A short history of black cats and their reputation around the world
Happy Halloween! During the month of October, you can’t go anywhere without seeing the decorations. Pumpkins, hay bales, scarecrows, spider webs, witches—and black cats. Cats with a solid black coat have a long history as omens of bad luck (and good luck!), as the familiars of witches or witches in a different form, and as the favorite pet of goddesses, to name just a few of the myths associated with black cats.
Many pet owners also claim that black cats are more sensitive and intuitive than cats with other coat colors. Though we don’t know how you’d test this theory, we agree there is something mystical and magical about black cats.
Black Cat Facts: Breeds, Coloring, History, and Other Trivia
Before we get into the superstitions and myths about black cats, we need to understand a little more about them. Black cats may be misunderstood and underappreciated, but they also have a lot going for them:
What Breed is a Black Cat?
Black cats can be either mixed or a specific breed; they aren’t one single breed. In fact, the Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA) recognizes 22 cat breeds that can have solid black coats, including long-haired cats such as the Persian and the Ragamuffin as well as the hairless Sphynx. Pretty cool! However, when most people picture a black cat, they are most likely thinking of the Bombay, a lustrous, ebony shorthair—and the only breed that is only black. In the 1950’s a woman named Nikki Horner bred the Bombay specifically to look like its distant cousin, the black panther.
Why Do Some Cats Have Solid Black Fur?
Well, it’s complicated and it depends. All solid black cats are caused by genetic mutations that either increase eumelanin, suppress other colors and patterns, or both. In order for a cat to be considered solid black, both parents must have the black color gene, and the cat must carry the recessive non-agouti (a) gene, which suppresses the dominant tabby pattern. The same melanistic genes that give black cats their fur also give them yellow or copper eyes. Bombay cats have been bred specifically to retain this trait, but other black cat breeds may have dominant genes for green or even bright blue eyes, which can result in some stunning combinations. For example, Oriental cats can have black coats and almost always have striking light green or blue eyes.
Why Does My Black Cat Look Different in the Sunlight?
Some black cats are true black cats, such as the Bombay, and others are Tabbies in disguise. If your black cat looks more dark brown in the sunlight, or if you can see a faint striped pattern underneath the black fur, it’s most likely that your cat has the black color gene but that the tabby pattern isn’t fully repressed. Black cats that are actually Tabbies can even “rust” if they spend too much time in the sun, turning cinnamon or brownish-red. Another interesting fact—black panthers don’t really exist. The same genetic combinations that give domestic cats black fur are at work in the wild. American panthers are actually black-coated jaguars while African panthers are actually black-coated leopards. If you look closely at either of these big cats, you can see faint shadows of their traditional markings underneath their black fur.
Do Black Cats Have Any Advantages?
As a matter of fact, yes. While tabby patterns or spots are generally considered better for camouflage in the wild, black cats are ideally suited for hunting at night. Plus, the same genetic mutation that makes black cats produce excess melanin is also linked to stronger immune systems and disease resistance, especially to FIV. Scientists are hopeful that, once they get the entire feline genome mapped, black cats and panthers may be instrumental in helping us cure HIV. Despite many beliefs to the contrary, black cats don’t have a more difficult time being adopted than other cats. The only people who should try to steer clear of black cats are people who suffer from cat allergies!
Why Are Black Cats Considered Bad Luck?
We’ll discuss myths and legends below—but it seems that their bad reputation goes all the way back to the Middle Ages in Europe, where black cats were thought to be bringers of disease and bad luck, as well as friends of witches or witches in disguise. During this time, may communities organized black cat purges, killing the animals to protect their town from evil. Ironically, since black cats are such good night hunters, killing them may have made rodent-transmitted diseases, like the Bubonic Plague, much more deadly. It’s also important to note that black cats aren’t considered bad luck in all cultures. In England, King Charles I had a prized black cat that he swore brought him good luck. The day after his cat died, King Charles was arrested by Oliver Cromwell and beheaded for high treason shortly after…so you be the judge.
Myths and Legends About Our Furry Friends
There’s no doubt that black cats are the most maligned felines in history—but it’s not all bad news.
While some cultures have folklore about black cats that transform into witches at night or stories about cutting off a black cat’s paw only to find a human hand the following morning, other cultures tell stories about good luck, financial fortune, and even romantic benefits to owning a black cat:
Black Cats Can Bring Good Luck.
What should you do if a black cat crosses your path? Well, we think you should pick it up, snuggle with it, and maybe even adopt the cat. However, if you’re not looking to adopt, the answer may depend on where you live.
In most Asian cultures, in Russia, and in most of the United Kingdom, black cats are generally considered to be good luck no matter what. In Germany, it’s a little more nuanced: a black cat crossing your path from right to left is a bad omen, but a black cat crossing your path from left to right is a good omen. Sailors also considered black cats to be good luck on a journey and have traditionally employed black cats as the ship’s mouser. Similarly, sailors’ wives have kept black cats at home to protect their husbands. However, if a black cat boards your ship and then disembarks, you should postpone your journey, because your ship is going to sink. In some cultures, a black cat walking toward you is good luck and a black cat walking away from you is bad luck, and in other cultures, that formula is reversed.
Black cats are also thought to bring good luck to those who are opening a show, so the superstitious make sure that a black cat is in the audience on opening night. If you find a single white hair on a solid black cat, you are supposed to experience good luck in the near future. But only if you don’t pull it out!
Black Cats Can Bring Prosperity.
According to Scottish folklore, if you come home to find a black cat on your porch or at your doorstep, you will experience financial well-being in the coming years. In Japanese culture, “Fortune Cats” or Maneki Neko often come in black. Similarly, in France, black cats are often known as “matagots” which roughly translates into “Magician Cats” or even “Money Cats.” In the south of France, treating a black cat with respect is supposed to bring wealth and good luck. A black cat released at a crossroads where five routes intersect, meanwhile, will lead you to a treasure.
Black Cats Can Spice Up Your Love Life.
In Japanese culture, single women who own black cats are said to attract more suitors. Perhaps this is why Japan opened the world’s first all black cat cafe—and perhaps we should let the Greenville Cat Cafe know about this option? In England, black cats are a traditional wedding gift because they are thought to bring marital bliss and good fortune to the newlywed home.
Between their higher disease resistance and supposed magical properties, a black cat could make the perfect companion for you this fall. At Ambassador Animal Hospital, we adore cats of all breeds, shapes, sizes, and colors—so if you do adopt, come see us for our signature Kitten Package so you can properly care for your new feline friend.