There is something both romantic and comforting about a fluffy white feline. That gorgeous coat, however, can carry a dark secret. The same gene that gives several breeds of white cats their stunning fur also puts them at risk for congenital deafness. In fact, some studies show that 22% of white cats will be born deaf in one or both ears.
If you’re the pet parent of a white cat or considering bringing a snowy-coated kitty into your home, here are some important things to know about them and their tendency for deafness.
1. Not all white cats are deaf
Cats with the so-called W (white) gene are at risk for deafness, but in many cats this gene isn’t “turned on.” If you’re looking to add a white cat to your family, but aren’t sure you can properly care for a deaf cat, make sure your white cat is a purebred. While purebreds carry the W gene, it’s believed that their overall genetic composition makes them less likely to be born deaf (although no studies have been done to prove this).
2. Cats don’t have to be completely white to be at risk
Felines carrying the W gene may have colored spots on their head. These often fade or disappear with age, but in the early years they’ll be prominent. So don’t assume that your kitten is “safe” because of a few dark patches.
3. Blue eyes can make your feline even more likely to have hearing problems
A white cat with one blue eye has a 39% chance of at least partial deafness, and a white cat with two blue eyes may have a 65% chance. Felines with a single blue eye are often deaf in one hear (usually the ear on the same side as their blue eye), while two blue eyes make an ivory cat likely to suffer total deafness in both ears.
4. Cats predisposed to hearing loss begin to have problems early
With congenital deafness, cats have a problem with the blood supply in their ears. Kittens who inherit the “deaf gene” may begin to lose their hearing by 3 or 4 weeks of age.
5. If your cat has hearing in one ear, you may never notice a problem
Cats can adapt fairly well to their impairment. In fact, you may assume your cat has no problems because they’ve learned how to respond to whatever sounds they do hear. You may still want to have a vet test your white cat, though, since even if a kitty can mask hearing loss, it’s still there. Being unable to hear a full range of sounds can put your pet at risk for injury, especially when roaming outdoors.
More on Hearing Loss
The Symptoms of Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats
Ear Mites in Cats and Dogs
Cat Symptom Checker: Match Your Cat's Symptoms to Health Conditions
References & Resources
“Deafness in blue-eyed white cats: The uphill road to solving polygenic disorders,” The Veterinary Journal. 173: 471-472 (2007) (accessed online December 12, 2013)
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.