If you find blue-eyed cats enchanting, there's no need to hesitate about bringing one home for fear he will be blind or deaf. In the 95 percent of cats who are not all-white, blue eyes are not linked to deafness. Eye color also has nothing to do with blindness.
It's been observed for a long time that most blue-eyed solid-white cats are deaf, but it's only been recently that scientists have understood most of why. Up to 85 percent of them may be deaf, but solid-white cats are relatively few to begin with, and blue-eyed solid-white cats are even rarer. About 20 percent of non-blue-eyed white cats also are deaf. Of white cats with one blue eye, about 40 percent are deaf in at least one ear. The deaf ear is usually on the same side as the blue eye. Unless both ears are affected, cats may never show any signs of hearing loss. Albino cats are not linked to deafness.
So what links blue eyes, white fur, and deafness? The combination of traits develops from a genetic defect in the set of embryonic stem cells that eventually become the cat's central nervous system, including hearing, and its pigment cells, which produce the melanin that gives eyes and hair its coloration. The white fur and blue eyes both are a consequence of a lack of melanin from pigment cells. Meantime, the same defect often also affects a cell layer of the inner ear that is essential for hearing. The resulting congenital deafness is noted by 3 to 4 weeks of age, the age at which newborn kittens normally are able to hear.
If you are looking for a blue-eyed beauty, look for cat breeds that commonly have blue eyes, including Siamese, Persian, snowshoe, ragdoll, Tonkinese, Balinese, Javanese, Turkish Van, Himalayan and ojos azules. Blue-eyed cats are not limited to these breeds, though. If you check with local animal shelters, you may find just the jewel you are looking for. Kittens normally are born with blue eyes, and their actual eye color does not become apparent until they are several weeks old. By the time kittens are weaned, the true eye color should be shining through.
Signs of Deafness
If your cat ignores your voice and you are worried he is deaf, regardless of his eye and coat color, look for some specific signs. A deaf cat may seem disoriented, walk oddly, startle easily when touched, or be difficult to wake up. If you suspect your cat has a hearing loss, consult your vet. The ASPCA recommends you never allow a deaf cat to go outdoors. Put a bell on him to make him easier to locate if he does get away, since he cannot hear your calls.
Jenny Newberry, a former teacher with 25 years of experience, is a professional writer and photographer and holds a B.S. and a M.Ed. in elementary and special education from the University of South Alabama. She is also a history buff, praise and worship pianist, pet enthusiast, avid crafter and hobby gardener.