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One of the most fascinating things about tabby cats is their eyes. Much like their coats, their eyes can come in a variety of amazing colors. Not only do their eye colors make them wonderful to look at, but it says a lot about the uniqueness of the cat.
So, what color eyes do tabby cats have? The most common eye color for tabby cats is red, copper, orange, yellow, hazel, blue and green. The vertical pupils are usually black. Eye color is determined by melanocytes in the iris and sometimes coat color. In rare cases, cats can have two different eye colors.
There is so much that goes with understanding cat eye color and how different factors such as breed, melanin, and coat color play a role in that. In this article, we’ll share 15 fun facts about cat eye colors that every cat owner should know!
1. Melanin Determines Cat Eye Color
Did you know that melanin has a huge impact on the eye color of a cat? This not necessarily melanin in the cat’s skin, but rather the melanin in the eyes. Depending on how much melanin content the cat has in their eyes determines the color and brightness of their eyes.
The melanocytes are small cells that help produce the melanin. Typically the more melanin the cat has in their eyes, the darker they will be. Darker colors include hazel, orange, and red. Copper is actually the darkest color you will find in a cat’s eyes. Cats do not generate enough melanin to produce black or brown eye colors. Cats with lower amounts of melanin in their eyes will have lighter colors. Lower to moderate amounts of melanin will produce green-eyed cats.
The most mesmerizing of all the eye colors for cats is probably blue. Cats who have a complete absence of melanin in their eyes will usually have blue eyes, although there are some exceptions to that. Blue eyes mean the cat has no pigment in their irises. The light that reflects off of the cat’s eye surface is what causes us to see blue.
2. Cats Eye Colors Can Change As They Age
From infancy to adulthood, cats can see a change in the color of their eyes as they age. It’s not uncommon to see a kitten with yellow eyes grow into a happy adult cat with yellow eyes. The cause of this has to do with genetics and the melanocytes growing as they grow. This can occur with any cat breed and with any coat color.
This is usually something a cat owner can pick up on early on in a kittens life. Kittens are mostly born with blue eyes, and then those colors will begin to change over time. Usually, a month or two into a kitten’s growth is when you’ll notice changes in eye color. Sometimes it can take longer, but between 4 – 6 months later is when their true eye color is present.
3. Adults Cats Don’t Typically Experience Changes In Eye Color
While changes in eye color are quite common in younger cats, it’s almost never the case for adult cats. An adult cat experiencing changes in eye color is usually a sign that there is a health concern. In most cases, this means the cat is experiencing eye affection. The changes in eye color are sometimes hard to see, but it’s usually inflammatory in nature.
The eyes can appear more red or yellow than usual. If the change is eye color is gradual over a period of months and years, then that’s just genetics and aging. However, when an adult cat experiences a sudden change in eye color, something is likely wrong.
4. Cats With Blue Eyes Have No Melanin In Their Iris
Have you encountered a kitten or adult cat with blue eyes? It turns out this is not that rare of a case. Cats with blue eyes simply have little to no melanin in their iris. With fewer cells available to produce those pigments, cats are left with blue eyes. The blue color we see in a cat’s eyes is due to the lighting. There are certain breeds that are more likely to produce blue eye colors naturally. Below is a list of purebred cats that can have blue eyes.
5. Fur Color Doesn’t Necessarily Determine Eye Color
There is a misconception that the coat color of a cat will determine it’s eye color. That’s not necessarily true. Fur color and eye color of cats are not entirely connected. The biggest reason is that the genes that control the fur color of a cat have no relation to the genes that determine a cat’s coat color. This is why you can see cats of the same coat color have entirely different eye colors and intensities.
White cats, on the other hand, operate a bit different. The overwhelming majority of them actually have blue eyes, and that’s due in part to the white gene is dominant. This gene is dominant and has an effect on other genes. In this case yes, eye color is controlled by the epistatic gene in white cats.
6. Some Cats Have Two Eye Colors
Cats don’t always have the same colors for both eyes. In fact, it’s not unusual to find a cat that possesses two different eye colors. This is caused by the melanin content inside of each eye. If one eye is darker than the other, then it means one of the eyes has fewer melanocytes than the other.
