Are you staring at that white kitten with blue eyes and slowly falling in love with it? Blue eyes on any animal are enchanting, from huskies to tigers, and it’s a sought-after characteristic by many pet owners.
However, chances are you’re also probably heard that cats with blue eyes are deaf. Are cats with blue eyes deaf, or is it just an old wives’ tale?
To give you a short answer, according to research, if your cat has blue eyes, there’s only a 5% chance they are deaf or will experience deafness in their lifetime. It turns out eye color has little to do with the onset of deafness or blindness in cats.
However, their coat color is more indicative of these two issues developing in our feline friends. Studies show that cats with all-white coats are at a higher risk of congenital deafness or the development of deafness as they age.
All-white cats are somewhat of a rarity, and they comprise only 5% of the cat population. The all-white cat is similar to blonde people. It might surprise you to learn that only three to five percent of the human populace has blonde hair.
Are Cats with Blue Eyes Prone to Deafness?
The Feline Health Center at Cornell University studied deafness in all-white cats and its relation to the rest of the cat population. Research shows 17% to 22% of all-white cats without blue eyes experience congenital deafness.
The primary determining factor of congenital deafness in all-white cats seems to be their eye color, with blue eyes being a sign of the condition. All-white cats born with one blue eye experience congenital deafness in 40% of kittens, while kittens born with two blue eyes have an 85% chance of being born deaf.
So, why do all-white cats born with blue eyes experience deafness?
It seems the combination of a white coat and dazzling blue eyes occurs due to a genetic abnormality in the embryonic stem cells that develop into the cat’s central nervous system (CNS). These congenital disabilities affect the normal development of the auditory and visual systems within the cat’s physiology.
The blue eyes and white coat are a result of a lack of melanin in pigment cells. However, this color defect is also responsible for affecting the thin lining on the inner ear, essential for your cat’s hearing.
Typically, cats experiencing these hearing issues are not born deaf. Instead, they develop severe hearing loss leading to congenital deafness by the time they reach three to four weeks old.
However, it’s possible for cats to have one blue eye, improving their chances of avoiding congenital deafness. These felines have a condition known as “heterochromia.”
Heterochromia appears in all breeds of cats and all colors. This condition doesn’t only affect cats; it also occurs in dogs and horses. Typically, kittens that do develop congenital deafness experience the issue on the same side of the head as the blue eye.
Why Are Cats with Blue Eye Prone to Deafness?
It’s important to note at this stage that all-white cats with blue eyes don’t always go deaf. There are many of them that live normal lives with full hearing capabilities.
However, it’s a genetic abnormality that exists in this category of cats, and to understand it, we can go back to our human example. Essentially, we can compare it to the natural blonde population in humans. The stem cells responsible for turning into melanin are the same that the cat’s physiology uses to develop the inner ear lining for hearing.
Since all-white cats don’t develop these stem cells, they never develop their hearing. Some cat owners might be wondering if the condition affects other white cats with small patches of color on their coats.
The answer is no; these cats don’t have the same risk profile for congenital deafness as all-white cats with blue eyes.
How Do I Know If My Cat Is Deaf?
Congenital deafness means that the kitten is born with their condition. If you’re adopting your kitten from a shelter, ask the attendants if they know if the cat is deaf. If they can’t give you an answer, you can check the cat’s hearing yourself.
If you hide your hands behind your back and jingle your keys between your fingers, the cat should react to the noise. If they don’t respond, you can assume the cat is deaf. If you’re looking at a kitty with one blue eye, place your hand behind their head and snap your fingers; if there’s no response to it, they might be deaf.
Try to concentrate the sound on the blue-eye side of the head and snap as quietly as you can to test the affected ear. If you’re still uncertain if the cat is deaf, take it to the vet for a checkup. Your vet will give the cat a thorough examination to test its hearing.
Do Cats with Blue Eyes Experience Other Health Issues?
While cats with blue eyes don’t tend to have any other hereditary health issues, there are a few problems all-white cat owners need to know; all-white cats have a higher chance of developing forms of skin cancer.
Since they don’t have any melanin, they also lack protection against the sun’s harmful UV rays. Repeated exposure to the sun can also lead to the development of melanoma in cats, much like in humans with fair skin. Some cats may also develop life-threatening forms of cancer like the dreaded squamous cell carcinoma.
Skin cancer can become deadly if it enters your cat’s bloodstream. However, it’s a preventable condition. It’s better to keep all-white cats as house cats, reducing their exposure to the sun during the day. Since all-white cats are often deaf, they also lack the sensory ability to detect other animals coming at them from behind.
As a result, they might miss a dog running at them or another cat looking for a fight. Keeping your cat indoors keeps them safe from harm caused by wandering around the neighborhood during the day.
Is there a Cure For Deafness in Cats with Blue Eyes?
As mentioned, congenital deafness means that your cat is born with the condition. Therefore, there is no cure for your feline friend’s inability to hear.
Pet owners can learn how to manage the condition by reading up about it online. Many behavioral specialists offer strategies to help you cope with your cat’s deafness.
Learning and teaching your kitty visual cues like hand signals and teaching them how to respond to training tools like laser pointers can help you catch your cat’s attention when you need it.
Should I Be Concerned About Adopting a Cat with Blue Eyes?
No, don’t let the possibility of your cat being deaf pout you off adopting it. Since the cat is born deaf, it learns how to adapt to its environment naturally. All the kitty needs is the same love and caring you would give any other cat. Treat them right, and they’ll grow up into friendly felines.
Your cat will still have all the same characteristics as cats born with full hearing capability. As long as you socialize them in the first 12-weeks of life, you won’t have any problems raising your new blue-eyed kitten.