5 Types of Cat Eye Colors Explained
Cat’s eyes are so hypnotic in their beauty. “Every stare is like a hook” to quote the Ray Stevens’ song “Cat’s Eye”. There is just something about the way they glimmer, something bewitching about those slitted pupils. The logo for the Broadway musical Cats is a pair of golden cat eyes. A marble with a swirling stripe is called a cat’s eye.
Stephen King wrote a spooky anthology story called Cat’s Eye about a heroic cat who saves his young mistress from an evil troll. The final scene in the epic music video “Thriller” is a close up of Michael Jackson’s face with feline eyes as Vincent Price laughs evilly.
Just how do cats get those dazzling eye colors?
- How cats get their eye color
- What is the Spectrum of Cat Eye Colors?
- Eye Color Is Seldom Connected to Color of the Fur
- When is it an Albino Cat or Just a White Cat with Blue Eyes?
- Which Cat Eye Colors Are More Conventionally Linked with Health Issues?
How cats get their eye color
Like any other animal, a cat’s eye color is determined by genetics. Different genes mean different levels of melanin, the amino acid that controls pigment in the eyes, skin and fur. Melanin comes from melanocytes, the number of which determines the cat’s eye color. Wild cats in temperate regions such as lynxes and bobcats typically have hazel eyes.
It is very common for feral cats to have hazel eyes as well. However, the eye color of domestic cats can vary from blue to green to yellow, orange and a copper tone often mistaken for brown.
The Cat Eye Color is the Result of Melanin
The more melanin your cat has, the darker her fur and eyes will be. It should be remembered, though, that melanin affects fur differently from eyes. This means a dark furred cat can have light eyes and vice versa.
At What Age Do Kittens Change the Color of Their Eyes?
When kittens are first born, the eyes are sealed shut. They are blind and deaf, relying completely on their mother to live. Seven to ten days later, the eyes will start to open and will be a cloudy shade of blue. (No wonder this color is associated with innocence!) At around six weeks, this color may start to change.
Anywhere from three to eight weeks, some kittens may develop flecks of color in their eyes. At the age of ten weeks, the kitten’s eyes will have vision as good as an adult cat. By the age of three months the eyes will be their final color.
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What is the Spectrum of Cat Eye Colors?
The color of the eye is all in the iris, a part of the eye aptly named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow. It has two layers that carry the color promoting cells that are known as melanocytes. These two layers are called the stroma and the epithelium. Each one carries melanocytes differently.
It is in the stroma that the melanocytes are rather dispersed. It is in the epithelium that the melanocytes are firmly packed together. The colors can be blue, yellow, green, gold, copper, red or amber. Some cats may even have mismatched eyes!
Cats with Blue Eyes
Blue eyes are associated with innocence, but also with piercing coldness and the occult. Which seems to fit your sapphire eyed feline best? A cat with no melanin in the iris will have blue eyes. While eye color is not typically tied down to fur, white cats are more likely to have blue eyes. White cats that have two blue eyes are prone to a higher tendency of being deaf than do cats that have other coat and eye color combinations.
Keep in mind it does not seem as though odd-eyed cats have a significant risk of developing deafness in one or both ears any more than normal cats. Up to 70% of cats with odd colored eyes can hear perfectly normally.
Cats with Green Eyes
David Bowie’s “Cat People” mentions “eye so green I can stare for a thousand yards.” Green eyes are often associated with mystical powers and are the color most associated with cats. In Cats, Skimbleshanks is described as having “glass green” eyes. Like blue eyes, green eyes have very little melanin.
Here are some cats with green eyes. The Chinchilla Longhair (Chinchilla Persian) and the breed’s shorthaired equivalents are noted for their sea-green eyes with black rims. The Tonkinese cats are known for aqua colored eyes. The Russian Blue is known for emerald green eyes contrasting with slate grey fur.
The Egyptian mau has eyes that can be best described as gooseberry green. Jaguars also have a tendency towards gooseberry green.
Cats with Yellow or Orange Eyes
Yellow or golden eyes are associated with craftiness and the supernatural. Black cats seem to be most associated with this eye color. Traditionally, yellow or golden eyes are associated with the power to shapeshift. Could this be why black cats were associated with witches for so long?
Big cats like tigers and lions will often of yellow or orange eyes, the reason why the precious stone tiger’s eye got its name. Sometimes a cat will have chartreuse eyes. The amber orange color is much bolder.
This color can sometimes be described as coppery.
Cats with Two Different Eye Colors
According to Charles Xavier, heterochromia iridium is the grooviest mutation there is. It occurs when a white or white spotting gene blocks the distribution and concentration of pigment in the iris during development. This condition can be inherited genetically or congenital due to development defect.
Like with the previously mentioned David Bowie, heterochromia may be acquired through illness, injury or medication.
In cats, this is also known as being “odd eyed”. The condition is most commonly found in epistatic white cats that have one eye in blue and the other being orange, yellow, copper, hazel or green.
Turkish vans, Turkish angoras and Japanese bobtails seem most prone to being odd eyed. Persians, sphinxes and Oriental shorthairs are also prone to mismatched eyes.
