Ever wondered how the color of a cat’s eye is determined? Follow along as we discover how colors are created.
Let’s assume that we have a kitten that was born just today. We’ll call her Layla. The area of Layla’s eye that contains color is called the iris. This part has two layers of cells that produce a type of pigment called melanin. The cells themselves are called melanocytes.
Since the melanocytes are not active in young kittens yet, there is no melanin present either. This is why Layla was born with the same bright shade of blue in her eyes as all other newborn kittens in the world. Indeed, all kittens have blue eyes. Simply because that is the default color that we see when there is no pigment present in the eye yet.
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So when will the real color show up?
As Layla grows, those cells that we discussed earlier slowly start up their production of pigments. Over time, and if sufficient pigment is produced, the default blue that Layla had as a kitten will slowly be replaced as the matured color of the iris starts to emerge.
So how long does this process take? You should be able to notice the first changes about four to six weeks after birth. The entire transformation is usually completed by the fifth month in a kitten’s life.
What determines the eventual color?
The type and amount of pigment determines the final color of the iris. Each shade is associated with a certain amount of pigment, depending on whether it’s a light or a dark color. For instance, when your cat has green eyes, that means this cat’s melanocytes did not produce a lot of pigment. While not as light as blue, green is also a relatively light color that we see when there is little melanin present.
Melanin production levels are heavily influenced by genetics. So if mom and dad had the right genes, there’s a good chance the offspring will have the desired color too.
Certain breeds possess the genetics to produce barely any pigment at all. You’ve probably seen an adult cat with blue eyes before, Those specimens were born with a set of genes that codes for close to zero melanin production. In these cases, the eyes retain the same deep blue color throughout a kitten’s transition into adulthood.
Why do some cats have different colors in their left and right eye?
Not all cats have the same color in both eyes. This is what scientist refer to as heterochromia, a term which describes oddly colored irises. The phenomenon is most often observed in white and tuxedo cats. While this condition is usually a result of genetics, it may also result from damage to the melanin-producing cells during development.
Cats may also be dichromatic, which is another scientific term that’s used to describe eyes that contain two distinct colors instead of a single one (source). Some people find this look very aesthetically pleasing.