kill their prey with a suffocating throat bite, but they must be careful while hunting, because a strong kick from a creature like a giraffe or zebra can mortally wound or even kill a lion. Similarly, lions are excellent sprinters, reaching up to 35 miles per hour, but they can only maintain those speeds for up to 200 yards.

Do Not Try to Catch It by Its Toe

Another big cat that shares physical and instinctual traits with house cats is the tiger.

“Tigers are silent, powerful, and agile hunters with powerful paws and claws, strong jaws, and sharp teeth, and Amur tigers are the largest members of the cat family,” Dr. Moore said. “The tiger is the only big cat with striped fur, a camouflage coat that allows it to blend in remarkably well with its forest habitat.

“The Siberian tiger’s large body size and short legs help it retain body heat in its cold climate. The hoofed animals of Siberia are also relatively larger than in other habitats, so large body size helps Amur tigers capture prey.”

Dr. Moore said that both lions and tigers also share social behaviors reminiscent of house cats. They rub their cheeks on one another, a sign of affection through scent marking. They also groom themselves with their tongues and chase their own tails or each other’s.

“And believe it or not, if you give a big cat a big cardboard box, he’ll try to sit in it.”

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

Dr. Donald E. Moore, III, Ph.D.

Dr. Donald E. Moore III contributed to this article. Dr. Moore is Director of the Oregon Zoo and Senior Science Advisor at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management and Zoology and a doctoral degree in Conservation Biology from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.