About Sunset Eyes
The term "sunset eyes" refers to the downward deviation of the eyes.
Typically, both eyes are rotated downward.
Often the whites of the eyes (sclera) are revealed prominently above the irises. The irises may also appear to be forced outward as well as downward.
The condition is caused by pressure building up in the cranium, pushing against the eyes and their nerves.
To learn more about the condition and its possible causes and treatment, read the article titled
Jitterbug was the only kitten in her litter.
There was nothing unusual in her birth. She was born at 69 days gestation to a queen whose past pregnancies typically lasted between 69 to 72 days.
Jitterbug was a nice size at birth, neither particularly small nor particularly large. Initially, she appeared to be a typically healthy kitten, growing and gaining weight at a normal pace for a Himalayan kitten.
The first picture I took of her was at 17 days of age (see photo at the top/right).
Her eye focus was not good at the time I took the picture, but I have found that the unfocused "look" is fairly typical in very young kittens until they begin following objects with their eyes.
I did find it easier to evaluate her eyes in the photo than when looking at her in real life.
By the time I took her photo at 3 weeks of age, I was clearly concerned about her eyes. Her eyes showed a pronounced "outward and downward" orientation in her focus - the typical look of
My heart fell...
An Earlier Kitten
This was not my first experience with sunset eyes.
Several years ago, a previous breeding of this same sire and queen had produced a kitten that also exhibited very pronounced sunset eyes.
Never having dealt with hydrocephalus or neurological problems before, I didn't realize that the sunset eyes could be a sign of a life-threatening problem.
Other than she always had the "sunset eyes", the kitten seemed completely normal until about six weeks age.
The kitten began eating soft food at about a month of age, and didn't have any problems with it. When she began eating dry food by six weeks of age, we noticed she sometimes choked on it.
At around the same time, I would occasionally see her walking "in circles". It would only last for a few seconds; then she would begin running normally and playing with her siblings again.
While for the most part, she acted like the other kittens in her litter, she would play very hard with her siblings, then seem to sleep abnormally long and deeply as if she was in a state of total exhaustion.
These odd behaviors continued and the choking and balance issues seemed to become gradually more obvious over the following weeks as she grew.
By the time she turned seven weeks, it was clear to me that she needed to be examined by our veterinarian.
Because her symptoms were intermittent, on her first exam, the vet didn't find anything unusual, although I described to him what I had been seeing.
Over the next weeks she was examined several times and the probable diagnosis made. He finally came to the conclusion that the kitten had multiple problems. He felt she very likely had a constricted esophagus as well as hydrocephalus.
She was about 12 weeks old when the painful decision was made to have her humanely euthanized.
Jitterbug: A Different Story
Given this previous experience, I was understandably afraid we were facing the same situation with Jitterbug...
I watched her develop over the weeks with great concern, waiting for signs of balance or eating problems.
But, despite my worst fears, Jitterbug matured right on schedule, and actually began weaning younger than usual.
The early weaning was probably due to the fact that her mother went into heat when Jitterbug was just two weeks old, and stayed in a full-blown heat until the kitten was eight weeks old, at which time the queen was spayed.
During those weeks, it was a struggle to get her mother to even nurse her baby. So I began offering the kitten solid food earlier than normal, and Jitterbug took it eagerly :-)
The weeks passed and she continued to grow normally...
I took photos each week and was delighted to see her eyes were improving in every photo... and no neurological problems ever appeared at all!
8 Weeks Old and Beyond...
By the time she was 8 weeks old, Jitterbug received a clean bill of health from our veterinarian.
Confident she was perfectly normal, I was able to place Jitterbug in a loving pet home at three months of age.
More Common Than First Thought?
Since we have gone through this second situation, I have become aware of more cat breeders sharing their experiences with kittens that have exhibited similar outward eye focus or sunset eyes problems. Often they seemed to simply grow out of the condition. I am left wondering if maybe this is not as uncommon as I might have first thought?
Not Always Hydrocephalus
Clearly, while sunset eyes can be a symptom of hydrocephalus, a serious and life-threatening condition, having sunset eyes alone does not necessarily mean a kitten has hydrocephalus, or that its prognosis is poor. I believe it does depend on the details and causes of the individual kitten's case of "Sunset Eyes"...
JITTERBUG, Pictured at 2 months of age...
Healthy, Happy and Well Loved...
About The Author:
Judy & Paul Guenther bred Himalayans under their P-J Purrs cattery name for more than a quarter century. Their CFA registered cattery was located in southeastern Washington state.
They started breeding Balinese cats in 1980 and obtained their first Himalayan in 1991.
Their goal was always to remain small so they could devote lots of individual time and attention to each cat.
They treasure their memories of the many beautiful kittens their raised over the years . . .