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Black Cats—Everything You Should Know

Black Cats—Everything You Should Know

Black cats are majestic, with raven fur that looks like silk. Even some big cats, like jaguars, are known for their royalty-worthy coats.

But there are also negative stigmas black cats face. We’ll look into everything related to domestic and big black cats, from the genetics of their coat to the history of both their unlucky and lucky labels.

You’ll be armed with everything you need to tell people why black cats are amazing! 🙌

Is it true black cats are the most euthanized in animal shelters?

This is a complicated question. First, yes, but only slightly, and they also represent the greatest percentage of cats coming into the shelter. Because the black gene is dominant, there are more black cats than most other colors. They are often also the most adopted cat – again, because there are more of them than any other color.

What are the most common breeds that include black cats?

So many breeds include black cats – the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) recognizes 22, more than any other color! Just a few are American Shorthair, Bombay, Maine Coon, American Curl, Persian, American Bobtail, Selkirk Rex, Scottish Fold, Oriental, Sphynx, Ragamuffin, and Exotic.

Do black cats have long or short hair?

They can have both :)

How do black cats get black fur?

The gene B is responsible for making the pigment eumelanin, which gives cats black fur. B can show up three different ways: B, dominant, black; b, recessive, chocolate; b’, recessive, cinnamon. A cat only needs one parent to give them the dominant B to have black.

Are all cats solid black?

No, actually, most black cats are tabby in disguise. 

The A gene is responsible for patterns on cats. The dominant version, A or agouti, creates a ticking or band of colors on a hair. That’s where the tabby pattern comes from. The recessive version, a or non-agouti, creates a solid-colored hair.

Since the A is dominant and a cat only needs to inherit it from one parent to get the tabby pattern, most black cats are tabbies (no matter how faint, you’ll likely be able to make out stripes on their tail, legs, or head when they’re laying in the sun). In order to create a solid black cat, the cat must inherit the recessive pattern gene (a) from both parents.

Keep in mind, all cats originate from two colors: orange and black. Dilute black cats are what we know as gray. Tuxedo cats have black with white spotting, and gray cats with white spotting are like diluted tuxies.

Is it true black cats have better resistance to illnesses?

Yes. Genes associated with black fur and excess melanin are also linked to stronger immune systems. For example, they are more resistant to FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus aka feline HIV), than other cats.

Once the feline genome is mapped for black cats and panthers, scientists hope it will bring them closer to a cure for HIV. 

Can a black cat’s fur change color over time?

Yes. If the black cat has the tabby stripe gene (as most do), laying in the sun can break down the pigment over time, giving them brownish fur with more apparent tabby stripes.

What color eyes do black cats have?

Most commonly yellow, orange, or green.

What is the history of black cats? Were they always seen as unlucky?

In short, no. Many different cultures actually considered and still consider them lucky:

Ancient Egyptians: Bast or Bastet was worshipped as the goddess of protection and cats. She was depicted as a black cat, and many people kept black cats hoping to receive favoritism from her.

Celtics: There are stories of a cat fairy that was a black cat with a white spot on the chest. This feline looking fairy was feared by some but also considered lucky by others.

Sailors and fishermen:  Wives would often give their husbands black cats for their ships to hunt mice and bring good luck.

Pirates: This group had a complicated relationship with black cats. One walking toward you was bad luck, but one walking away was good luck. If a cat was on the ship but then jumped off, pirates believed it meant the ship would sink. 🤷‍♀️😂

Japan: Black cats are seen as good luck and a woman with a black cat is believed to attract many suitors.

Scotland: Expect prosperity if a black cat is on your doorstep.

England and Ireland: If a black cat crosses your path, you’ll have good luck!

The 12th century Puritans in America felt that witches could transform themselves into black cats up to nine times (which is where nine lives superstition came from). That’s when black cats started to get a bad rep.

In the present day, the movie Black Panther—Wakanda foreva!—led to a rise in the adoptions of black cats. Hopefully, the stigma is starting to disappear. Which leads us to discussing panthers, the big black cats. 🧡

Is a black panther actually its own species of cat?

No, it’s a color variation for a leopard in Asia and Africa, and a jaguar in the Americas. The genetic modification gives them an excess of melanin, making them black. The leopard and jaguar’s spots are still visible in the sunlight—kind of like domestic black tabbies.

While biologists aren’t sure what causes melanism, there’s evidence that it isn’t random, and it could be related to the environment and thermoregulation (the body’s ability to control its temperature). There’s no record of lions or tigers having melanism.

What are black cats’ personalities like?

There doesn’t seem to be a connection between coat color and personality, but there are perceptions people have developed. Cat personalities really depend on their early lives, as well as paternal genetics, which we very often don’t know.

Are there any diseases that seem to be genetically tied to black cats?

No, but it may be harder to spot fleas and ticks on them, so try to brush them every few days and treat them with topical flea and tick meds year-round.

According to Merck Veterinary Manual, the most commonly reported congenital and inherited defects in cats are: 

  • Cerebellar hypoplasia (CH) aka Wobbly Kitten Syndrome - Underdeveloped cerebellum (which controls mobility and balance)
  • Eye and eyelid defects
  • Heart defects
  • Cryptorchidism - One or both testicles absent
  • Polydactyl - Extra toes

Conclusion

The next time a black cat crosses your path, remember that there are more reasons you should feel lucky than unlucky. And if you’re looking to add a fur baby to your home, consider adopting one of these midnight-colored beauties. Don’t forget to check on them when they’re sunbathing to see if you have an undercover tabby.



Sources

MentalFloss.com, 8 Hair-Raising Facts About Black Cats.
Catster.com, The Science Behind the Fur: What Makes Black Cats Black and 7 Genes That Control Your Cat’s Fur Color.
Roanoke.com, Black Cats Have a Colorful History.
NationalGeographic.com, A Black Panther May Not Be What You Think.
AmbassadorAnimalGreenville.com, Myths and Facts About Black Cats.

Article by Elizabeth Ann 🙋‍♀️
Cat Behavior & Fostering Specialist