10 Things to Know About Black Cats

Stephanie Howe, DVM
Published: September 14, 2022

You might think of a black cat as a witch's familiar or as a bad omen when one crosses your path, but there is much more to the black cat than meets the eye.

Black Is the Most Common Feline Coat Color

Have you had more than one black cat cross your path? It is not a glitch in the matrix; black is actually the most common coat color among felines.

The gene for expressing eumelanin—the pigment needed to make black fur—is dominant in black cats. A cat usually gets two copies of a gene, one from mom and one from dad. If one of these genes codes for black fur, then the kitten will be black.

Genetics for coat color in cats is a bit more complicated than that, which does give us different varieties of color.

Black coats allow cats to blend better into the night and hunt their prey more inconspicuously. This genetic advantage may have allowed black cats to be healthier and more likely to breed.

Black Cats Are More Likely to Be Adopted

You may have heard the misconception that black cats are less likely to be adopted than their fair-coated peers. This is not always the case, because in addition to cats being predominantly black, people’s old superstitions about black cats have faded over the years, leading to more adoptions.

Because black is a common coat color, more black cats enter the animal shelter system, resulting in disproportionately high numbers of adoptions.

Unfortunately, the high shelter intake of black cats means that they’re also euthanized more often than cats with any other fur color. The bottom line is that adopting black cats might save their lives, so it is always a good idea.

Black Cats Can Rust in the Sun

If you spend your summer by the pool, your hair might get lighter. The same lightening effect applies to the fur of black cats, which may have light red or orange highlights when they spend a lot of time in the sun. The sun bleaches the pigment from the fur, causing it to lighten. Since fur isn’t alive but is a structure of keratin, it will stay bright until it is shed.

It’s Rare To Find an All-Black Cat

While some cats are indeed black from head to toe, this is actually rare. Most black cats have some other coloring in their whiskers, paw pads, or random patches of fur.

Whisker hairs are thick sensory hair follicles that originate deep in the skin. Cats are known to shed their whiskers, and often new ones will grow back in other colors.

Paw pad color is often the same as a cat’s fur color. Darker-furred cats tend to have black or gray toes, while lighter ones have pink toes. Black cats with some white fur markings are more likely to have patches of pink or white on their paws.

Famous Black Cats

Animation has brought to the fore many famous felines from Bagheera, the black panther in The Jungle Book, to Luna, the black cat in Sailor Moon.

Live-action black cats that stole the show include:

  • Salem in Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996-2003)

  • Thackery Binx in Hocus Pocus (1993)

  • Isis in Star Trek (1966-1969)

In addition to silver screen characters, other black cats have gained celebrity status, including:

  • The official first cat of the White House while George W. Bush was in office was named India. India was an all-black American Shorthair that lived to a great age of 18 years.

  • Blackie, the world's richest cat, was left a $12.5 million fortune when his owner, British antique dealer Ben Rea, died in 1988.

  • Oscar the Bionic Cat was the world's first cat to have double rear-leg prosthetics, in 2009.

Black Cats Almost Always Have Yellow Eyes

Just as genetics plays a role in the color of a cat’s fur, it is also responsible for the color of their eyes. The same pigment (eumelanin) that affects a black cat’s fur also affects their irises. The majority of black cats have irises with yellow/gold, orange/copper, or green pigment.

The Bombay Cat is a breed that typically has eyes in the gold or copper range. Black cats in other breeds are more likely to have lighter eyes.

Kittens, like human babies, are most commonly born with blue eyes, but the color of their iris changes as they age. The change typically starts between 4 to 8 weeks, and their eyes will be their permanent color by 3-4 months.

Types of Black Cat Breeds

While many cat breeds can have black coats, the Bombay Cat is the only breed whose standard includes a shiny black coat. This breed was created in the 1950s as a hybrid of the Burmese and American Shorthair. Bombay cats are nicknamed as “parlor panthers” due to their exotic good looks, sleek black coats, and gorgeous copper-orange eyes.

Other black cat breeds include:

  • Sphinx

  • Persian

  • Ragamuffin

  • Scottish Fold

  • Selkirk Rex

  • American Curl

  • American Bobtail

  • Chantilly-Tiffany

Why Are Black Cats Considered Bad Luck?

The superstition that black cats were associated with the occult started around the Middle Ages, and many black cats fell victim to this misconception. Many believe that this led to a decrease in the cat population and the eventual spread of the bubonic plague, or Black Death, in the early 14th century, which was a disease carried by mice.

The perceived connection between black cats and witches’ evil deeds continued to North America and came to a head with the Salem witch trials of the 1690s.

No one knows exactly when black cats got their bad rap, but a black cat crossing your path certainly won’t bring you bad luck.

Black Cats in History

Black cats played an important role in history. In Ancient Egypt, they were used to protect food stores from mice. The goddess Bastet was thought to bring good fortune to those who housed cats. Bastet was part black cat, part woman warrior goddess, a deity who protected the pharaoh and was a goddess of fertility.

British and Irish sailors in the early 19th century believed that black cats were symbols of good luck and could protect ships from dangerous weather. They were also adept at killing rats on board.

Today, in many countries and cultures, cats are symbols of prosperity. In Scotland, England, and Ireland, it is actually considered good luck to have a black cat cross your path, and black cats are sometimes given as wedding gifts to bring happiness to the couple. In Japan, many believe that a black cat can increase your chances at romance.

Celebrate Black Cats Every Year

Two days on the calendar are set aside for making the tiny panther in your life feel extra special.

October 27, four days before Halloween, is National Black Cat Day, and August 17 is National Black Cat Appreciation Day around the world.

So whichever day you choose to celebrate, let’s give three cheers to the black cat!

References

  1. Guinness World Records. Wealthiest Cat.

  2. Carini RM, Sinski J, Weber JD. Coat Color and Cat Outcomes in an Urban U.S. Shelter. Animals (Basel). 2020;10(10):1720.

  3. Miller H, Ward M, Beatty JA. Population Characteristics of Cats Adopted from an Urban Cat Shelter and the Influence of Physical Traits and Reason for Surrender on Length of Stay. Animals (Basel). 2019;9(11):940.

Featured Image: iStock.com/Jasmin Bauer


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