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Do Cats have Eyelashes? It’s complicated

Cat With Eyelashes

The answer to the question do cats have eyelashes depends on a grey area in the definition of what an eyelash is. Whilst a large number of cats have very short hairs just under their eyelids, they do not serve any purpose due to cats protecting their eyes in other ways. We will examine the function of an eyelash and how cat’s protect their eyes. We will also give our opinion on the burning question.

Table of Contents

    What’s the function of an eyelash?

    The fine hairs around the eyelids serve a variety of purposes. Their primary role is to protect the eyes from microscopic particles such as dust, sand, or debris.

    Their secondary purpose is to serve as a warning system. They provide a warning when an object is too close to the eye due to their high sensitivity to touch. On humans they serve comparable purpose to the whiskers of a cat. As a result, you might think of the eyelashes as the eye’s protective ‘gatekeeper.’

    The definition of an eyelash differs slightly dependent on where it is sourced.

    Oxford Dictionary: One of the hairs growing on the edge of the eyelids.
    Lexico: Each of the short curved hairs growing on the edges of the eyelids, serving to protect the eyes from dust.

    Tabby Cat

    How do cats eyes work?

    On the most part their eyes work in a very similar way to humans. You will notice all the main components you’ll see in your own eye so I’ll only outline the differences.

    • Cats have a slightly wider field of view, whilst we can see 180 degrees, cats can see 200 degrees. This makes them much better at spotting anything in their peripheral vision.
    • Cat’s eyes pick up different shades of grey clearer than humans but are unable to see color as clearly. This however means they still have good vision at night.
    • Cats are near-sighted, this means they can’t see long distances as clearly as we can. On average a cat has to be 20 feet away to see something as clearly as we do at 100 feet.

    The most important difference relates to our cats having a third eyelid. Whilst we have two one at the top and bottom of our eye, cats have a third which is located in the bottom corner of it’s eye closest to the nose. This is officially known as the nictitating membrane. It is interesting to note that most mammals have third eyelids with primates being the main exception.

    How do cat’s protect their eyes?

    This is where the third eyelid excels. Whilst our eyelashes help keep out any dust, pollen or debris from the eye, cats third eyelid effectively works as a windshield wiper does on a car. Whilst you will rarely see it in operation due to it being cover by it’s other eyelids when in use it will be keeping our cats eyes clean. Anyone that knows the pain of getting something stuck in your eye surely wishes that humans had a third eyelid as well.

    In addition to the third eyelid you can expect a cats eyes to water to some degree, this works hand in hand with the third eyelid effectively this is the same as when you clean your windshield you spray water on it first.

    Smoke Kitten

    Do cats actually have eyelashes then?

    Lets sum up what we have established through this article. Cats do have hairs on the underside of their eyelid, whilst this can vary in length from effectively not visible to longer they still are there. They don’t protect their eyes from dust, pollen and other foreign objects in the way ours do. They have a third eyelid which effectively serves the purpose eyelashes do on humans.

    Comparing this to the definitions above then by the oxford dictionary definition cats do have eyelashes. However according to Lexico they don’t due to the fact they don’t meet the dust requirement in the definition.

    Personally I find the oxford dictionary to be the go to source for definitions and will side with them and say that Cats do have eyelashes also it’s important to note that the Lexico definition doesn’t contradict oxford and only adds to the definition so I believe both can be correct but need to be correctly applied based on the situation.

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