What typically happens is a genetic mutation. Certain genes will block how pigments are distributed between the eyes. This is usually an inherited trait, but can also happen from other defects. The condition is actually called heterochromia, and it’s something humans can also experience. What affects this is really how the melanin is distributed to the eyes.
Cats with heterochromia are often referred to as odd-eyed, and it’s really not uncommon to see this happen. While heterochromia occurs mostly in white cats, it does carry across other coat colors and patterns too; not just tabby cats. The white spotting gene that causes it will still be present in them.
Depending on the breed of the tabby cat, some are more likely to get heterochromia than others. Below is a list of the cats most likely to carry the condition.
- Japanese Bobtail
- Oriental Shorthair
- Turkish Van
Things don’t just stop here though. Cats can actually experience multi-colored eyes. This is basically a mix of pigments which make it hard to discern exactly what color eyes the cat has. Cats with multi-colored eyes are considered dichromatic. It’s actually a rare condition that gives the cat a colored ring just around the pupil.
7. Certain Cat Breeds Have Unique Eye Colors
While all cats can have interesting eye colors, there are a few breeds that produce colors that are unique to them. This is not just one eye color, but sometimes a combination of several colors within the same eye.
For example, the Ojos Azule cat breed can have blue eyes even if their fur isn’t white. Some other unique colors involve the Chinchilla which can have turquoise eyes. The Topaz can have blue eyes, multi-colored eyes, or even dark green eyes that almost look entirely black.
Some other unique colors are linked specifically to the Siamese, Tonkinese, and Burmese cats. The Burmese, for example, can actually have golden-colored eyes. The Tonkinese can sometimes have blue-green or aqua-colored eyes. The Siamese cat breed can have blue eyes. In general, purebred cats will have more intense eye colors. Cats that are random-bred can feature the same colors, but not as vibrant. The colors might also have more mixture than normal which can make it tough to decide on a specific color for that cat.
8. Melanocyte Activity Controls The Brightness Of A Cats Eyes
The amount of melanocyte activity controls the brightness or intensity of a cat’s eyes. The more active those cells are, the more vibrant the colors will appear no matter how dark or light their eyes are. In general, purebred cats will have more intense eye colors than those who are not. This is partly because purebred cats are trying to achieve specific metrics like size and coat color.
Eye color is also an area of emphasis. Think of two cats who have yellow eyes. The cat with pale-yellow eyes likely has less melanocyte activity going on, which is why their eyes come off a bit dull. Compare that to a cat whos yellow eyes are rich and vibrant, they actually have more melanocyte activity.
9. Most Black Cats Have Darker Eyes
Did you know that most black cats have darker eyes? And that’s not just opinion, but there are actual numbers to support that assessment. The most common eye color found in black cats is orange. This means they have more melanin in their eyes. There are of course black cats with yellow and copper eyes too, although less common. Just like other cats, the breed is the main determining factor in eye color. Black cats can also have blue, green, hazel and other eye colors.
10. Cats With Certain Eye Colors Can Become Deaf
Although not set in stone, there are some health issues that cats with certain eye colors can face. One of the main issues that occur in 40 percent of all white cats is deafness. The eye color, in this case, is blue. This is mostly the case because the white gene has been linked to deafness in several studies on cats.
Sometimes the cat can be born without the ability to hear. Even cats with two different eye colors can run into the issue of deafness if one of those eyes is blue. The deafness will be present in the ear that has a blue eye. Again, this is all tied to the white gene itself. Albino cats don’t have this issue.
Blindness is sometimes a concern with blue-eyed cats, but it’s still a very rare occurrence. Vision issues usually happen when the cat is not getting enough nutrients and is less impacted by what color eye they are born with.
11. Albino Cats Appear To Have Pink Eyes
Have you noticed an albino cat with an unusual pink eye color? Well, the color is not actually pink, but it sure can appear to be that way. It’s actually a dilution of the eyes in which there is no pigment and a slight bit of blue. Because of the lack of blue color, pink is what we see. Pink eyed albino cats are quite rare, so if you see one you’ve got a gem!