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- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Hedwig, Casper, Duchess, or Brie; whichever name your ivory-colored cat goes by, we bet it’s as attention-grabbing as their pearly white coat. White cats may lack color in their fur, but they are anything but vanilla. Similar to their intricately mosaiced calico and tortoiseshell friends, pure white and spotted white cats have their genetics to thank for their striking good looks and unique personalities.
Read on to learn more fun facts about white cats.
Pure White Is The Rarest Cat Color
Having a colored coat is common for cats. But a coat lacking color—that’s rare! And experts say white-coated kitties have a little gene dubbed W to thank for their unique attributes.
“White is an interesting lack of pigmentation; it’s not a color,” says Teresa Keiger, a Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) all-breed judge. There’s a gene called KIT, and the W form of KIT suppresses melanin, adds Dr. Hannah Hart, DVM, veterinary consultant for Chewy. The W gene can be recessive or dominant; the lucky genes and their combination determine if a cat is all white or dotted in pristine spots. “Only about 5% of cats have all-white coats,” Dr. Hart says.
According to Keiger, white kittens with copies of the recessive W gene will have a spot of color on top of their head called a skullcap. “That’s the color the kitten would be if the melanin was triggered to produce color,” she explains. “It disappears when they shed their kitten coat and get their adult coat.”
White Cats Have Unique Eye Colors
Did you know that all kittens start with the same eye color—blue? Blue eyes are actually the lack of pigmentation in the iris. What you’re really seeing is all the colors of light reflecting back at you, Keiger explains.
Around four to six weeks of age, melanocytes (the cells in the iris that produce melanin) kick into gear. Pigmentation of the iris develops, and your blue-eyed cat might actually be a cat with green, gold, or copper eyes. The more melanocytes, the less light reflected, and the darker a cat’s eyes.
Thanks to the W gene that masks or reduces the development of melanin, white cats have light-colored eyes in shades of blue, gold, green, and copper. Some have two different colored eyes—a special condition called heterochromia. During development, melanocytes migrated to one eye but not the other, giving your cat an even more striking appearance.
White Cats Are Often Deaf
The W gene also causes a reduction of melanin-producing cells called melanoblasts. Melanoblasts migrate to the ear, where they play a big role in maintaining and regulating the chemical balance, Keiger explains. Without melanoblasts, chemical imbalances cause the little hairs of the inner ear to die and cats to be deaf.
About 80% of white cats with two blue eyes experience deafness at about four days old. That’s when their inner ear hairs begin to die.
Cats with white spots and all-white kittens with a colored splotch on their heads have little to no risk of this type of deafness. Cats with heterochromia might be deaf on the same side as their blue eye. This type of deafness in cats can’t be cured, but there are many strategies for managing it and training cats with deafness.
White Cats Can Get Sunburned
“Like people, cats can get sunburned,” Dr. Hart says. Melanin does more than influence fur and eye color; it protects the skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) light.
All cats can get sunburned, but white cats, cats with white spots, and light-colored cats are most at risk. Additionally, areas with little-to-no fur, like a cat’s nose, ear tips, mouth, lips, eyes, and eyelids, are especially vulnerable to the sun.
“The sunlight is most intense from 10 am to 4 pm, so limiting time in direct sunlight between these hours is a good first step toward preventing sunburn,” recommends Dr. Hart. When lounging in the sun is your cat’s favorite pastime, Dr. Hart says to add UV-blocking film to your windows and restrict outdoor time to the morning and/or evening hours. You can also apply sunscreen to your cat during hotter months to prevent them from getting burned.
Sunburn, formally known as solar dermatitis, isn’t just uncomfortable for cats. Repeated and prolonged exposure can cause skin cancer, such as squamous cell carcinoma. This disease is painful and even deadly. But it’s preventable by keeping your kitty indoors and protected from harmful rays.
If your cat gets sunburnt, it’s important to administer pet-safe aloe vera gel. If you don’t have any, it’s always best to consult a vet.
