Do Kittens Really Have Different Colored Eyes at Birth?

Introduction

Most newborn kittens are born with blue eyes. This is because they lack melanin pigment in their irises at birth. Melanin is responsible for giving color to a cat’s eyes, skin, and fur. As kittens grow, their irises start to slowly fill in melanin pigmentation. This causes their eyes to change from blue to shades of green, gold, orange, copper or yellow as they mature. By around 6 to 8 weeks of age, kittens’ eyes begin changing from blue to their adult eye color. This process is usually complete by the time kittens reach 3 to 6 months old. While many cat eyes turn amber, green or other shades by adulthood, some cats maintain blue eyes throughout their lives. A cat’s genetics, coat color and eye color inheritance patterns all play a role in their final adult eye color.

Newborn Kittens

When kittens are first born, their eyes are closed and they are completely helpless. Their eyes generally open between 6-14 days after birth and at this stage, all newborn kittens have blue eyes. The blue eye color is due to a lack of melanin and pigmentation at birth, not the iris color itself.

According to kittenlady.org, newborn kittens won’t develop melanin in their eyes until around 2 weeks of age. So if you are lucky enough to meet kittens who are less than 2 weeks old, you’ll notice their eyes appear blue.

Once kittens pass 2 weeks of age, melanin pigment starts to develop in their eyes. This causes their eye color to gradually change over the next 6-8 weeks before settling into their final adult eye color.

Melanin and Iris Pigmentation

The eye color of cats is determined by melanin, which is a pigment that gives color to the skin, hair, and eyes. Melanin is produced by cells called melanocytes. Cats have two types of melanin that contribute to eye color:

Eumelanin: This melanin produces brown and black pigments. The more eumelanin a cat has, the darker the eye color.

Pheomelanin: This melanin produces orange and yellow pigments. This causes green, hazel, and light amber eye colors.

The amount and type of melanin present in a cat’s iris determines its eye color. Higher concentrations of eumelanin lead to darker eyes, while higher levels of pheomelanin cause lighter eye colors. The melanocytes in a kitten’s eyes begin producing melanin at around 2 weeks of age, leading to pigmentation and eye color change.

Source: https://bluepearlvet.com/medical-articles-for-pet-owners/feline-iris-melanosis/

When Eye Color Starts to Change

Newborn kittens are born with blue eyes, but this will change as they grow older. Most kittens will start to show changes in their eye color at around 4-8 weeks old. According to Daily Paws, this is when melanocytes migrate to the iris and produce the pigment melanin that gives eyes their eventual adult color.

As explained on the Catster website, the kitten’s eyes will continue gradually changing color from 7 weeks onward as they mature, and reach their final adult eye color around 3 months old. The timing varies across breeds and individuals, but most kittens complete the eye color transformation process somewhere between 4 and 8 weeks of age.

Final Adult Eye Color

A cat’s eye color when it reaches adulthood can come in a wide range of shades. While some cats retain their blue eyes, most will develop eyes in tones of green, yellow, orange, copper or gold. Rarely, some cats may have odd-eyed irises, with one blue eye and one green, yellow or brown eye.

The most common adult cat eye colors are:

  • Green – Ranging from bright green to yellow-green
  • Yellow/Amber – Varying from light yellow to deep orange tones
  • Hazel – A mix of green with yellow, brown or orange
  • Copper/Gold – Metallic shimmering shades of orange-brown
  • Orange – From pale peach to rich pumpkin tones

While many cats have solid eye colors, some may have flecks or spotting that gives their eyes unique character. The wide range of possible eye shades in adult cats occurs due to varying levels of melanin and other pigments within the iris.

Genetics and Heredity

A cat’s eye color is primarily determined by genetics and heredity. The main gene responsible for eye color is the one that codes for melanin production. Melanin is a pigment that produces darker colors in fur, skin and eyes. The more melanin a cat has, the darker their eye color will be. There are several genes that affect melanin production and distribution in cats:

– The B gene controls the production of black pigment. The b allele results in reduced black pigment.

– The D gene dilutes black pigment into gray. The d allele is responsible for dilute colors like blue and lilac.

– The O gene controls the orange pigment. Cats need two copies of O to produce orange coloration.

