Why Do Siamese Have Crossed Eyes?


As most of you know, a few months ago, my beloved Siamese, Mao, went to the Rainbow Bridge. In discussing what sort of cat to get next (via Rescue or Shelter), hubby was set on a Siamese. Although Buckaroo has Siamese/Oriental bloodlines, he doesn’t exhibit typical Siamese behavior, and I know hubby wanted to keep the spirit of Mao in our household.

halloween-final-banzaiHe didn’t get any argument from me. Although I’d been considering Abyssinians and Bengals, I’d always had a Siamese, and was interested in branching out to flamepoints*. Flamepoints remind me of creamsicles, with orange points and a vanilla body.

Siamese are easy to find at rescue organizations and shelters — they are ranked #2 in breeds surrendered to shelters. Many people adopt Siamese before researching the breed and are put off by typical Siamese behavior once they get them home.

It is not a “set it and forget it” breed. They are extremely devoted and bound to their guardians and are expressively vocal and emotional beings. They tend to be needy, requiring a lot of your attention, and they will not be ignored.

They are one of the smartest breeds, and if left alone without entertainment or stimulation, can get into trouble. Once, away for a short weekend, I came home to find that Mao had gotten into a kitchen cabinet, hauled out the flour and spread it all over the kitchen floor so it looked like the dusting of new fallen snow. I laughed so hard I nearly coughed up a lung.

Speaking of lungs, Mao had a hearty set. He also had an extensive vocabulary.

Those vocalizations too often send Siamese to the pound.

No one knows exactly how Banzai and his brother Eddie ended up at the Marin Humane Society, other than that they had been transferred from an overcrowded shelter in Sacramento. We could only get one cat, so in choosing between Banzai and his brother, I chose the one with the adorable crossed eyes (strabismus).

Mao’s eyes had been crossed (and he also suffered from Nystagmus, not uncommon in Siamese), so I had a sentimental attachment to cross-eyed Siamese. My childhood Siamese had been blind, so I was well aware that optical issues are something to which cats can easily adapt.

I’ve posted a lot of photos of a cross-eyed Banzai on Facebook, resulting in a number of questions about his ability to see.

In fact, Siamese cross their eyes in order to see better. In Siamese cats with certain genotypes of the albino gene, neurological wiring  is disrupted, with more of the nerve-crossing than is normal1. Presence of the albino gene results in decreased melanin in the retina, which is necessary for normal vision. Low melatonin levels result in a decreased field of vision.

BANZAI_oct242014_22So to compensate for this lack of crossing in their brains and decreased melatonin, Siamese cross their eyes. This is also seen in albino tigers and other full albino animals.

Modern breeders have largely bred out strabismus in Siamese cats, but in doing so they have bred cats who cannot cross their eyes to compensate, so their vision is likely worse then their cross-eyed ancestors. They still have funky neural wiring and a decreased field of vision, but they can no longer cross their eyes to compensate.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking… Mao wasn’t an albino. Isn’t the  albino Siamese cat rare?

Surprisingly, all Siamese cats are albinos. “Partial” albinos. In Siamese, albinism is recessive and full color is dominant. Their coats are white, but recessive to coat color. Genetically, Siamese are black cats, but their genes inhibit full expression of the pigment.

why do siamese cats have crossed eyes?
Banzai, tracking a fly.

The gene is also heat sensitive and the cooler the area of the coat, the darker it becomes. In cats, the legs, tail, ears and face are the coolest parts of the body, the face being cooled by the flow of cooling air through the sinuses. Immersed in the warmth of the mother’s womb, the Siamese kitten is born white and darkens at the points as he ages. Siamese in colder northern climates tend to be darker than those in warmer southern climates.

Hmmm… might it be possible to keep your meezer from developing dark points on the legs by keeping their feet in snuggly booties?

Banzai is the light of our lives these days, and given his successful fly-hunting skillz, I’d say his vision is about as good as it’s possible to get. And his crossed eyes make for adorable photographs.

* Flamepoints are not considered “Siamese” by the Cat Fanciers Association, but “Colorpoint Shorthairs.”

“Abnormal retinotopic organization of the dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus of the tyrosinase-negative albino cat” by Schmolesky MT1, Wang Y, Creel DJ, Leventhal AG.


10 thoughts on “Why Do Siamese Have Crossed Eyes?

  1. Thanks for posting this! I had never seen a cross-eyed cat before.

    My wife and I love getting your emails, especially Ask Max Monday.

    Have a great 2015!

  2. Thanks For this excellent post. I didn’t know any of this about Siamese. I have never had one, but have wanted one for a long time. Misty May listened quite intently to Mao’s meowing. Even though he is not Siamese, Scout Mau can vocalize with the best of them. XOCK, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Jo

  3. We now have a Siamese and I’m thankful she’s not talkative. I would not have brought Cindy home if she was. I had a talkative cat once and vowed never again. Our Siamese is very inquisitive and always nearby to help. The closer you get to her face the more crossed her eyes get. I used to be allergic to Siamese but I’m not to our Cindy cat, I wonder if it because she’s got enough mix in her. Or maybe I’m just not allergic to them anymore.

  4. Dad really loves Siamese and says that if there is ever room we may have another fine kitty added to our clowder. Very interesting about the crossed eyes

  5. I had a part Siamese kitty and he was very talkative and loving. My part bengal kitties like to talk too. Loved your post. I did not know a lot of that.

  6. And as I have gotten older, I am almost a brown cat with a white belly. If you go back to the earliest photos of me on my blog, you’ll see a much lighter colored cat, except for my fine chocolate points. I, of course, refused to wear a sweater!

    Oh–and who are these crazy, nutty people who wouldn’t adore a Siamese? I mean, come on. Siamese make life worth living!

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