Do I have an albino cat? This page aims to help answer that question.
|Not a true albino cat in my opinion but a young Siamese cat in, I believe, Japan. This cat is probably not purebred Siamese. The kinked tail is typical of Siamese cats. Young Siamesea are all white. Photo by Atsushi Suzuki (Flickr)|
What is Albinism?
Visually, white animals look very different to their normally colored counterparts. However, the actual difference inside the animal in very small indeed. White animals of a certain species are the same species as normally colored animals. So an albino puma is still a puma. It is just about color produced by pigmentation or a lack of it. And what prevents the creation of pigment in albino cat and other animals are two recessive alleles coming together in the same animal (homozygous).
Not all albino animals are completely white. It depends on whether a single or set of traits affect pigmentation production. An organism with partial albinism is called albinoid. Conversely not all white animals are albinos. The white spotting gene (S/s) causes fur to be white as does the dominant white gene (W).
However, you can tell if a cat or animal is albino: the lack of pigmentation causes the eyes to be pink or light blue. If the eyes are not pinkish-red or pale blue the animal is not an albino.
Melanin is nature’s coloring pigment. It comes in two colors: dark brown and black and light reddish tans and blondes. The pigmentation (a) helps camouflage the animal (b) protects against harmful ultraviolet light that burns the skin (c) is needed in the development of the eye.
The production of melanin in cells called melanocytes needs the presence of the enzyme tyrosinase, which in turn requires the presence of a gene called the TYR gene.
When an animal inherits from each parents a recessive gene that affects the workings of the TYR gene the animal becomes an albino.
The Siamese Cat
In respect of the Siamese cat, Robinson’s Genetics (see advert) says that, the “phenotype is a form of ‘Himalayan albinism’ that is found in many animals but displaying more pigmentation than is typical”.
Apart from the fact that the Siamese cat has blue rather than pink eyes and the body is “slightly shaded”, the Siamese is typical of Himalayan albinism. It is the albinism allele that causes the well known Siamese squint (cross-eyed appearance in some cats).
In the USA there is an Albino Siamese that has a completely white coat with a pale bluish eye color. This is not an established cat breed and is unrecognized by the cat associations.
There is also a European Shorthair cat bred in Belgium that is albino. The coat is completely white and the eyes “ruby red” and there are pale translucent irises. The allele that causes this has been given the symbol ca. This is just short of true albinism, apparently.
Affect of Albinism
Obviously domestic albino cats are protected from the usual dangers especially if they are full-time indoor cats. Protection from the sun is important as the parts where there is little hair can be burnt.
The lack of natural camouflage is a concern for an albino cat. Yet it seems that as they look so different some predators ignore albino animals as if they are not the correct prey.
The Siamese cat eyesight is affected by the lack of melanin yet I have read that compensations within the brain results in no detrimental eyesight functionality in respect of binocular vision.