It can be hard to find a cat with a totally white coat, but an albino kitty is even rarer. And, yes, there are differences between a white cat and an albino cat. Here's a basic breakdown that can help you tell them apart.
White cats and albino cats are not the same
Albinism is the result of a genetic mutation: the tyrosinase (TYR) mutation. This gives cats white fur and blue eyes. Experts have found that only about two percent of all cats are albino. However, mutations in the tyrosinase mutation can also lead to partial albinism and cause cats to have colorpoint coats (e.g., Siamese and Burmese).
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Whether or not a kitten is born albino will depend on their parents and the genes that they pass on to their offspring. Some cats could be carriers of the albino variant. Therefore, there might be a chance of them having albino kittens. On the other hand, if two albino cats mate, the kittens will likely be albino too.
There are tests available to determine if a cat is albino. These can be helpful if a breeder wants to know the odds of kittens being born albino. Or can help if a pet parent wants to know if their Siamese, Burmese, Tonkinese, or white cat that has the albino mutation.
More than just a cat with a white coat and blue eyes
At first glance, an albino cat might look like any other kitty who has blue eyes and solid white fur. But if you look for certain details, you'll start to see what makes them different because of the lack of pigmentation.
The skin, inner ears, and nose of an albino cat will appear pink, so that's one characteristic to look for when you aren't sure if a white cat is an albino. In addition to looking at the nose and ears, you might move the fur so you can see the skin underneath. If it looks a little pink and doesn't have any coloration, the kitty may be albino.
Also, an albino kitty's eyes will be light blue or even a mix of blue and pink. In the same way that you can see a pink hue in the skin, you may notice it in the eyes. Compare that to a white cat, who can have eyes of varying shades of blue, green, and gold, and can have eye color heterochromia that causes the eyes to be two different colors.
Why do albino cats have so much pink coloration? It's basically the blood beneath the skin and in the eyes, which is apparent because of the missing pigment.
Cat albinism health issues
Albino cats are beautiful and rare, but there are some things to keep in mind. An albino cat doesn't have melanin, which would give them pigmentation. So, they're sensitive to light, and too much sunlight could affect their skin and eyes. Therefore, letting your albino kitty spend a lot of time in direct sunlight may not be wise, as the exposure might increase their risk of skin cancer, sunburn, or eye damage.
Also, because melanin can support the immune system, albino cats might be more prone to health problems. If your feline companion is albino, it's a good idea to consult with a veterinarian who can help you take great care of them. And having your kitty examined regularly might alert you to problems in their early stages.
The bottom line
White cats and albino cats may look the same, but only a rare mutation in the TYR gene will cause a kitty to be albino. Also, since albinism can make pets more susceptible to certain health problems, it's important to realize that these animals need a little extra attention and care. Genetic tests can help you figure out the breed of your cat and if they're albino or just sporting a gorgeous white coat.