Cat eye colors are incredibly vast, with more variation than that of most other animals in the animal kingdom! One of the most magical things about our feline friends is their piercing gaze unlike any other.
The eye of the cat is famous for its vertical pupil, unique to nearly all other creatures on this earth. And accompanying this gorgeous feature is a wide range of colors varying from blue to copper, green, red, yellow and orange! And perhaps most spectacular of all, some cats even have two different colored eyes.
- Blue eyed cats
- Cats with green eyes
- Copper, orange and yellow eyes
- Heterochromia in cats
- How do eye and fur color relate?
But what makes a cat’s eyes the colors they are? Does it have to do with the breed? What about the cat’s fur color? And why do kittens’ eyes change color as they age? Most importantly, are there any health issues related to certain eye colors in our cats?
What is the Range of Cat Eye Colors?
Whether you’re a person or a cat, color all begins in the iris. The iris, which is the colored part around the black pupil, has two layers which carry color-promoting cells known as melanocytes.
The two layers of the iris are the stroma and the epithelium, and they each carry melanocytes differently. In fact, in the stroma, the melanocytes are somewhat scattered while in the epithelium, the melanocytes are packed tightly together.
The number of melanocytes in your cat’s eyes are what determines her eye color. Melanocytes produce melanin, which also affects the color of your cat’s fur. So, the more melanin, the darker your cat’s eyes and fur are going to be.
However, melanin affects the eyes and fur differently. There is no correlation between a cat’s fur color and their eye color, which means that just because you have a darker furred cat does not mean her eyes are also going to be darker.
What Eye Colors Are There?
Different cat eye colors can include:
- Odd-Colored Eyes
Cats with Blue Eyes
The amount of melanin in your cat’s eyes is what is going to lead to her eye color. But did you know it is possible to have no melanin in the iris? That’s right, and it’s how you get blue eyes!
A blue-eyed cat’s eyes are clear, but light reflecting around the rounded edges of her pigment-free irises causes them to seem to be this color.
Interestingly, a white cat with blue eyes has no melanin in her fur or in her irises. However, a grey cat with blue eyes does have a bit of melanin in her fur, but still none in her eyes. Fur color typically has nothing to do with eye color, but the one exception to the rule is with white cats. They are more likely than not to have blue eyes.
The coolest thing about blue eyed cats is that they will glow red when there is a light shined into them, such as the light from a camera flash. Cats with orange, gold, or yellow eyes are more likely to shine green.
Green Eyed Cats
I might be biased, but emerald eyes are something special. And these gemstone slits are similar to blue in the way that they contain very little melanin.
Cats with Copper Eyes
Even though colors vary a lot, you are not going to find a cat with brown or black eyes. Deep orange peepers are the darkest shade you’ll get.
Yellow or Orange Eyes
Eye colors are dependent on the amount of melanin in their irises, but also the level of energy in the melanocytes will determine the intensity. This means one yellow eyed cat may have a brighter gaze than the next, and an orange eyed cat just has stronger melanocyte activity.
And like we’ve mentioned since there is no correlation between fur and eye shade, a black cat with yellow eyes is totally possible. In fact, yellow and amber eyes are incredibly common, and famous cats have been depicted throughout history with this stunning, glowing stare.
Cats with Two Different Eye Colors
Cats with different colored eyes are some of my favorites! An odd-eyed cat, as they are often referred to, are cats who have two different levels of melanin activity in their irises. An odd-eyed cat will typically have one blue eye, meaning one eye with no melanin in it at all, and another eye that is either green, yellow, orange, or copper.
Known as complete heterochromia, this condition is most frequently found in white cats, however, it can affect all kinds of cats regardless of fur color or breed, so long as they carry a gene known as the white spotting gene.
The white spotting gene is a gene that affects the amount of melanin in cats. This gene can also affect cat coat color and even cause albinism, which is when there is absolutely no pigment in the fur or eyes.
What is the Difference Between an Albino Cat and A White Cat with Blue Eyes?
If eye and fur color are controlled by melanin, and the total absence of melanin correlates to albinism, you may be asking yourself if a white cat with blue eyes is an albino cat. It may not always be easy to tell the difference between an albino cat and a white cat with blue eyes.
