Black cats can be found among the majority of breeds that produce solid-coloured (non-patterned) individuals, ranging from the American Shorthair to the Siberian. The exceptions to this rule are primarily breeds that are restricted to a single colour (such as the Chartreux and the Korat).
There are several different genes that affect the depositing of melanin (colour) on a cat’s hair shafts. The two main types of melanin are phaeomelanin (responsible for orange and cream colours) and eumelanin (which triggers the development of black or gray fur). Additional genes are responsible for the intensity of the coat colour (whether it will be dense or dilute). The brown coat types known as chocolate and cinnamon arose as a result of mutations in the gene that produces black and its dilute form – gray (typically known as blue).
Variants on the typical black cat, include:
- Black cats with white patches on their chests, bellies, and paws (tuxedo cats)
- Primarily white cats with black spotting on their bodies (cow cats) or heads and tails only (Van pattern)
- Black smoke cats, which have black fur with white roots
- Calicos and tortoiseshell cats, which have black patches interspersed with orange (and also white in the case of calicos)
The majority of black cats have at least a few white hairs. Zoologist Desmond Morris has suggested that this is due to the European witch craze that spanned the fifteenth through early eighteenth centuries. During this dark era when irrationality and hysteria led to the death of an enormous number of innocent people and animals, black cats were particular targets for persecution. Having some white fur may have saved a cat from being killed, and so the gene pool was divested of completely black cats over the course of many years.
Black Cat Personality and Temperament
Some experts assert that there is no connection between fur colour and personality, whereas others have noted studies or made personal observations that support the existence of a link.
According to Temple Grandin, Doctor of Animal Science and author of Animals Make Us Human, some studies have found black cats to be friendlier and more laid back than cats of other colours. Although these results are interesting, they’re unlikely to apply to all cats because environment and other factors will probably play a role.
Black Cat Superstitions
Black cats have been the subject of many superstitions over the years. They have historically been considered bad luck in North America but good luck in the UK. In Scotland, it was believed that finding a black cat on one’s porch ensured future prosperity.
A Japanese superstition holds that a black spot on a cat indicates that the soul of a dead ancestor dwells within it. Other superstitions involving black cats have included the belief that a black cat meeting up with a funeral procession augurs another death in the family, and that finding a single white hair on a black cat will bring good fortune.
There is actually no such thing as a black panther, or any panther as a distinct species – it’s simply a generic term used for big cats (the Florida Panther is actually a cougar subspecies). Big cats are black because they have inherited a dominant gene for melanism (jaguars) or a pair of recessive genes for melanism (leopards).
Genes that produce black fur have evolved separately in various big cats and domestic cats, which suggests that they confer survival advantages. Adam Marcus (2003) of the Genome News Network asserts that black fur may be selected for because in addition to providing camouflage at night, the genes that produce it might offer some protection against certain infectious diseases, though more research is required to confirm this.
Despite research suggesting that they have particularly good temperaments, black cats are less likely to be adopted than cats of any other colour, likely due to a combination of superstition and the fact that darker colours may be less visible in shelter cages. As a result, enormous numbers of black cats are euthanized in shelters each year.
Muhlhausen (2008) reports that according to research published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science in 2002, black cats are only 50% as likely to find loving homes as tabbies, and have an adoption rate one-third that of white cats. Given that just one-fifth of all cats up for adoption at the time found homes, it’s obvious that few black cats in shelters will ever have the opportunity to leave them alive. Because of this problem, many shelters actually have pages on their websites encouraging potential adopters to consider black cats.
For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.
- Grandin, T. (2009). Animals Make Us Human. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
- Hartwell, S. (1995). “Feline Folktales: Cats in Folklore and Superstitions.” MessyBeast.com.
- Marcus, A. (21 March 2003). “Black Cats and Genomics Cross Paths.” GenomeNewsNetwork.com.
- Meyer, J.R., PhD. (1994). “Black Jaguars in Belize?: A Survey of Melanism in the Jaguar, Panthera onca.” Biological-Diversity.info.
- Morris, D. (1987). Catlore. London, UK: Jonathan Cape Ltd.
- Muhlhausen, Emily. (28 April 2008). “Black Cats Unlucky at Shelters.” The Seattle Times, SeatleTimes.nwsource.com.
- Starbuck, O., & Thomas, D. (2004). “Cat Color FAQ: Cat Color Genetics.” Fanciers.com.
- Syufy, F. (n.d.). “Black Cats Folklore – Witches – Beliefs About Black Cats.” About.com.