Friday, February 23, 2018

The Purrfect 10: Fascinating Facts About White Cats

We love reading and researching anything and everything about cats, and wanted to find a fun and unique way to share the interesting facts we learn with you! Since top 10 lists are very popular in the blogosphere, we created The Purrfect 10 as a way to present 10 educational or fascinating tidbits about a wide variety of cat-related topics, everything from health issues to cat breeds to famous felines.


We chose white cats as the subject of February's edition of The Purrfect 10 because of their pristine beauty, so similar to this snowy-white month during which we celebrate love. Simple enough topic, right? What I didn't count on was the incredibly scientific explanations behind these magnificent creatures, and my brain has never been geared towards science! Nevertheless, I found the research to be quite fascinating, and we think you will too!

1) While many cats will be born white and then develop their colors as they mature (this is generally the case with colorpoint breeds like the Siamese and Himalayan), 5% of the general cat population is pure white and stays that way. Persians, Siberians, the Devon and Cornish Rex, the Turkish Van and Angora, Scottish Fold, American and British Shorthairs, Maine Coon, and Norwegian Forest Cats are some of the breeds that produce pure white cats.

2) White cats are masters of disguise! They aren’t genetically white—the gene that makes cats appear white actually masks the TRUE color of the cat. It's very possible that a white Persian is actually genetically a dilute calico! The white cat can either pass their true color to their young, or their true color and the masking gene, making them white as well. Many white kittens are born with a small spot on their heads which shows their true color, and the spot may fade over time.

3) One of the most striking features of white cats are their eyes. They can be blue, green, gold, or even two different colors! Blue eyes are much more common in white cats than other colored felines, with 15% to 40% of them having one or two blue eyes.

Image: Jan-Erik Finnberg via Flickr

4) Hereditary deafness is a major concern in white cats, especially those with blue eyes. This is because of a genetics coupling that occurs only with the dominant white gene. (This pawsome post contains more information as to the scientific reasons why.) Research has shown that up to 80% of pure white cats with two blue eyes are hearing impaired, dropping to 40% for those with only one blue eye (with the highest chance of deafness in the ear closest to the blue eye), and 10-20% if neither eye is blue.

5) Decades ago feline geneticist Patricia Turner saw an overexposed photo of a lilac point Siamese, inspiring her to produce a completely white Oriental cat with blue eyes, with the ultimate goal that these cats wouldn't be deaf. The breeding program began in England in 1962 by crossing seal point Siamese with white British Shorthairs, resulting in the Foreign White breed, or the white Siamese. These cats share personality and physical traits of the Siamese, but they remain completely white and never develop the color points that typical Siamese do.

6) Cochlear implants, a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing in both ears, have been implanted in cats that were born deaf in order to study congenital deafness. With the implant, cats would come when called and demonstrate behaviorally that they can hear. After 3 months of use, synapses of auditory nerve fibers in these cats were indistinguishable from those of normal hearing cats.

7) Because they lack protective pigment, white cats are at greater risk of developing skin cancer, especially in areas where the fur is thin such as the ears, eyelids and nose.

Image: notoriousxl via Flickr

8) There are important scientific differences between white cats and albino cats. Albinism is a genetic condition which results in a complete lack of pigmentation due to their inability to produce melanin (the pigment that gives the eyes, skin, and coat their color). For a kitten to be considered a true albino both parents must carry the genetic marker for albinism, making them very rare. So how do you tell the difference? While white cats are known for their colorful eyes, an albino's eyes are likely to appear pale blue, pink, red, or pinkish blue, and their skin, most noticeably the nose and inner ears, will also be pink or pale pink. Because of this they are highly light-sensitive and direct sunlight can be harmful to their eyes and skin.

9) Superstition surrounds white cats, just as it does their black brothers and sisters. Folklore states that to dream of a white cat is good luck, but to see one at night is bad. In some countries they represent purity, but in others they bring bad luck depending on the circumstances, such as spotting one on your way to work predicting unemployment or job problems. A North American superstition states that a white cat may be jealous of a baby's innocence and place a curse on it, but in some Mediterranean countries a white cat forming a bond with a child signals greatness when they grow up. In Russia white cats are believed to bring money and prosperity, but in England they signal tough times ahead. The British also believe it unwise to offend or annoy a white cat because they can hold a grudge for years, and Albanians think if you touch a long-haired white cat you'll get fat...or pregnant!

10) White cats have long been a staple of children's movies, especially the Disney classics, from the mother/daughter due of Duchess and Marie in The Aristocats to Frankenweenie’s Mr. Whiskers. There's also Mr. Tinkles in Cats and Dogs, Snowbell in Stuart Little, Simon's Cat, and the iconic Hello Kitty who will be starring in her own feature film in 2019!

Have you ever been owned by a white cat? 
What do you think makes them so special?

15 comments:

Lone Star Cats said...

What interesting facts! We's never had a white cat here (one black and white and 2 gray and whites). Dey sure are pretty!

Summer at sparklecat.com said...

Wow, even my human learned a few things about white cats!

Momma Kat and Her Bear Cat said...

I love this series ... and learning more about my favorite species. I've long suspected Bear's mom was all white (the very first time I saw him, he was following around a bigger white cat). I think he was one of those Momma's boys who eventually are forced to leave the nest in favor of mating toms. The genetics of cats are so complex - I'd love to get a better handle on it!

Patricia T said...

Interesting. My neighbor has a white cat.

The Menagerie Mom said...

I love your Purrfect 10 series, and I love that you chose white cats as the stars of this one! I took some animal genetics courses in college, and the sections on cat coat genetics were always my favorite. The complexity of this topic can be so daunting, yet also so intriguing. You explain it all so well here!

Colehaus Cats said...

Those facts are fascinating. We had no idea! Thanks for sharing this!

Eastside Cats said...

Have not been owned by an all-white cat, but it's on my list! The closest we have is Angel, who is a cow-colored kitty, with white tips to her ears. We've always been very careful about exposing her ears to sunshine, by pulling the window blinds down so she can still see out, but not get the hot sun on her white parts. Our long-gone friendly feral Sammy was a tuxedo cat, so he had lots of white on his underparts (tummy, chins, feet). Good post!

The Swiss Cats said...

Very interesting ! Purrs

Hairballsandhissyfits.com said...

I met a deaf white cat today who was up for adoption - i was tempted -they are gorgeous!

pilch92 15andmeowing said...

Very interesting. I have 2 white cats and I also had Snowball too. Millie has one blue eye and one green one. SNowball had a blue and a yellow. Polar Bear is deaf.

Pam Greer said...

I learned so much about white cats!

Cathy Keisha said...

TW had a white cat once upon a time. She had gorgeous green eyes, or so TW said.

Peaches and Paprika said...

Wow what a wonderful article and how ever did you get so much fascinating info about White Cats. We tried researching them last year because we did a slideshow about them, couldn't find near that much. Kudos. Okay we can't resist. We're posting the link here to our "White Cat Delight Valentine Slideshow" - https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=wOf9zVPRIhU

Roby Sweet said...

Fascinating! I have never had a white cat, and I had no idea that the white is actually masking another color. Great post! :)

Three Chatty Cats said...

Fascinating! As you know, Sophie is all white with blue eyes. One of the most common questions I get about her is if she's deaf. She's not, but that doesn't means she listens to me. :-)