One of the most fascinating facts about Siamese kittens is their color only develops after they're born. This is due to a fascinating blend of genetic inheritance and heat-sensitive enzymatic action that takes place during each kitten's development in the womb.
White Siamese Kittens
The Siamese kitten color you see when you come to pick out a kitten from a breeder or rescue shelter is a far cry from the way this breed begins life. In fact, according to the National Siamese Cat Club, all Siamese kittens are born white.
Genetics Behind Color Development
All Siamese are born with a gene that produces partial albinism. However, a genetic mutation of this gene restricts coloring to the cats' extremities, including the facial mask, legs and tail. This mutation affects the enzymes that produce pigment in the fur, but the amount of pigment these enzymes produce is greatly affected by temperature.
How Temperature Affects Color Points
Temperatures of 98 degrees Fahrenheit or greater cause the enzymes to produce almost no discernible coloring in the hair shafts on the cat's main body. However, the cat's extremities are generally cooler than the body, so the enzymes do produce coloring in these areas. Combine this heat-sensitive enzymatic action with other modifying genes, and the results are the various color point patterns seen in Siamese cats.
So, why are Siamese kittens born white? The temperature inside the womb exceeds 98 degrees Fahrenheit, so color production is inhibited. The enzymes don't become fully operational until the kittens are a bit older. This means that while experienced breeders can make an educated guess at the color outcome of a breeding, they won't be able to tell for sure which color a kitten will be until approximately a week after birth.
Standard Siamese Kitten Colors
Siamese kittens come in four standard colors according to the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) breed standard.
Seal point Siamese are the original color type first exported from Siam. The color points are a rich dark brown that appears almost black. The brown fades into cream on the rest of the body. Seal Points tend to darken with age.
Chocolate points take their name from the milk chocolate coloring found on the legs, tail, face and ears. This coloration tends to develop more slowly than others.
Blue point Siamese carry slate-blue points on a light bluish-white body. This gives them a somewhat silvery appearance. The nose and paw pads are also colored blue-gray.
The Lilac point Siamese is a very delicate, yet interesting color combination. The points are pinkish-gray, laid against a white body color. The nose and paw pads are also lavender pink. Lilacs tend to stay light, even as they age.
Determining Color Points in Young Kittens
According to the CFA, it may take as a long as a year for color points to develop in a color pointed breed. Fortunately, the pigment on the animal's nose and paw pads can help you determine which color its points will be during the first few weeks of life. Pigment usually begins developing on seal point and blue point kittens around ten days old while it can take as long as 12 days for pigment to develop on chocolate point and lilac point kittens. The CFA breed standard notes the type of pigment associated with each color point.
|Point Color||Nose and Pad Pigment|
|Seal Point||Seal brown nose and pads|
|Chocolate Point||Cinnamon pink nose and pads|
|Blue Point||Slate gray nose and pads|
|Lilac Point||Lavender pink nose and pads|
Blue eyes are also the norm for Siamese kittens. While many breeds are initially born with blue eyes that darken later on, the partial albinism gene found in the Siamese causes the eyes to remain blue. The color you see is actually the result of light being reflected back from the retina.
From Kitten to Fully Grown Siamese
The Siamese cat's journey from embryo to fully grown cat is all the more amazing when you consider the elements that go into color point development. Keep this in mind the next time you encounter one of these elegant and beautiful felines.