Sunday 12 December 2021

Why do cats blink slowly?

Answer: cats slow-blink because they are expressing their emotions at a moment when they feel reassured as they are in an emotionally friendly environment when communicating with their human caregiver. The relaxed state in the cat results in the restful slow blink which humans have interpreted to mean more than it truly does. This is my personal view and I don't expect people to necessarily agree with me. The jury is out to be honest on the slow blink. The information provided is anecdotal and the studies are not conclusive.

Why do cats slow blink?
Why do cats slow blink? Image: MikeB.

This question has been answered a million times on the Internet. But the books on cat behaviour that I have never mention it. It is simply not on the authors' radar. The experts don't write about it in books. It is only discussed by cat owners on the Internet and there are a few studies. However, I think people place too much significance in this aspect of feline behaviour.

We have to answer the question by observation. Like any other cat owner, I have seen my cat slow blink on thousands of occasions. It always occurs when I am speaking to him and when he is opposite me, quite close by and in a settled, restful situation. He is always looking at me while resting when he delivers the slow blink to me.

RELATED - THE MORE CONVENTIONAL VIEW AS PER A STUDY:  Cat slow blink is a signal of friendly intentions

Not a deliberate signal from cat to person

My personal interpretation is that this is not a deliberate signal from your cat to you. In other words, your cat is not trying to tell you something through body language when they slow blink.

It is more likely to be an instinctive response to what is happening. Your cat is receiving body language from you should which signals friendliness. This is supported by your friendly voice. The sounds of your voice indicate friendliness and companionship. The situation engenders a feeling of security and restfulness in your cat.

The cat's instinctive response is to blink slowly and there may also be other signals such as purring and perhaps a quiet meow. I think the slow blink comes from the feeling of security and restfulness that the cat has at that time. These slow blink may be an indicator of sleepiness.

Some cat owners interpret it as a sign that their cat loves them. As it occurs in a situation where both human and cats are interacting in a very friendly and emotionally warm situation it is easy to interpret the slow blink as a signal of love or deep friendship.

But I don't quite see it that way. People sometimes slow blink when they are feeling particularly relaxed and chilled out. I think the same thing happens with cats.

RELATED: Domestic cat slow blink is not a sign of love.


There have been studies on this, I notice. One study called: The role of cat eye narrowing and movements in cat-human communication, concluded that "Our results suggest that slow blink sequences may function as a form of positive emotional communication between cats and humans."

Well, yes, it does but the big question is whether cats deliberately blink to signal a positive communication to their human caregiver. Or are people simply interpreting the slow blink as having that meaning? 

I reiterate, I think the slow blink happens at a time when there is a warm interaction between cat and person and therefore you could say it's a signal that the cat feels relaxed and content and reassured. But I don't think the cat is deciding, rationally, that 'I'm going to send the signal to my human friend that I feel relaxed and that it's thanks to you'. It is more likely to be a spontaneous instinctive reaction which expresses a feeling of well-being.

I also believe that if a human slow blinks at their cat they don't necessarily slow blink in response (but see study). Anecdotally people say that cat owners can use this behaviour to communicate with their cat.

A study tested whether cats behaved differently towards their owners when they slow blink at them. The study concluded that cats are more likely to slow blink if a person slow blinks at them. The same response occurred when non-owners blinked at the cats. The researchers interpreted this as the cats understanding the slow blink signal and responding positively to it.

This may be true but I am inclined to believe that it's not. I believe the truth is that if a person is in a situation where they slow blink at a cat they have created a warm friendly environment for the cat which encourages them to instinctively slow blink. I'm not completely convinced that I'm correct but I don't think you can positively infer that slow blinks between cat and person are a form of deliberate communication. It is more likely that it has inadvertently become a form of communication as a side effect.

Slow blink between cats

I don't know of any study, by the way, which researches the slow blink between cats. I don't think cats do slow blink at each other. Do they? And if not why not? Is the cat slow blink exclusively a communication between cat and human. Is it a way to communicate between cat and person only and never between cat and cat?

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