The genetics behind cat eye color is quite complicated. Cats with black coats are melanistic, which is why they are dark. However, the same gene that makes their coat black affects their eye color. Therefore, black cats typically have green, orange, or yellow eyes. Sometimes, black cats can have blue eyes, too.
The rarity of eye color also depends on the cat’s breed. For instance, Bombay cats are black and usually have golden-colored eyes. American shorthairs are more likely to have green eyes, however.
So, yellow eyes are not rare overall. However, they may be uncommon in certain breeds. Black cats do commonly have yellow eyes. Let’s look deeper at eye pigment genes to get a complete understanding of how cats end up with yellow eyes, anyway.
Cat Eye Colors
Sadly, cat eye color hasn’t been studied in-depth except for blue eyes. Domestic cats can have a range of eye colors from blue to green to brown. Many wild cats have hazel eyes, but domestic cats are the exception to this rule.
It is best to think of each eye color as a continuum. Most cats are on the green/copper continuum. You can imagine green at one end and copper at the other, with hazel and yellow in the center. Cats have many genes that determine where they land on the continuum. Pedigree cats tend to have brighter eyes than “random” cats, usually bred for more intense colors.
Some breeds have their continuum, however. For instance, Siamese and Burmese cats are on a separate range—with blue on one end and copper on the other. Usually, Siamese cats have blue eyes, while Burmese cats have copper eyes. There are many examples of this throughout the different breeds.
What About Black Cats?
Black cats are on the average continuum. Therefore, they can end up anywhere in the green/copper range. Black pedigreed cats usually have brighter eyes, as dull eye colors were likely eliminated when the breed developed.
Yellow eyes can vary from pale lemon to more vivid shades. There is usually some overlap between yellow and green and yellow and brown. Therefore, kittens born to brown-eyed parents can end up with yellow eyes if the genetic cards fall correctly.
The boundary between yellow and green can be fuzzy. Sometimes, a cat may have green-yellow eyes. However, there is a clear distinction between orange and copper eyes, which are just beyond yellow on the continuum. Many breeds have “orange” eyes in their pedigree—with rich colors being sought after.
Brown is related to yellow and covers a wide range. Some yellow eyes look brownish, which may make them fall into the brown category.
What Eye Color is Dominant in Cats?
Eye color in cats is complicated. It isn’t a matter of one color being dominant over all the others. Many different genes govern eye color. Some cats have different genes than others, especially within certain breeds. Therefore, understanding cat genes is much more complicated.
The most common eye colors are yellow/copper/green. These exist on the same continuum. Therefore, kittens born to parents with copper and yellow eyes may have green eyes. There are a lot of different genes that can affect where a cat’s eye colors fall. Plus, a cat’s eyes tend to change as they age—a cat’s eye color may slowly adjust.
In some breeds, different eye colors may be dominant. For instance, most Siamese cats have blue eyes. Therefore, seeing a Siamese cat with different colored eyes would be strange.
Are Cats’ Eye Colors Inherited from Mother or Father?
Cats get traits that determine eye color from both their mother and their father. Therefore, their eye color can resemble either of their parent’s eye colors. However, it can be a bit more complicated than this. Some cats may carry genes that are “covered up” by more dominant traits. Then, their kittens may inherit these traits but not the dominant ones—making them appear to have completely different eye colors.
However, for the most part, a cat’s eyes will fall on the same spectrum as their parents. Pedigreed cats usually have more “stable” eye colors than your average street cat. Therefore, mixed breeds may have a lot of random eye colors, while pedigreed cats usually have a set of different colors.
Black cats can regularly have yellow eyes. They aren’t particularly rare or unheard of. Purebred cats tend to have much brighter eyes than mixed breeds. However, that doesn’t mean that bright yellow eyes aren’t possible for your average street cat.
There are a lot of different genes that determine eye color. It isn’t a matter of a single trait (which would lead to very few differences in eye color). Therefore, cats may have slightly different eye colors than either of their parents, largely because of all the different genes that affect them.
Featured Image Credit: Virvoreanu-Laurentiu, Pixabay