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Do Dogs Blink? The How and Why of Blinking

Updated 03/25/2024 – When we think about the many ways we connect with our furry companions, we often consider their barks, tail wags, and affectionate nuzzles. However, one of the most overlooked aspects of canine behavior and physiology is something as simple and subtle as blinking. Yes, dogs do blink their eyes, but the reasons behind this seemingly automatic action, how it’s executed, and the frequency with which it occurs are far more interesting than one might initially think.

Blinking, a rapid closing and opening of the eyelid, is a crucial function for the health and well-being of mammals, including humans and dogs. It serves multiple purposes, from moisturizing the eyes to protecting them from debris and assisting in non-verbal communication.

But when it comes to our canine friends, the blinking mechanism isn’t just about eye health; it could also be a window into their emotional state and a tool for silent communication.

In this exploration of canine blinking, we’ll look into the anatomy of a dog’s eye, uncover the physiological and psychological reasons behind blinking, and answer the whimsical question of whether dogs can wink.

Blinking In Dogs

Do Dogs Blink? The How and Why of Blinking - Title Page with white dog blinking with one eye against a purple background

This section looks into what blinking is, the anatomical structure of a dog’s eye relevant to this action, and how it compares to the human blinking mechanism.

What is Blinking?

Blinking is a rapid, semi-automatic action involving the closing and reopening of the eyelids. It serves several important functions, including:

  • Moisturizing the Eye: Blinking spreads tear film across the eye’s surface, providing necessary moisture to prevent dryness and irritation.
  • Clearing Debris: The act of blinking helps to remove small particles or dust that may have landed on the eye, keeping the visual field clear.
  • Reflex Actions: Blinking can be a reflex response to sudden environmental changes, such as bright lights or approaching objects, protecting the eye from potential harm.

Beyond these physical needs, blinking may also have communicative value in dogs, conveying information about their emotional state or intentions during social interactions. More on that in a bit.

Close up of a dog's eye with the Nictitating Membrane slightly showing.

The Third Eyelid

The canine eye shares many similarities with the human eye but also has unique features adapted to their needs. Dogs possess a third eyelid, known as the nictitating membrane, which plays an important role in additional protection and lubrication.

This membrane moves across the eye horizontally, offering an extra layer of moisture and defense against debris without completely obstructing vision.

Blinking Frequency in Dogs and How It Compares to Humans

While both dogs and humans blink to moisten and protect their eyes, the frequency and manner in which blinking occurs can vary significantly. Humans typically blink around 15-20 times per minute, a rate that can decrease while focusing on tasks that require visual attention, such as reading or using a computer.

On the other hand, according to a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, dogs may blink between 2.5 to 14.5 blinks per minute under normal conditions.

This difference between human blink rate and dog is partly due to the presence of the nictitating membrane, which reduces the need for frequent full eyelid blinks by keeping the eye moist and protected.

In dogs, blinking is also influenced by external factors such as wind, dust, and allergens, much like in humans. However, their blinking may also be affected by their state of alertness and emotional state, aspects that are less pronounced in human blinking patterns.

For instance, a dog intensely focusing on a task or object might blink less frequently, conserving their visual attention.

Differences in Blinking Between Dog Breeds

While comprehensive studies on breed-specific blinking patterns are limited, anecdotal evidence suggests that there might be variations in blinking behavior among different dog breeds. Factors such as facial structure, eye shape, and hair length around the eyes can influence how often a dog blinks.

For instance, breeds with protruding eyes or those with longer fur that might irritate the eyes could potentially blink more frequently than others. However, the fundamental reasons for blinking—moisturizing the eye, clearing debris, and reflex protection—are universal across all breeds. - put dog Bella mid wink.
Belle mid-blink

Do Dogs Blink to Communicate?

While the scientific exploration of blinking as a direct form of communication in dogs is still in its beginning stages, observations and anecdotal evidence suggest that dogs might use blinking, along with other facial expressions and body language, to convey emotions and intentions.

For example, could a relaxed blinking pattern indicate a state of calm or trust towards humans or other dogs, whereas a rapid increase in blinking could be a response to stress or discomfort?

Further research is needed to fully understand the extent to which dogs use blinking and other facial expressions in their communication with us and how they interpret blinking from humans.

Health Implications of Blinking Patterns

Changes in your dog’s blinking patterns can sometimes be a window into their health, potentially indicating issues that warrant closer attention. While blinking is a normal part of canine behavior, variations from their typical blinking frequency or manner can be an early signal of eye or neurological problems.