However, a true albino cat’s eyes are going to be very pale blue and sometimes may even have a pink or pinkish-blue tinge to them. Because of the lack of melanin and therefore pigmentation in an albino cat’s irises, an albino cat is going to be very sensitive to light.
While they have no other known health issues, if you own an albino cat, be aware that sunlight could damage their very sensitive eyes.
What Cat Eye Colors Can Black Cats Have?
While we do know that different genetics control fur color versus eye color in cats, statistically black cats seem to have darker eyes.
A black cat with orange eyes is very common. A primarily black cat may also have yellow or copper eyes. Cat eye color in most black cat eyes is going to be yellow or orange, although it is not impossible to find a black cat with blue eyes.
What Cat Eye Colors Can White Cats Have?
As mentioned above, white cats primarily have lighter colored eyes as a result of the amount of melanin, or lack thereof, in their genes. However, just like with black cats, finding a white cat with darker colored eyes is not unheard of. Many white cats can have yellow, copper, green, or blue eyes.
It all depends on the amount of melanin in their irises. However, if your cat is albino, they will always have very pale blue eyes. Because many white cats will have blue eyes, which means less melanin, they are more sensitive to sunlight.
Just like with albino cats, owners of blue-eyed cats should be aware that direct sunlight or bright lights could hurt or damage their cat’s eyes.
Do Cats Ever Have White or Black Eyes?
Since the darkest a cat’s eyes will ever get is copper or dark orange, you will be hard-pressed to find a cat with black eyes. And if you come across a cat with white eyes, take a closer look.
Chances are the iris is just an extremely pale blue color. If your cat is white with extremely pale blue eyes, she is probably albino.
Do Kittens’ Eyes Change Color as They Grow Up?
You bet! Kittens are always born with blue eyes. This is because their melanocyte cells are unable to function until they get a bit older.
As kittens begin to grow, their melanocyte cells get to work, and the natural colors of their eyes begin to shine through. No matter the breed or color of cat you have, you won’t see her eye color begin to change until she is around four to six weeks old, and you may not see her true adult color until she is close to four months old!
What Cat Eye Colors Are Most Commonly Associated with Health Issues?
Unfortunately, science has found that cat eye colors do have a correlation with certain health issues. However, we should be aware of many misconceptions about health issues as related to eye color in cats. For instance, there is a common misunderstanding that all odd-eyed cats are deaf in one ear.
While this is false, about 20% of odd-eyed cats are born deaf. Others may become deaf as a natural part of aging. Studies have also found that white cats with blue eyes, or white cats with odd-eyes, do have a higher percentage of genetic deafness at birth.
However, if a white kitten has even a small amount of color variation on its fur, whether it is a speck, a spot, or a patch, the chances of deafness are significantly reduced. This stands true even if the different color spot on the kitten disappears as it ages, leaving it purely white in adulthood.
Abnormal Eye Color Change in Adult Cats
While it is very common for kittens’ eyes to change color as they mature, it is not normal for an adult cat to change eye color. If this happens, it could be a sign of a health issue called Uveitis. Uveitis is inflammation of the uvea, which is the part of the cat’s eye that holds the color.
Inflammation of the uvea can cause your cats’ eyes to change color rapidly and should not be ignored. While Uveitis itself is not necessarily dangerous on its own, it could be a symptom of something much more serious such as trauma to the eye, glaucoma, infection, systemic issues, cancer, or autoimmune problems.
If you notice a change in your adult cat’s eyes, you should take her to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
- Sewall Wright, Color inheritance in Mammals: X., The Cat—Curious Association of Deafness with Blue-Eyed White Color and of Femaleness with Tortoise-Shelled Color, Long Known Variations of Tiger Pattern Present Interesting Features, Journal of Hereditary.
- Francis P. Cambell, The Eye of the Cat in the Ophthalmic Research, JAMA Ophthalmology.
- Bergsma et al White Fur, Blue Eyes, and Deafness in the Domestic Cat, Journal of Heredity.
- Gekeler et al. Assessment of the posterior segment of the cat eye by optical coherence tomography (OCT) Veterinary opthalmology.