Tuesday, March 30, 2010 11:08 AM

Deafness in White Cats

When I was a child, I thought all white cats were deaf. Why did I think that? Because adults told me so. Later on, I learned that this is not true. This example shows, though, how bits and pieces of the real story often become the conventional wisdom.

Like most stereotypes and old wives' tales, this myth has its basis in fact. Although not all white cats are deaf, those with blue eyes almost always are. Conversely, cats with two normal-colored eyes are not prone to deafness any more than cats that exhibit color in their coats. What about cats with one blue and one gold eye? Chances are that these cats are deaf in one ear: The one on the same side of the head as the blue eye.

The reason for this phenomenon? Genetics. According to Wikipedia, the gene for deafness/lack of coat color is a dominant one. Therefore, cats with both dominant genes or one dominant and one recessive will exhibit the suppression of all color, both eye and coat. This gene also results in the degeneration of the cochlea, a fluid-filled chamber located in the inner ear, and the organ of corti, located inside the cochlea. This degeneration begins only a few days after birth and is irreversible. It is likely that the dominant/recessive combination results in the one blue, one normal eye expression.

This congenital abnormality has other negative manifestations, as well. Desmond Morris reports in his book Catlore that white cats developed a reputation for being bad mothers, likely because of their inability to hear their young's cries for attention. Both Wikipedia and Dr. Richard Pitcairn note that, due to the lack of pigment, white cats are prone to severe sunburn, particularly on their ears. This often results in lesions that turn cancerous. Additionally, Dr. Pitcairn states that these cats often have reduced immune function and fertility (though not enough, obviously) and inferior night vision.

Opening your home to one of these cats should be no more trouble than adopting any other cat or kitten. I always advocate spaying and neutering, and keeping cats indoors; in the case of these special creatures, both these things are a must. Even a white cat with no hearing loss is much more apt to be found by predators, since they lack any means of blending in with their surroundings. With the right care, however, even a cat suffering from the most severe expression of this gene should be able to live a long and comfortable life.
Chat later!
Photo of deaf, odd-eyed white cat (Sebastian) from Wikipedia


Anonymous Says:
March 30, 2010 at 2:05 PM

Hi Amanda. I had no idea! That was very interesting to this 'dog person"!

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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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