Blinking Patterns That May Indicate a Health Concern:

  • Increased Blinking: An uptick in blinking frequency might suggest irritation or an infection in the eye. Conditions such as conjunctivitis, foreign bodies, or even scratches on the cornea can lead to increased blinking as the eye tries to soothe irritation.
  • Decreased Blinking or Squinting: On the other hand, less frequent blinking or squinting can signal dry eye (Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca), where the eyes don’t produce enough tears, leading to discomfort and potential damage to the eye surface.
  • One-Eyed Blinking: If you notice your dog frequently closing one eye, it might be a sign of discomfort or pain in that eye, possibly due to an injury or infection.

If you observe any persistent changes in your dog’s blinking habits or other signs of discomfort like pawing at the eyes, redness, or discharge, it’s essential to consult with a veterinarian promptly.

Do Dogs Wink?

The concept of winking, typically seen as a playful or communicative gesture in humans, raises an intriguing question when it comes to our canine friends. This section explores whether dogs are capable of winking intentionally. The differences between blinking and winking in dogs, and the contexts in which a dog might appear to wink, alongside potential interpretations.

Dog Dogs Blink?  White dog with one eye closed.

Can Dogs Wink Intentionally?

Winking, which involves closing one eyelid while keeping the other open, is a nuanced action often associated with specific intentions or emotions in humans. In dogs, however, what appears as a wink is usually more closely related to blinking or an involuntary twitch rather than a deliberate communicative gesture.

Unlike humans, dogs do not typically use winking as a form of complex, intentional communication. That said, dogs are highly responsive to human behavior and can learn to associate certain actions with specific outcomes. It’s conceivable that a dog might learn to “wink” in response to human encouragement or training, especially if the behavior is rewarded.

Examples of Situations Where Dogs Might Appear to Wink

There are several scenarios where a dog might seem to wink, but these are generally not indicative of the complex motivations behind human winking. For example:

  • Clearing an Irritant: A dog might close one eye in response to a temporary irritant, such as dust or an eyelash. This action could resemble winking but is merely a reflexive attempt to clear the irritant.
  • Medical Issues: Sometimes, what appears as a wink could be related to a medical condition affecting one eye. This could lead to more frequent closing or squinting of that eye.
  • Mimicking Human Behavior: Dogs are keen observers of human behavior and can mimic actions they see frequently, especially if those actions result in positive attention or rewards. A dog might learn to “wink” if they notice it pleases their owner.

In a blink of an eye

Surprisingly, the quick blink of a dog’s eye holds more meaning than meets the eye. It goes beyond merely keeping their eyes clean; those blinks can also offer us subtle clues about their emotions or needs.

Here’s to deepening our understanding of our beloved dogs, one blink at a time!

If you are interested in understanding your dog’s behavior check out our posts on: Why Do Dogs Get the Hiccups When Sleeping?, Why Dogs Bury Their Heads Into You? and Can a Dog Smile? Some Say No, But Mine Does

Red dog with both eyes closed against a dark background

FAQ – Do Dogs Blink

1. Can blinking patterns vary with age?

Yes, aging can affect a dog’s blinking patterns. Older dogs may experience changes in eye health such as dryness or the development of cataracts, which could influence blinking frequency. Regular veterinary check-ups can help manage age-related eye conditions.

2. Do certain activities affect blinking?

Activities can indeed affect blinking. During intense play or focus, dogs might blink less frequently as they concentrate on the task or object of interest. Conversely, relaxation might lead to more regular blinking patterns.

3. Is there a difference in blinking patterns between indoor and outdoor environments?

Environmental factors can influence blinking. For instance, dogs may blink more outdoors due to increased exposure to wind, sunlight, and dust, which can irritate the eyes. Indoors, controlled environments might result in less frequent blinking unless irritants are present.

4. How do I tell the difference between normal blinking and blinking due to discomfort?

Normal blinking is generally even and unaccompanied by other signs of distress. Blinking due to discomfort might be more frequent, accompanied by squinting, pawing at the eyes, or visible redness and discharge. These signs warrant a closer look and possibly a vet visit.

5. What are some common eye health problems associated with abnormal blinking?

Conditions such as conjunctivitis, dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca), foreign bodies in the eye, or corneal ulcers can cause abnormal blinking. Early detection and veterinary care are crucial for addressing these issues.

6. How can I maintain the health of my dog’s eyes?

Start with:

  • Regular eye exams by a vet,
  • Keeping the hair around the eyes trimmed,
  • Cleaning the eyes gently with a damp cloth to remove any discharge,
  • Protecting the eyes from harsh chemicals or irritants are all good practices.
  • Ensuring your dog has a balanced diet with nutrients supportive of eye health can be beneficial.

Do Dogs Blink Their Eyes? The How And Why Of Blinking – Resources: