White cats are likely to be blind, myth or fact?

Cat… whether they are short-hair, long-hair, slender or fluffy our feline friend definitely can bring happiness, especially to a cat lover. Sometimes they scratch the sofa, even break your mom’s favorite vase and don’t show any guilt about it. But in the end, we still forgave them and find it cute.

Cats are fun to play with, and we have to admit that some people can spend hours to watch cat videos. Even, help a cat won a Guinness world record for ‘the most view for an animal on youtube’. Apart from their success to bring joy, there are several superstitions and misconception around cats which may concern cat owner. One thing that we often hear is ‘white cats are prone to blindness’. Are they?

White cat with blue eyes. Photo by Echo on Unsplash

The good news is a white cat is not prone to blindness. However, they do have a higher chance to be deaf, and the chance increased when the cat has blue eyes. White coat on cats can occur as a result of the dominant white gene (W). This gene can suppress and block other potential colors, thus it called masking gene. Unfortunately, this gene not only blocks the color for fur but also colors for the eyes. Therefore, the white gene also known as pleiotropic – being responsible for more than one effect; hair and eyes colors and deafness.

How the white gene (W) related to deafness?

Just like human, cat’s ear has a part called cochlea which convert sound into a signal that can be passed on to the brain. However, in order to work properly, cochlea needs melanin (the pigment that gives color to skin and hair). White genes – which mask other colors gene – prevent melanin from developing. Thus, the cochlea cannot convert and transfer the sound. A similar mechanism occurs in the cat’s eyes, where the white gene masks the original eye color. Therefore, in some occasion it gives white cats blue eyes. However, whether both eyes will appear blue or not is depend on how dominant white gene is.

So, are all white cats are deaf?

Worry not! Not all white cat or white cats with blue eyes are deaf. The keyword is the dominant gene. Non-dominant white gene will not mask other colors and give full white coat on cats. Apart from dominant white gene (W), white coat on the cat can occur from albino gene (c) or spotted gene (S). Spotted gene just like its name, give a white spot on cat’s pattern. However, when the gene is dominant, it may result to one big white spot, thus the cat looks like white coated.

My cat is not white coated, so they’ll be fine right?

Unfortunately, this is not true. There are several non-inherited causes that can lead to discomfort even deafness to the cat, despite their hair color. For example, cats who often exposed by harsh sunlight may get Squamous Cell Cancer. Also, a cat can get hematoma as a result of excessive scratching. According to James Flanders, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University’s College, the most common ear problem is Otitis – infection on the outer part of the cat’s ear by ear mites. When not treated appropriately, Otitis may lead to permanent deafness.

Non-inherited ear disorder commonly relates to the environment where the cats live. So, the risk can be minimized. Several precautionary actions that can be done are:

  1. keep your house clean to reduce a chance of bacteria or ear mites to grow
  2. reduce direct sunlight exposure to your cat, especially if the cats have a light pigmented coat
  3. Check your cat’s ear regularly for any sign of infection or swelling.

White cats may have a higher chance of deafness, but this does not mean we should exclude them. A deaf white cat may have some limitation or need special treatment, but they are still lovable and can be a great companion.

For more information about the white gene, you can read it on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3490225/

5 Responses to “White cats are likely to be blind, myth or fact?”

  1. Kevin Kusnadi says:

    Thank you for writing this informative blog! As far as I know, cats do not usually go out of the house, and this gives more reason to prevent them going outside of the house!

  2. Gustina Yasminisari says:

    In my opinion, as long as you can maintain the environment where the cat live it should be okay. But if you are unsure, you can visit places like cat cafe or cat rescue lounge where you can play with cat without have to worry about the health issues. Well at least this is what I have been doing in Melbourne when I miss my cats.

  3. Gustina Yasminisari says:

    I used to have a white cat too and the good thing is he can hear normally. However, my second white cat was partially deaf but he can live normally like other cat. I totally agree with your friend, even though they cannot hear or partially deaf cat can use their other senses like smell or sight. I didn’t know about cat’s sensory on their paw but it’s worth to check.

  4. Yilin Zhao says:

    Very interesting blog! I have a friend, she has a white cat, one eye is yellow, and the other is blue. My friend told me that the ear on the same side of the blue eye is inaudible, and the ear on the side of the yellow eye can hear the sound. But my friend told me that it can “listen” through the meat pads under the four claws, because there are quite a lot of sensory receptors in the meat pad, and the blue-eyed white cats that are deaf are more abundant and can get tiny vibrations.

  5. liuyup says:

    I really like cats! they are so cute, and I have considered so many times that feed a cat.
    However, there are lots of reports about those potential diseases may happen on cats, and I am so afraid of facing those tragedies.
    Cats are such cute but poor species.