Did you know that only about 5% of cats have all-white fur? White cats are often seen as being more unique than their darker-colored counterparts. This is likely because they are rarer, but also because they’ve been historically associated with good luck and fortune in many countries. But you may have heard that white cats are more likely to be blind or deaf. Is there any truth to these claims? And if so, why?
Why Are Some Cats White?
The color of all-white kitties is due to a lack of melanin production in their bodies. Melanin is a pigment produced by cells called melanocytes. It’s responsible for giving color to the skin, fur, and eyes. So, why is it that only some felines have white fur? It all comes down to genetics. If a cat has the dominant W gene, it will be born with a pure white coat. Albino cats are also white, but for a different reason. They have a genetic disorder called albinism that affects melanin production. The resulting lack of pigmentation is why albino cats have colorless fur, pink skin, and pale eyes.
Are White Cats Prone to Blindness?
Researchers have found that white cats are not prone to hereditary or acquired blindness. The myth that they’re more susceptible to blindness is likely connected to their eye color. White cats often have blue irises because of a lack of pigmentation in their eyes. Still, the myth that blue-eyed, white cats are prone to blindness is just that: a myth. This trait has nothing to do with whether they’re blind. Blue eyes simply indicate a lack of melanin.
Blindness in cats is not related to the color of their fur or eyes. Some cats are born blind due to genetic defects. Others lose their sight as they age. Physical injuries, infections, and conditions like glaucoma and chronic kidney disease can also lead to blindness in cats. Signs of blindness include squinting, disorientation, and increased vocalization. If you notice any of these signs in your cat, take them to your veterinarian for an examination as soon as possible.
The Truth About Deafness
So, now you know that blindness in cats is not related to fur or eye color. But is deafness more common for white-colored kitties? Unfortunately, they are more likely to be deaf than cats with colored coats, but that doesn’t mean that all white cats are deaf. It simply means that they’re more likely to be affected by congenital deafness than cats with colorful fur.
All-white cats are more likely to be born deaf because of the gene that’s responsible for their white fur. However, the color of a white cat’s eyes is a greater indicator of deafness than their fur color. Roughly 40% of white cats with one blue eye are born deaf and nearly 85% are deaf if they have two blue eyes. In cats with a single blue eye, the link between blue eyes and deafness is especially apparent since they’re usually deaf on the same side of the head.
So, why does the gene that’s responsible for white fur and blue eyes in cats sometimes cause deafness? Remember those melanin-producing cells called melanocytes we mentioned earlier? They also reside in a cat’s inner ear. The W gene suppresses melanocytes in the ear, which can cause hearing loss in white cats.
Are Mostly White and Albino Cats Also Prone to Deafness?
Mostly white cats and albino cats are not prone to deafness, as they don’t carry the dominant W gene. Cats with mostly white fur carry a different gene, which explains why they are not completely white. As a result, they aren’t susceptible to deafness caused by the dominant W gene. Albinism causes a lack of pigmentation in the skin, fur, and eyes. However, it’s not related to the gene that produces white fur and blue eyes in cats.
Tips for Caring for a Deaf Cat
In the case of white cats, deafness is a congenital condition that’s present from birth. As long as you’re aware of the condition and take steps to help your feline friend adapt to their disability, there’s no reason why they can’t live a long and happy life. Cats that are deaf in one or both ears rely heavily on their other senses to navigate their surroundings. VCA Hospitals recommends training your cat and communicating with them using visual cues and hand signals, vibrations, touch, and play.
Training aids like flashlights and laser pointers can be used to help direct your cat’s attention to specific places around the home. You can also use facial expressions and hand signals to teach and reinforce basic commands. In addition, you can strike a surface or stomp on the floor to use vibration as a stimulus to catch your cat’s attention. To communicate with your cat using touch, try gently grooming them to release feelings of pleasure and relaxation. Finally, make sure to engage your cat in regular play and provide toys to keep them mentally and physically stimulated.
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