White Cats Aren’t One Single Breed
You may have met some of the most well-known breeds that include ivory-colored cuties, “but many breeds have the solid white pattern in addition to many other colors and patterns,” Keiger says. Here are a few of the most popular breeds boasting white coats.
Their name literally means “like white diamonds.” It’s a safe bet the ancient Thai name refers to the breed’s shimmering white coat and glittering eyes, but this rare white cat costs as much as a diamond, too. Khao Manee is the one and only breed of cat to lack all color; their coat is always pure white, Keiger shares.
Keiger says the Turkish Angora was once thought to only sport a pure white coat, but in the late ’70s, cat fanciers let all their true colors shine through. The medium to long-haired breeds come in all shades of fabulous fur, from pure white to black, blue, and cream to tortoiseshell, tabby, and bi-colored.
Persian cats consistently rank high on lists of the most popular breeds of cats; even in 1684, humans couldn’t resist drawing their favorite figures in hieroglyphs. Why so popular? It could be that their faces and fluffy coats closely resemble a marshmallow—especially when they’re pure white.
Depending on who you ask, there are about eight Rex cat breeds. They’re typically recognized by their wavy, curly, rippled fur, and (sometimes) lack of fur. But you might spot a LaPerm, Cornish, Selkirk, or Devon Rex with a glistening white coat.
It’s no myth cats dislike water. But the Turkish Van is here to prove that stereotype wrong and to do it in style. Dubbed the ‘swimming cat’ for their love of water, the Turkish Van flaunts a pure white torso and colored head and tail.
White Cats Are Not Albino
White cats aren’t albino, although albino cats are white. Albino cats completely lack melanin, Dr. Hart explains. “White cats may have dark-colored eyes or dark spots on their paws or noses. They have some melanin and pigmentation, just less than cats with darker-colored coats,” she adds. In comparison, albinos have reddish or pale blue eyes, pale pink skin, and white fur.
Like the masking of melanin, the complete lack of melanin is genetic—but caused by a completely different gene.
White Cats Are Considered Good Luck Charms
If you consider your white cat your lucky charm, you’re not alone in this wishful thinking. “In Russia, some people believe that having a white cat in your home brings wealth and prosperity,” Dr. Hart says. In other parts of the world, it’s common practice to hope a white cat crosses your path.
White Cats Are Perceived As Shy Or Calm
There’s something about a cat’s coat color that evokes a perceived personality. For example, calicos are considered mischievous and chatty. When it comes to white cats, some say they’re shyer or calmer than their colored companions. “In the United Kingdom, some believe white cats hold grudges for longer than cats of other coat colors,” Dr. Hart says. However, there’s no definite proof that coat color plays a role in a cat’s personality or mannerisms.
Many Fictional Cats Are White
White cats have made a mark on the Hollywood scene. For example, in Disney’s “The Aristocats,” white Turkish Angoras Duchess and Marie prowl around Paris to the tune of “Everybody Wants to be Cat.” Additionally, Sailor Moon’s Artemis is known only as a Tomcat, and he sports short white fur and bright blue eyes. While the white cat is a pure and innocent creature, it also appears as an evil pet, including the long-haired Persian Mr. Bigglesworth in Austin Powers and Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s evil lap cat in the James Bond series. Of course, it’s almost impossible to think about cute white kitties without conjuring an image of Hello Kitty —who is actually said to be a British cartoon girl, not a cat.
White Cats Have Lived In The White House
White cats don’t just look prestigious, they play the part by living in the White House. Siam was the first of the white-coated bunch, a Siamese companion to 19th President Rutherford B. Hayes. While not pure white, Siam was the first of a handful of Siamese cats to walk the halls of the White House, followed by Gerald Ford’s Shan and Jimmy Carter’s Misty Malarky Ying Yang. The purest white of them all: 25th President William McKinley’s Turkish Angoras named Enrique DeLome and Valeriano Weyler.