Dichromatic is used to describe when there are two colors in one eye. This could manifest as a “pie slice” or a colored ring about the pupil. While judges in professional cat shows consider this a flaw, many cat fanciers find this rare trait very attractive. If both of a cat’s eyes are dichromatic, they may be a mirror image of each other.
Eye Color Is Seldom Connected to Color of the Fur
While pedigreed black cats have a tendency towards bold orange eyes and white cats tend to have blue eyes, there’s very little to connect coat color with eye color. There are some breed specific colors, however. Russian blues always have green eyes where Siamese cats always have blue eyes. The black tipped chinchilla cat will have eyes in a deep turquoise color. Purebred cats tend to have more intensely colored eyes.
When is it an Albino Cat or Just a White Cat with Blue Eyes?
An albino cat will rarely have the pink eyes associated with most animals with albinism. Rather, the eyes will be a very pale blue or a faint lilac tone. As an albino has no melanin, this is not so much an eye color as light reflecting the blood flow in the back of the retina. A white cat with sapphire or cornflower blue eyes may not be an albino.
Do remember that deafness is only associated with the dominant white gene rather than the white spotting gene.
Albino cats are technically not white, they simply have no melanin meaning they have no color at all. Thus, an albino may not have the hearing problems of the typical white cat, though she may have some vision problems.
Which Cat Eye Colors Are More Conventionally Linked with Health Issues?
White cats with blue eyes tend to be deaf. Albino cats, like all albinos, will be very sensitive to bright lights and will sunburn easily. Heterochromia caused by genetics does not seem linked to any health problems, but heterochromia brought on by illness or injury may come with a loss of depth perception.
When Changing Eye Color Should Be a Health Concern
A cat with orange eyes that were previously another color can mean an inflammation known as uveitis. The cause for this may be diabetes, high blood pressure, eye trauma, metastatic tumors, a fungal or bacterial infection or a viral disease such as feline herpes, FeLV, FIV, or FIP.
If they look darker than usual it may be due to red blood cell build up. Cloudy eyes can mean a build up of cataracts. (No pun intended.) There is also glaucoma to look out for. Glaucoma is an occular condition accompanied by increased pressure in the eye. This will cause loss of vision if left untreated. The usual symptoms to look for are a cloudy, milky white eye color. Glaucoma can also lead to uveitis
A reddish-brown copper color like a new penny can be beautiful, if it is a natural trait of the cat. Some cats are even bred to have this feature. However, copper colored eyes can be a symptom of a portosystemic shunt, or liver shunt. This can be a congenital condition, or can be acquired later in life. Do keep in mind that not all cats that have liver shunts will have copper colored eyes.
In any case, if your cat is well past the age of three months and her eye color suddenly changes there may be a health problem and you should take her to a vet.
If one pupil seems more dilated than the other, this is also cause for concern as it may be a sign of a concussion, brain hemorrhage, aneurysm or optic neuritis. Anything out of the ordinary signifies something could be very wrong.
A cat’s eyes can be as bright as jewels and come in as many different colors. Like jewels, they are also very valuable. While a cat’s vision may not be able to see in the fine details or rich colors that a human can perceive, they are well adjusted for night vision. A cat only needs one-sixth the amount of light that humans need in order to see. While they can’t see in total darkness, they can adjust better to low light conditions than humans can.
The glow of a cat’s eye is due to a part of the cat’s retina that is known as the tapetum lucidum. It amplifies light, allowing the cat to see better in low light conditions. Compared to humans, cats are a little nearsighted and see colors as more muted. However, along with better night vision and the ability to see ultraviolet light, the cat can also see quick moving objects better than a human. This could explain why your cat is more likely to eat a treat if you fling it across the room than if you just lay it at her feet.
Cat eye color is due to the presence of melanin, which itself is the result of genetics. While fur color has little to do with eye color, breed certainly may. Cat eyes can come in a variety of colors. Kittens are born blind. The eye is blueish as it first starts to develop, gradually becoming the final adult color at three months. The eyes may be of two different colors, sometimes in the same eye! If your adult cat’s eyes suddenly change color or appearance medical intervention will be necessary.
Eyes are indeed the most beautiful feature on a feline. Pay close attention to them and take note if they suddenly look different one day. With care and attention, your cat could have ideal vision for the rest of her life.
- The Cornea: Epithelium and Stroma by Niels Ehlers, Jesper Hjortdal
- Eye Defects (Congenital) in Cats at PetMD.com
- Portosystemic Shunt at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
- Cataracts in Cats at wagwalking.com by Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
- Sandmeyer, Lynne S et al. “Metastatic carcinoma in a cat” Canadian veterinary journal = La revue veterinaire canadienne vol. 50,1 (2009): 95-6.
- COLOR INHERITANCE IN MAMMALS: X., The Cat—Curious Association of Deafness with Blue-eyed White Color and of Femaleness with Tortoise-shelled Color, Long Known—Variations of Tiger Pattern Present Interesting Features