In addition to these main genes, other modifier genes subtly influence the intensity and distribution of pigment. Each cat inherits one allele from each parent at every gene locus. The combination of paternal and maternal alleles is what determines the cat’s final eye shade.

Because multiple genes are involved, eye colors can be complex. But in general, darker eyed cats have more melanin while lighter eyed cats have less melanin. Additionally, white spotting genes that affect coat color distribution also cause blue eyes. So eye color gives clues about a cat’s genetic makeup.

References:

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Coat Color and Eye Color

There is often a correlation between a cat’s coat color and its eye color. This is because the melanin pigment that determines coat color also plays a role in eye color. However, the relationship is not absolute and there are exceptions.

In general, cats with darker coat colors tend to have yellow, green, or hazel eyes. Light colored cats, like white cats, often have blue or odd-eyed coat patterns. Orange tabby cats usually have green or hazel eyes. Pointed pattern cats like Siamese have blue eyes due to a gene that limits melanin distribution.

While trends exist, it’s important to note that genetics determine eye color independently from coat color. As the Colorado Feline Foster Rescue explains, “eye color and fur color are determined by different gene locations” (Source). So there are always exceptions to the tendencies.

For example, some black cats may have striking blue eyes. Orange tabby cats can also have blue eyes. The eye color possibilities are endless thanks to the intricate feline genome.

Eye Coloring Exceptions

While most cats will develop standard eye colors like green, yellow, or orange as they mature, there are some exceptions. One interesting condition is called heterochromia, where a cat’s irises are different colors. For example, one eye may be blue while the other is green or orange. Heterochromia is caused by uneven melanin distribution and can result in a striking, unusual appearance.

According to a report by Catster, heterochromia is relatively uncommon and affects only about 1 in 10,000 cats. The condition can impact one or both eyes. Certain breeds like Turkish Vans seem to have higher rates of heterochromia. The cause is likely genetic. In rare cases, heterochromia may signal an underlying health issue like glaucoma or retinal atrophy, so cats displaying the condition should be examined by a vet.

Other eye coloring anomalies include central heterochromia, where there is an inner ring of color around the pupil that differs from the outer iris color. Cats can also sometimes have flecks or marbling patterns within the iris. Overall, while solid eye colors are most common, felines have a wide range of possible eye shades and variations.

Sources:
https://www.catster.com/guides/types-of-cat-eye-colors/
https://a-z-animals.com/blog/discover-the-rarest-cat-eye-colors/

Caring for Blue-Eyed Cats

Blue-eyed cats require some special considerations when it comes to care, as their eyes are more sensitive than cats with other eye colors. According to Cobalt-eyed Beauties: The Allure of Blue-eyed Cats, blue-eyed cats are more prone to sun damage, so it’s important to limit their sun exposure. Providing shade when they are outside and using cat-safe sunscreen can help protect their eyes.

You’ll also want to be diligent about eye hygiene. Gently wiping away eye discharge daily with a soft, damp cloth can prevent buildup. Seek veterinary care if you notice excessive tearing, discharge, or redness, as blue-eyed cats are prone to eye issues like cherry eye.

Annual vet exams to screen for eye problems are recommended. Cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy are concerns to watch out for. Feed your blue-eyed cat a diet rich in vitamins E and C to support eye health.

While startling, blue eyes do not impact vision or health as long as proper eye care is provided. With some simple considerations, blue-eyed cats can enjoy good eye health and show off their brilliant peepers.

Conclusions

In summary, a kitten’s eyes start out blue due to a lack of melanin and pigmentation in the iris. Over time, melanin production increases and causes their eye color to change to shades of green, yellow, orange, copper or hazel. Eye color is determined by genetics, with some colors being more common than others. Coat color can give clues about eye color, but there are exceptions. While rare, some cats maintain blue eyes into adulthood. Blue-eyed cats require extra care to protect their eyes from the sun. The various cat eye colors add to the diversity and beauty of our feline companions.

Key points covered include:

  • Kittens are born with blue eyes due to lack of melanin
  • Melanin causes eye color to change around 6-8 weeks of age
  • Most adult cats have yellow/orange or green eyes
  • Genetics determine the final eye color a cat will have
  • Coat and eye color are linked but not always predictive
  • A small percentage of cats maintain blue eyes
  • Blue-eyed cats need eye protection from the sun

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