Today (as I’m writing) is a very special day: October 27th is National Black Cat Day! My cat Ori is a black cat, so he would like some treats and attention from all of you 😉
AND it’s almost Halloween, so there’s no better time to appreciate black cats, a not-so-spooky Halloween symbol.
There is no one single breed of black cats – the Cat Fanciers’ Association recognizes 22 different breeds of cats that can come in solid black coats. In fact, black is one of the most common colors for solid-coated cats to come in. All-black is also slightly more common in male cats than female cats.
Melanin is the protein that makes cat fur dark (and in humans, our skin dark). Black cats, with their dark coats, have bodies that produce high amounts of melanin. This protein also impacts the color of their eyes. Most black cats have golden or amber eyes because of the large amount of melanin their bodies make.
If you’ve ever looked at a black cat in the sun, you’ll notice that they can appear reddish. In fact, black cats can ‘rust’ after exposure to heavy sunlight. Basically, the sun breaks down the eumelanin pigment that makes their fur black, changing their fur to a rusty brown color.
Rusting can also reveal black cats to be secret tabbies. The gene for black fur is dominant to other fur colors, so a cat that has a single black fur gene will themselves have black fur. However, in addition to fur color genes, cats have a gene that determines fur color pattern. The tabby pattern is the dominant fur pattern gene (called agouti). For a cat to be truly solid black, they must have both the black fur gene and the recessive gene known as non-agouti. Having the non-agouti gene means that the tabby pattern won’t appear.
If a black cat has both the black allele and the agouti gene, they will technically have a tabby pattern under their black fur. This means you may be able to see light tabby stripes on their tail or legs, especially if they are sitting in bright sunlight. Rusting can also reveal this hidden tabby pattern.
These black genes might have benefits besides making beautiful fur – they may protect cats from certain diseases.
Research suggests that the agouti gene may make black cats more resistant to diseases like feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Basically, the mutation that causes black fur is in the same family of genes that gives humans resistance to diseases like HIV. In addition, black cats seem to have a stronger immune system than cats of other colors.
Black cats got their reputation as bringing bad luck back in the Middle Ages. Although earlier societies like ancient Egypt worshiped black cats as divine, a 13th century Catholic Church document officially linked black cats with the devil and began their association with evil. In the document “Vox in Rama,” Pope Gregory IX declared that black cats were an incarnation of Satan.
Because of this link to Satan, black cats became linked with witches in medieval Europe. It’s not entirely clear why black cats in particular were linked with witches, but it could be because black cats can more easily blend into the night than other cats. Witches were also seen as able to take the form of black cats themselves.
All of this leads to the superstition that crossing paths with a black cat is bad luck. A simple black cat could be a witch’s familiar sent to curse you or the devil himself – either of which is a bad omen.
And good luck!
But black cats aren’t always bad luck – in some cultures, they actually bring good luck.
Black cats are generally seen as bringers of good luck in Asia. In Japan, for instance, black cats act as matchmakers. It’s said that single women can increase their number of suitors by owning a black cat.
We can see similar good superstitions in Europe as well. In Germany, good things are coming if a black cat crosses your path from left to right. Getting a black cat on your wedding day in England will bring good luck to your marriage; newlyweds with a black cat will also have a long, happy life together. It helps that black cats are thought to ward off evil spirits!
Black cats can also increase your wealth. French peasants believed that a black cat released at a crossroads would lead you to treasure, and black cats that are given the proper respect (a warm bed and the first bite of dinner!) will reward you with wealth and good luck. English sailors also believed in the power of black cats – having a black cat onboard a ship is lucky and ensures that the ship will come hope from sea.
Adopting a black cat
Now, you may have heard that black cats are less likely to be adopted than other cats. This isn’t true! A 2013 ASPCA study found that black cats are adopted at just the same rate as other colored cats.
However, part of this misconception is because of the number of cats getting placed in shelters. The ASPCA study found that black cats made up the highest percentage (33%) of cats coming into shelters; the next highest group was gray cats at 22%. Looking at adoption rates, 31% of cats were black and 20% were gray. But because there are more black cats in the shelters than other colored cats, it can look like black cats are being overlooked.
In addition, black cats may be overlooked because they look alike at first glance. They can also be overlooked because they’re such a common color – adopters may gravitate towards cats with a more varied coat. It’s true that black cats often take longer to get adopted than other cats. Shelters can help black cats get adopted by differentiating them with collars or toys.
So, if you’re thinking of adopting a pet, why not consider a black cat? Ori says they’re the best kind!