Our furry felines are our best friends, and showing them just how much we love them is the least we can do in exchange for all their affection and cuddles. While we can't help but meow back whenever our cats meow at us, there are more subtle methods of communicating with them. One of the best ways to have a meaningful conversation with your cat without making a sound? Slow blinking. Read on to learn why the cat slow blink is such a powerful move, according to vets — and see some sweet videos of slow blinking in action!
The science of the cat slow blink
While there may be plenty of anecdotal evidence that slowly blinking at your cat is a good way to show affection, there's actual scientific backing behind this adorable phenomenon. A 2020 study in Scientific Reports found that "slow blink sequences may function as a form of positive emotional communication between cats and humans."
The researchers say that it's long been suspected by cat owners that slow blinking enhances the relationship between cat and owner, and so they aimed to put the gesture to the test.
For one part of the research, the team analyzed 21 cats in 14 different homes in the UK. Each of the cat owners were instructed to sit three feet away and slow blink at their cats. For the slow blink, the owners simply squinted their eyes and blinked for more than half a second. The cats' reactions to the slow blink were captured on camera, and the footage showed that the cats were more likely to slow blink back at the owners who slow blinked at them compared to owners who didn't blink at all.
The researchers also conducted a second experiment to see if slow blinking helped establish positive communication when the human was a stranger to the cat. For this experiment, 18 cats from eight households were observed. This time, the researchers themselves — who were unfamiliar to the cats — slow blinked at the cats and then extended their hands toward them slowly.
The results? The cats were more likely to approach the scientists after they slow blinked at them, compared to when they sat in front of the cats with a neutral expression. It was also observed that the cats often slow blinked back at them!
What the pros have to say
"Slow blinking can be an effective part of human-cat communication," says Dr. Annie Valuska, pet behavior scientist at Purina. She explains just why it works so well: "Evidence indicates that cats respond to our slow blinks because they make us look friendlier and more approachable. That may be due to it being interpreted as an indicator of 'happiness'" — she points out that this is similar to how the most genuine human smiles usually involve partial closure or crinkling of the eyes — "or because closing our eyes makes us more vulnerable, indicating that we are not a threat to the cat."
Slow blinking may even have benefits beyond just being a cute way to interact. "Doing a slow blink at a cat could influence their mood in a positive way, which is in turn good for their health," notes Dr. Ray Spragley, veterinarian at Zen Dog Vet.
Cats are known for being mysterious, but slow blinking can be a powerful way to get to know them better. "Since cat behavior hasn’t always been a widely studied topic, insights into slow blinks can help pave the way to understanding cat-human communication," says Dr. Spragley. "This can enhance both the lives of cats and their humans."
The magic of cat communication
There's much evidence to recommend the cat slow blink. In fact, slow blinking is so effective that the pros do it with their own fuzzy friends! "I slow blink at my cat, and he almost always slow blinks right back," says Dr. Valuska.
"Studies have been making it clear that cats are quite good at understanding their owners," she says, giving examples such as cats responding to a pointing gesture, cats distinguishing between cat-directed speech and human-directed speech, and cats responding differently to us depending on our emotional states.
While Dr. Valuska points out that "many cat owners still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding our cats," she believes that "Taking the time to get to know your cat’s preferences when it comes to affection and understanding and responding appropriately to what they are communicating with their body language" is one of the most important things you can do as a cat parent.
So the next time you're trying to give your kitty some affection, try slow blinking at them! This simple gesture could be the smile they've been waiting for all day, and lead to some truly adorable bonding.
Read on for more fascinating facts about cat behavior: