Siamese cats can change coat color: how and why it happens

Yulia PoteriankoLife
Siamese cats have a distinctive appearance that makes them different from other purring cats

Of all the cat breeds, of which there are more than seven dozen, only a few can be accurately identified by any person. One of these breeds is the Siamese cat, which is easy to recognize by its beautiful blue eyes, creamy body, and dark muzzle, paws, and tail.

It is known that such cats are born almost white. However, they develop a dark mark on their nose almost immediately, which gradually spreads to form a characteristic mask. The paws and tail are colored the same way. But the color change of the Siamese cat's coat does not end there. According to National Geographic, scientists have found the gene responsible for this change. It is called the "Himalayan" gene.

This gene was first identified in 2005. It is recessive and manifests itself if a kitten gets it from both parents. One of the manifestations of this gene is temperature-sensitive fur that can change color.

How the Himalayan gene works

As the researchers explain, the color change of Siamese kittens occurs because they develop in the womb at a temperature of about 38 degrees Celsius. And this is quite a lot compared to the environment they are exposed to after birth. It is because of this drop in temperature that a fully white kitten begins to darken over time and spots, the so-called points, appear on it. That is why this color is also called point color. Biologically, this mechanism looks like this: lower temperatures cause the Himalayan gene to activate the production of melanin, a pigment that is also found in humans. The colder parts of the animal's body accumulate more of it, while the body, which is the warmest, remains creamy.

As explained by geneticist Leslie Lyons, who studies cats and first discovered the Himalayan gene, this mutation is naturally found in domestic cats in South Asia. Over time, this gene was fixed by people who selectively bred beautiful cats with contrasting colors and blue eyes. This is how Siamese, Thai, Balinese, Ragdoll and even Burmese cats, which do not have a point color, and some other breeds appeared. When they gave birth to offspring, regardless of the partner, who could be completely out of the breed, the genetic mutation was passed on to the kittens and spread further.

Due to the Himalayan mutation, even an adult animal can change its coat color. For example, if a Siamese cat has undergone surgery, the shaved area may grow darker fur. This is because the area not covered with hair is not heated as usual. But over time, when the situation returns to normal, this fur may lighten back up.

Possible health problems

According to Dr. Lyons, the Himalayan gene is not found in cats only. Its carriers are rabbits, domestic rats, gerbils, and American minks. In 2021, this mutation was discovered and described in a dachshund dog.

Although the Himalayan gene does not generally pose any benefits or dangers to the animal, it may be associated with an increased risk of certain health problems, including vision disturbances. For example, strabismus is quite common in Siamese cats, which negatively affects vision and can distort depth perception. Also, point-colored animals can suffer from nystagmus, a condition in which the eye moves involuntarily from side to side. The frequency of such movements can range from several times to several hundred times per minute. This interferes with visual perception and can even cause balance problems.

However, proper care and the owner's love will completely offset these and other disadvantages. Experts advise you to get a cat of point color if you like them and to ignore the myths that Siamese cats are aggressive and uncontactable. Choose a blue-eyed cat only from trusted breeders. You can also go to a shelter as cats with this appearance are often born to outbred parents if both of them have passed the Himalayan mutation to the fluffy baby.

Earlier, OBOZ.UA told about an Australian man who learned to speak cat language.

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