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Can You Tell The Mood Of Your Cat By Its Eyes
by: Deborah on May 06, 2009


The next time you feed your cat, take a close look at its eyes. If it's hungry, the minute you get the food dish the cat's pupils will expand. The perpendicular slits will dilate to dark pools of feline anticipation. Tests bear this out that as this occurs the area of the pupils can increase to between four and five times their former size in less than one second.

This striking interchange represents a portion of the cat's mood signaling system; however it's merely one method in which the eyes shift their expression. The more common eye change is associated with fluctuations in light volume. The more light that shines on the eyes, the more the pupils shrink to vertical slits; the less light there is, the more they open up to circular, black pools. This kind of adjustment in the visual aspect of the eye continues all day, as the animal moves from light to shade and back again, and it's so common a change that it tends to obscure the other pupil changes that are happening.

The distance of the viewed scene also impacts the cat's pupils. The nearer an object is, the more it has to constrict them. With more distant objects it enlarges them a bit. This kind of switch also impedes with our interpretation of the mood gestures coming from the eyes.

To create even more complicated issues, there are two rather distinct kinds of mood change, for the cat's pupils will become considerably larger not just when it sees something pleasant but also when it sees something frightfully menacing. The only way to put this in perspective is to say that if you see a cat's pupils all of a sudden get larger, with no change in light intensity or distance of objects, then it's experiencing a state of strong emotional stimulation. This stimulation might be pleasant, as with the arrival of mouth-watering food, or unpleasant, as with the arrival of a large aggressive opponent. In both events, the pupils will dilate more than usual, as though attempting to increase the input of information from the arousing stimulations.

Since a scared, defensive cat exhibits extreme pupil enlargement, a reverse signal appears to have developed for its dominant, aggressive and unfearing adversary. For such an animal there's just one conceivable kind of eye expression; the narrow perpendicular slit of a fully compressed pupil. Even so, this doesn't imply that only a slit-eyed cat is dangerous. A terrified cat with dilated pupils is just as likely to lash out in panic. As a matter of fact, a submissive cat in the home that has 'had enough' and is about to fend for itself will oftentimes expand its pupils quickly just prior to attacking. Therefore it's vital to interpret the dilated pupil signal very carefully and to place it in context before interpreting it.

Besides pupil changes there's also the possibility of signaling mood by the degree of opening or closing the eyelids. An alert cat has fully opened eyes and this is the condition that is always exerted in the presence of strangers, who are not totally trusted by the cat. If the cat changes to half closed eyes, this represents an expression of absolute relaxation behavior indicating complete trust in the friendly relationship of its owners.

Total closing of the eyes only takes place in two concepts: sleep and appeasement. Whenever two cats are fighting and one is forced into submission, it often does what is called 'cut-off', where it turns away its opponent and closes its eyes, trying to obscure the fearsome image of its dominant challenger. This is in essence a protective action, an effort to save the eyes from potential damage, but also become a means of subduing the hostility at the present moment. In addition, the winner views it as a sign of surrender by his opposer.

In conclusion a word concerning the stare. Lengthy stares with wide open eyes has a particular meaning for the cat. It's an eye signal that announces aggressiveness. Put differently, for a human to stare at a cat is to threaten it. Even so we're constantly doing this, because we so like to cherish thinking about the wonderful things about our feline companions. We do it without thinking, not wishing the cat any harm, but it's sometimes hard for the animal to appreciate this. The solution is to enjoy gazing at the cat at moments when it's not staring back. If we lock eyes with it we're inevitably daunting it, when this is the last thing we want to do. By a little adjustment, however, we can greatly improve our relationship and make the cat feel much more relaxed in our presence.

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