White Cats and Deafness – What’s the Connection?

November 4, 2015

white cat warrenBy Langley Cornwell

You may have heard that most white cats are deaf, and for the most part, that’s true. This blanket statement gets thrown around a lot, but there’s an important caveat – there are varying degrees of what is actually considered a white cat in the first place. With that in mind, it’s important to note that a white cat is NOT an albino cat. And to make things even more confusing, albino cats aren’t usually deaf. Are you with me so far?

White or Albino?

Saying that a white cat and an albino cat are the same thing is like saying a fair skinned, blonde haired child is albino. Light skin and hair does not make a living thing an albino; it’s the complete absence of pigmentation that makes a living thing an albino. To learn if a feline is albino or white, one simply has to look at the cat’s eyes. A lack of pigmentation in the eyes causes them to be a pink color, and makes the cat sensitive to light.

White Masking

As far as what causes deafness in white cats, in some cases cats actually have colors in their genetic makeup, but they also have a gene that causes something called white masking. This masking covers all other colors and prevents melanin from developing. Because melanin has an impact on the ionic balance in the cochlea, the cochlea degenerates shortly after birth and the cat is permanently deaf.

White Spotting

Some cats aren’t actually white. They simply have a white spotting gene that may cover their entire body. Their base color isn’t really white, but the spot is so big that it makes the cat have completely white fur. This condition is actually a genetic mutation and can occur in cats that also have white masking, or are dominantly (but not entirely) white. If the cat has even one hair that is a different color than white, it isn’t really a white cat, but has white spotting. The single colored hair is actually the dominant color.

Cats with white masking and white spotting will sometimes have blue eyes. This is because there is color in the genetic makeup, so the eyes aren’t pink like an albino’s. However, the spotting or masking may have reached the eyes. If the spotting or masking reaches the eyes, it covers the original color so that the eyes appear blue. The reason white cat laurablue-eyed white cats are deaf is because if the spotting or masking has reached the eyes, it has most likely also reached the ears.

Odd-Eyed Cats

One of the most fascinating types of cats is the cat with odd-colored eyes. One eye will be blue and the other eye will be a different color. In such cases, the side with the blue eyes is most likely to also be the side in which the cat is deaf. Again, this is a case when the spotting or masking has reached the eye that is blue. The difference is that it didn’t reach the eye that isn’t blue, so it didn’t reach the ear on the side that doesn’t have a blue eye. Yet not all odd-eyed cats are deaf at all. In such cases, if you could see the spotting or masking, you would see that it hasn’t reached either ear, but has reached one of the eyes.

For years, people believed that odd-eyed cats were magical because of the different colored eyes. These cats probably also demonstrated balance issues since hearing and balance are closely related. However, the matter is purely scientific and is based on genetics rather than magic.

With a little bit of special attention, lots of love and a healthy balance of playtime, snuggle time and premium cat food like CANIDAE Grain Free PURE, deaf cats can live a long, happy, normal life.

Top photo by Warren Rohner/Flickr
Bottom photo by Laura/Flickr

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell

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