As humans we have developed hand and body motions and voice commands to communicate with our dogs, and our dogs have developed ways of communicating back to us using physical gestures, even through their eyes. So when your dog winks, what does it mean? Why do dogs wink?
What is a Wink?
A wink describes a certain facial expression where one eye stays open and the other eye closes, usually very briefly, before opening back up again.
AllAboutVision.com describes why most people wink:
We wink to show affection, to spark a laugh, to share an inside secret and for so many other reasons. We wink in person, in emails and in text messages.”https://www.allaboutvision.com/resources/why-people-wink/
But different people in different cultures in different parts of the world have different stories as to what winking means to them.
So it should come as no surprise then that dogs may wink for some other reason or purpose other than acknowledgement that the are in on a secret of ours!
What is a Canine Blepharospasm?
A blepharospasm is a spasm of the eyelids. It can be seen as a twitching or quicking blinking or wink of the eyelid.
A canine blepharospasm is a spasm of the eyelid of a dog (canine).
Dog Eye Basics:
Dogs are born with two eyes, with the exception of dogs who are born or who have their eyes removed for medical reasons.
Dog eyes are a lot like human eyes in how they are designed and how they work.
The outside of the eye is called the cornea and can be easily scratched by dog nails and other hard pointy objects.
The white part of the eyeball is called the sclera and the colorful part of the eye is called the iris.
The iris is in charge of letting light into the eye, by making the pupil, the black circular section in the middle of the eye, smaller or larger depending on the need for more or less light into the eye.
The pupil dilates (gets larger) to let more light in, and the pupil constricts (gets smaller) to let less light in.
The lens is behind the iris and helps to send the light to the retina at the back of the eye.
The retina has many photoreceptors and will send the information it receives to the optic nerve and on through to the brain to process what the eye is seeing.
The Merck Vet Manual has a great image of the structure of the dog’s eye.
The eye is surrounded by soft, moist, pink tissue called conjunctiva to help protect and cushion the eye and an upper and lower eye lid also help to protect and guard the eye too.
The surrounding tissue also contains tear ducts that release tears onto the eye’s surface to help clean, flush out, and lubricate the surface of the eye.
The tears of the dog contain multiple substances, including enzymes that help protect the surface of the eye from invaders, such as certain bacteria.
Most dogs have to upper and lower eyelids, on upper and one lower lid for each eye.
The purpose of eyelids is to help protect the eye from outside sources and help to lubricate the surface of the eye by providing a windshield wiper-like movement across the surface of the eyeball, spreading around the natural tear the dog produces.
When the dog blinks, the upper eyelid and the lower eyelid should briefly come into contact with one another so that the “eye shuts” or “closes” completely.
Some dogs, including one of my own, have a shorter than normal upper or lower eyelid, making it very hard for them to fully shut their eye when routinely blinking.
In these instances, medicated eye drops or artificial tears may be prescribed by your veterinarian to help with foreseeable issues for these individual pets.
Why Do Dogs Wink at You?
For dogs, winking is also a facial expression just like in humans, and is also made by closing and opening the eye quickly.
Typically, when dogs wink, it is indicative of good intention and peace, a happy upbeat dog, or even a painful medical condition.
Here are a few different reasons why your dog may be winking at you:
1. Health Issues & Medical Concerns:
Unfortunately, those cute winks may be a sign of major health issues regarding your pet’s eye.
Sometimes a dog may look like they are winking or closing one eye shut because of irritation.
This irritation may be from a physical item (like a hair or fleck of dirt) or chemical (ex. a cleaner was sprayed and got into the eye).
The irritation could also be from a scratch or poke or a multitude of other causes.
No matter the cause, if the eye hurts, your pup most likely will blink, wink, or continuously close the eye that is being problematic.
Many times in cases of eye irritation, you will also see the dog rubbing the eye on things like furniture or a rug, as well as scratching at the irritated eye.
Another eye issue that is seen with blinking and winking and is mentioned a lot when looking through information about why dogs wink, is a condition termed entropion.
Entropion is more common in brachycephalic dog breeds (those breeds with short smushed faces such as pugs, Boston terriers, French bulldogs, etc.).
What happens in cases of entropion is the upper or lower eyelid catches or flips itself inward, rolling the tiny hairs of the eyelid right onto the surface of the eye.
As you might imagine – hair rubbing along the surface of the eye is likely not very comfortable and can be quite problematic and a major health concern.
If you feel that your dog is winking or blinking too much or is winking because they are uncomfortable, contact your local veterinarian for more advice.
They will likely want to see your dog in their office for a veterinary exam immediately to give your dog some relief and to start fixing the underlying problem to help prevent further damage to the eye.
The ‘wink’ you may be observing may also be a blepharospasm.
A blepharospasm, as mentioned above, the a spasm of the eyelid itself, a twitching-like movement that can look like a wink at times.
2. Submission Tactic:
Dogs do not use facial expressions in the same way that us humans do.
For instance, staring and basic eye contact is a sign of dominance and aggression between dogs.
However, when people speak to each other, eye contact is considered to be respectful and engaging, the exact opposite the case in the dog.
That being said, when your dog stares at you, they very likely do not want to fight you. When you stare back at them they most commonly will either look down or away or sometimes give a quick little wink or blink.
This behavior is a submissive behavior as they are treating you as the dominant one of their pack.
The blink or wink was done to break the stare and to keep the peace of the situation.
3. Attention-Seeking Behaviors:
Most dogs are quite smart.
They may start to piece some things together.
If they get a reaction out of you for winking at you and that reaction is one that they like, some dogs just may intentionally try that same gesture again, for more of your reaction or attention.
4. Copycat Behavior:
Another possible reason why your dog is winking at you is that they are just copying your behavior.
Research published in 2017 concluded that human attention affects facial expressions in dogs.
Majority of dogs are intelligent and can imitate or try to mimic the things that they observe around them.
For instance, your dog may want to eat when you’re eating, sleep when you are sleeping, or yawn while you yawn.
Even smaller physical behaviors and little gestures have the potential to also be mimicked.
What If Your Dog Winks Too Much?
Some conditions that cause winking can be extremely painful and if left untreated can lead to some serious eye problems, blindness, and other illnesses throughout your pup’s body.
So if you notice new or excessive winking, blinking, weeping, or redness of the eye, you should contact your veterinarian immediately to get further instructions on what to do next.
One of the most adorable things a dog can do is tilt their head and wink an eye.
Dog eyes can reveal a lot about how they feel and what they want!
The true reason why your dog winks at you is still up in the air – there are many reasons why they may be winking at you!
If you feel that the reason your dog is winking is because of pain or something wrong with the eye or eyelid, consult with your pet’ veterinarian quickly.