CattyCorner: Why Do Cats Sleep With Their Eyes Open?

Written by: Kelli Brinegar
For more than five years, Kelli Brinegar has been using her ability to write and her passion for research to tell the tale of what cats are thinking and why. She has provided care to more than 30 cats in her lifetime.Read more
| Published on March 2, 2023

Greetings, my pawsome human minions.

Tis your favorite cat of wisdom, back again to unravel more feline mysteries for those who fancy us. And oh, you silly humans and your questions. You genuinely think of some good ones. And this post came to be thanks to a question my mother blurted as she stared at me napping.

Squinting at my cracked eyes, watching me as I watched her, Mom asked, “Forrest, why do cats sleep with their eyes open? It’s creepy!”

My reply? First of all, nothing I do is creepy. I’m a cat; therefore, my actions are always adorable and delightful. And if she wants to talk creepy, let’s discuss her wicked snoring. That’s what’s creepy. She sounds like some otherworldly monster coming for us all. And secondly, sleeping with an open eye or even two serves a purpose for a cat.

Why Do Cats Sleep with Their Eyes Open?

When I tell you a cat is always watching, I’m not overstating. As supreme predators, we keep a tight watch on our surroundings, even when napping. So while it may look peculiar, sleeping while peeping allows a cat to process their surroundings visually while catching some shut eye.

In addition to keeping an eye on things, cats will sometimes sleep with their eyes open if they’ve suffered an injury to the eye. Closing the eye may intensify the scratch or puncture pain. If your cat is suddenly sleeping with their eyes open or has excessive watering or swelling, call the veterinarian. The same can be said about illness too. Some sicknesses present with eye problems and should be treated as soon as symptoms are recognized.

RELATED: 3 Fun Facts You Didn’t Know About Your Cat’s Vision

But what makes a cat sleeping with their eyes open look creepy, as my mother would say, is that white flap of tissue that slides out when a cat’s eyes are only partially open.

That all-important flap is called the nictating membrane, and this third eyelid helps keep feline eyes from drying out when they’re sleeping with their eyes cracked. It slides out from the corner of the eye to protect and moisten the eyeball when cats blink or partially close their eyes. And because the nictating membrane is translucent, cats maintain some vision even when the inner eyelid is partially slid out.

But cats aren’t the only species with nictating membranes. Birds, reptiles, fish, amphibians, and some mammals, like dogs, rabbits, polar bears, and camels, have them too. This extra eyelid helps protect wild eyes from predators, injury, and the elements.

So if your kitty likes to keep the peepers cracked while snoozing, don’t think you can get away with any shenanigans. Kitty dear is watching your every move! Including you walking by the empty food dish. So before your furry one rises from their slumber, don’t forget to feed the cat.

RELATED: Ever Wonder Why Your Cat’s Eyes Glow In Pictures?

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