The layperson may misconstrue or misunderstand what it means for a cat to be a true albino, if anectodical posts on the internet are anything to go by at the very least. A white cat and an albino cat, although at a glance may appear physically similar, have a number of pretty divergent traits.
Additionally, the genetic explanation for their colorings are vastly different. Lastly, learning to identify what a true albino cat looks like is important as these animals have a number of health concerns that as an owner, it is important to know.
The Rate of Albinism In Cats
Albinism is a genetic phenomenon among animals characterized by an unusual lack of pigmentation – less than what is dominantly found in the various generations of both parents of an albino. This is because albinism is a recessive gene and requires two parents to have such a recessive gene to produce an albino offspring.
Albinism in cats is an exceedingly rare condition – with only about 2% of the entire cat population exhibiting it. For this reason, one should not simply assume their white cat is an albino.
If their eyes and skin colors suggest this, however, one should see a vet as there are health concerns and things to keep in mind when caring for such an animal.
There are two types of albinism – pure and partial. Pure albinism is characterized by reduced or absence of melanin production. Because of this, the only pigment remaining in the body is the color of blood cells.
Light passes through various colorless cells in the body and gets reflected or refracted, except for areas where blood cells are present. These multiple layers of red cells are the ones responsible in giving the red colors in your albino kitty’s eyes as well as the pinkish tinge on its skin.
An albino kitty is mistaken as white because its fur which lacks melanin appears white. This is so – thanks to the light which passes through several layers of semi-transparent hair.
You have probably seen how nylon fiber light decorations work – that is basically how your albino kitty becomes white. Light passes and is bent and reflected several times through various strands of fur that it appears white in our vision.
Partial albinism, also called leucism, is another somewhat related condition where there is only a partial loss of pigmentation. These cats lack pigmentation in all coloration except for black, which means their eyes, as well as patterns on their fur can appear black.
The Oriental family of cats, which include Siamese and Burmese, actually exhibit partial albinism which explains their distinct coloration pattern.
White vs Albino
White cats simply are cats whose coloration genes result in a white color to the fur. Specifically, their TYR gene which is responsible for making tyrosinase – the enzyme which allows melanin production – are coded as white overall.
Cats being white means that the total sum of their pigmentation ended up with white as the dominant trait. These cats can have any number of colors for their eyes as well as underlying skin or fur pigmentation in colors other than white.
Albino cats, on the other hand, actually have a genetic mutation of the TYR gene which results in no melanin production, which, in turn, results in no pigment produced whatsoever on their body.
This “no pigmentation” in their eyes results in them appearing almost transparent. The coloration will always appear pale as opposed to vibrant in a normal cat; even a white one.
Lack of pigmentation tends to make pure albino furball red-eyed. Some may have very little pigment still remaining which often reported as having a faint pinkish-blue hue in the eyes. But this is due to the underlying blood vessels which can actually be seen through the transparency.
Felines with point coloration, on the other hand, tend to have lighter-colored eyes rather than darker colors.
Kitties with Leucism and other white cats may have yellow, green or blue orbs. Leucistic cats, unlike other white cats, may have either all-blue eyes or heterochromia – a combination of one blue eye and a green or yellow eye.
The skin of albino cats also lacks coloration but may look to be a pale pink color, especially around the eyes or nose.
This is again due to the light reflecting against blood flow. The paleness of the color is a good indication of albinism. Without pigmentation, the color of the internals of the cat are seen.
Concerns in Albinism
Identifying albinism is crucial because albino cats can suffer from a variety of health concerns that other cats don’t. Blindness, skin cancer, and sunburns are all common health concerns for these cats.
As their eyes lack pigmentation, they are particularly sensitive to light and suspectable to damage from sunlight. Additionally, albino cats have difficulties with vision in general – particularly depth perception.
Albino cats ideally should not be allowed outside and should not be allowed to stay in areas with prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. Given their vision problems, setting your home up in a way to accommodate them is also recommended.
As they can be clumsy, give these cats large pathways and spaces to hang out without too much clutter. Avoid objects which can easily be knocked over and keep the litter box easily accessible. Cat-specific sunblock even exists!
Melanin is also related to immune strength and so cats with albinism can sometimes be more susceptible to illness; especially as kittens. For this reason, you should feed them raw, minimally processed foods.
Additionally, access to plentiful, clean water, limiting of chemical use in the home, exercise and weight control, as well as immune-boosting supplements are all good ideas.
Myth of Deafness
It has been observed that white cats have a high chance of being deaf. Because of this partial belief, various misunderstandings have sprung up and need to be cleared.
Deafness in albino cats is actually a myth; believe it or not. This belief came from the misunderstanding that albino kitties are white.
As mentioned earlier, the coloration of albinos came from the cat’s hair’s ability to reflect and refract white light. Albino cat’s hair, in the first place, lacks pigmentation and therefore, cannot be identified as white.
Melanin production and hearing are controlled by unrelated genes and it’s actually the blue eyes which are linked to deafness in cats. Although there have been cases of albinos that are deaf, these are extremely rare. This may also be coupled with vision problems which is why frequent vet wellness checks are encouraged.
Another myth that needs to be corrected is the frequency of deaf cats among these white furballs. Deafness in cats is actually more linked to the combination of white fur and blue eye color rather than having blue eyes alone.
White cats that have heterochromia have an increased chance of 30% to 40% being deaf, and a point of interest is that whichever side has the blue eyes also tend to be the side with deaf ear. The probability of deafness increases further for kitties with all-blue eyes – 60% to 80% of white felines with blue eyes also have a hearing impairment.
Meanwhile, there is only 10% to 20% probability of being deaf among cats with green or yellow eyes.