pink sphynx cat closeup without eyelashes

Eyelashes aren’t something we pay much attention to except when they cause irritation or aren’t there at all. Just like humans, many animals have eyelashes to protect their eyes from damage. Whether cats have eyelashes or not though is a topic that’s widely debated among the cat-lover community.

While some breeds like the Sphynx don’t have eyelashes at all, the majority of cats do have eyelashes even if they’re difficult for us to see. Come with me as I answer some commonly asked questions about cats, eyelashes, and whether our feline friends have them.


Why Do We Have Eyelashes?

These days, eyelashes are mostly used to emphasize the eye itself. We’ll lengthen them with mascara or even wear fake lashes to make our eyes stand out. But eyelashes aren’t just for making ourselves look pretty for a night out. Eyelashes are designed to protect our eyes from damage.

As sensory hairs that line our upper and lower eyelids, their purpose is to detect objects that get too close. This can be anything from tiny particles of dirt or dust to living things like bugs that might fly too close. Eyelashes are super sensitive to touch and upon detecting something close to the eye, they’ll send a signal to the brain to reflexively shut the eye to protect it.

devon rex kitten with beautiful eyes resting on cat tree
Image Credit: Veera, Shutterstock

Do Cats Have Eyelashes?

At first glance, it looks like cats don’t have eyelashes. Usually, eyelashes are long, dark, and curve away from the eye. In short, eyelashes are obvious and for humans especially, are often emphasized to draw attention. Most animals that have eyelashes too, their eyelashes have a similar appearance to our own.

Cats, on the other hand, have much smaller eyelashes. This makes them much harder to notice, especially when eyelashes blend in so well with the rest of the fur on their faces. However, having trouble spotting their eyelashes doesn’t mean they don’t have them at all, which is a trap a lot of people fall into.

That said, some cat breeds don’t have eyelashes. Hairless breeds like the Sphynx and the Peterbald often don’t have eyelashes or whiskers. The Cornish Rex and Devon Rex breeds are also unlikely to have eyelashes despite their dense, curly coats.

Why Are Eyelashes Difficult to See on Cats?

Eyelashes do the same job whether they belong to us or our cat. While they’re much smaller and harder to see in cats, they’re still designed to protect their eyes from dirt, debris, or anything else that gets too close to their eyes.

Considering the importance of eyelashes, it can be surprising to find they’re so small on cats. It almost seems like they’re not of much use at all when it comes to protecting your cat’s eyes. Unlike us, cats don’t rely on just their eyelashes to protect their eyes. They have several other built-in, protective measures that work just as well as eyelashes do for us.

Fur

Perhaps the most obvious reason why cats don’t need eyelashes as much as we do is their fur. Incidentally, it’s also their fur that makes it so difficult for us to see our cat’s eyelashes at all since they blend in so well with the surrounding hair.

Along with keeping them warm, a cat’s fur coat also serves to protect them when they’re out in the wilderness. The fur catches debris that would otherwise end up scratching their skin or getting in their eyes.

Third Eyelid

Cats also have a third eyelid that helps to keep their eyes clean and protected. If you’re familiar with cats, you’ve probably seen the thin white layer appear in the inner corner of your cat’s eyes when they’ve just woken up or are relaxing.

It looks a little odd, especially if you’re not expecting it, but the third eyelid is a natural layer of protection. Similar to eyelashes, the third eyelid prevents dirt and debris from getting in your cat’s eyes—especially when they wander around in the bushes outdoors or through the dust underneath your bed. The third eyelid also helps to remove dirt and keep the eye moist and healthy.

Whiskers

While eyelashes on cats might be widely debated, the presence of whiskers is not. These long, stiff strands of hair are similar to eyelashes in that they are sensitive to touch too. They help your cat “see” items that are close to them—like the distance between their face and the crack in the door they’re trying to squeeze through.

Whiskers are also why a lot of cats don’t like eating out of bowls and prefer flat plates. If their whiskers are constantly brushing against the sides of the bowl as they eat, it can lead to whisker fatigue.

This sensitivity can stress out your cat when it comes to their food and water bowl, but it also serves as a way for them to protect their eyes.

Blue golden shaded british shorthair cat with green eyes
Image Credit: Anna Azarenko, Shutterstock

Eyelash Disorders in Cats

One of the things that prove most cats have eyelashes—even if you can’t see them—is the fact they can suffer from eyelash disorders. These disorders aren’t very common but they are possible. The symptoms of eyelash disorders often include:

  • Blinking excessively
  • Discharge
  • Pawing at the area
  • Pinkish or red eyes
  • Swollen eyes

Your veterinarian will be able to help you diagnose the eyelash disorder affecting your cat and tell you how to effectively treat it. Most of these disorders might require repeated treatment as the eyelashes grow back.

Distichiasis

While eyelashes usually line the eyelid, sometimes they can grow in other places too. Distichiasis is when you find stray eyelashes growing where they shouldn’t or even curling toward the eye, rather than away from it.

Ectopic Cilia

Although similar to distichiasis, ectopic cilia is a disorder caused by the eyelashes growing on the inside of the eyelid. It’s more common in young dogs than cats and, unlike distichiasis often requires surgery to correct.

Trichiasis

Simply put, trichiasis is when the eyelashes are ingrowing or growing in different directions. Unlike the other two disorders we’ve mentioned, trichiasis is the one most likely not to need veterinary intervention. While it can require surgery to correct the problem in the worst-case scenario, it can correct itself without treatment.


Conclusion

Your cat’s eyelashes can be difficult to see, which leads to a lot of people assuming cats don’t have eyelashes at all. But if you take a closer look, you’ll probably change your mind! While hairless cat breeds—like the Sphynx—don’t have eyelashes, many other cat breeds do have short eyelashes that are hidden by their fur.

Luckily, our cats don’t rely solely on their eyelashes to protect their eyes. They also have a third eyelid, whiskers, and fur to prevent damage to their eye from debris during their adventures.


Featured Image Credit: Dan Wayman, Unsplash

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