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Why Do Cats Sleep with Their Eyes Open?

Watching your cat sleep with open eyes cat be a little creepy. Via Gina Cioli/Lumina Media

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It can look a little spooky when cats fall asleep with their eyes open. It seems like there might be something seriously wrong or even appear like they’re dead. Fortunately, if your cat falls asleep with eyes open, you don’t need to worry.

“Sleeping with eyes open is not a cause for concern. A lot of cats do it,” says veterinarian and animal behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, BVMS DVA DACVAA DACVB, professor emeritus at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University in N. Grafton, Massachusetts.

Some cats do indeed sleep with their eyes open, as do some people. And the behavior seems to happen more frequently in older age.

Cats Sleep a Lot

Because of their ancestry as predators in the wild, cats were designed to conserve their energy for sprints. These bursts of intense energy were used to chase prey during a hunt. If the targeted animal was caught, the cat was then in charge taking it down and turning it into a meal.

Life is decidedly much different for wild cats’ domesticated relatives. House cats have the luxury of meals served to them on plates and in bowls and don’t need to worry about where their next meal is coming from. But because of their ancestry, they have retained some of the old wild habits, such as grooming, scratching, hunting (exercise) behavior and long naps to conserve energy.

Even domestic cats can sleep 16 to 20 a day, depending on the cat, his age and health. Because they are hard wired as predators and similarly want to watch out for themselves, cats are highly sensitive and alert. It’s easy for them to bolt awake when they hear a noise or sense something going on.

In other words, they may be asleep but not sleeping deeply. Like humans, cats experience sleep cycles. There is the REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep. When cats first fall asleep (non-REM) it’s light and it easy for them to wake up.

As sleep deepens, cats’ breathing relaxes and their heart rates slow down. This prepares their bodies for deeper sleep. Eventually, cats slip into REM, or deep, sleep. With cats, people or any other species, getting enough sleep is important to rejuvenate the mind and body.

Due to their extended sleep patterns, if a cat sleeps with eyes open, you may very well see it often. Just because your cat’s eyes are open, though, doesn’t mean he isn’t getting the rest his body needs.

No Need to Panic

Although it looks weird when cats sleep with their eyes open, it’s generally OK. If you’re concerned, you can consult with your veterinarian at the next appointment and ask if Kitty needs eye drops to help with, say, dry eyes. For the most part, though, everything should be fine.

“As a cat falls asleep its eyes may be open at first as it enters a dream-like state of semi-consciousness,” Dr. Dodman explains. “The aperture between the eyelids (palprebral fissure) narrows and the third eyelid (nictitating membrane) slowly moves across eye from inside (medial) to outside (lateral) like a whitish blind. As this happens, the eyeball may be seen oscillating from side to side indicating rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is accompanied by dreaming. So, don’t be alarmed if you see your cat at any stage of these proceedings.”

Cats can be quirky, and this may be one of those times for some cats. Appreciate the quirk for what it is and as long as everything else is going well, your cat is perfectly fine!


Elisa Jordan

Featured Image: Via Gina Cioli/Lumina Media