As some of the most misunderstood members of the cat world, black cats aren’t always what they seem. Some say they’re bad luck.
Others see a dark-colored cat and conjure images of witches and monsters. These unwarranted associations with all things creepy have given black cats an unfair, and flat-out wrong, reputation. In reality, black cats are friendly, loyal, and stunning.
They make affectionate family members and are just as personable and social as any other colored feline. There are a lot of interesting characteristics that make black cats special. From their history of being worshiped to genes that give them physical advantages, there is plenty to love about these inky-colored cats.
The Most Dominant Cat Color
Cat color is always dependent on genes. Every cat gets two sets of color-coding genes, one from each parent. Some colors are recessive, and some are dominant. Without pulling out your high school biology notes, the basic explanation is that some color genes override others and make it more likely for a cat to have that colored fur.
When it comes to black cats, the gene that codes for black fur is the most dominant of all the possible fur colors. This means if two cats that each possess the gene for black fur (even if they aren’t black themselves), reproduce, their offspring will be black.
Even if only one parent has the gene, there is still a high probability for black kittens. The gene for black fur even overrides the gene that calls for the common tabby pattern. As a result, there are more black cats than any other color.
Black Fur Can Hide Patterns
While black cats are the most common of all cats, not every dark-colored feline you see is truly a solid black cat. The gene for black fur has the power to repress the gene for the tabby coat pattern, but it doesn’t delete it. In cats that only have one black fur gene, the tabby pattern might still be there.
Often called “undercover tabbies,” these black cats actually have subtle stripes, swirls, or spots. When you look at them in certain lighting or at certain angles, you can see that the tabby gene hasn’t been completely overridden.
In addition to having undercover coat patterns, some black cats even change color. When an outside cat spends a significant amount of time basking in the sun, the UV rays can break down the black pigment of their fur.
This is called “rusting” and results in a cat turning a rusty brownish-red color with age. This color phenomenon often helps reveal the tabby coat pattern that was hiding underneath that dark fur.
Black Cat Breeds
Another misunderstanding about black cats is that they’re all the same breed. In fact, there are 22 cat breeds that can potentially have solid black fur. Some of these breeds have long, fluffy fur, and others are short-haired and sleek-looking.
The most renowned black cat breed is the Bombay. These short-haired and solid-colored cats were bred to look like miniature black panthers. They’re the only breed that is always solid black; there are no other colors accepted in their breed standards.
A Stroke of Luck
There’s no clear origin to the idea that black cats bring bad luck. Some think the idea came from a story in Greek mythology where the goddess Hera punished a servant by transforming them into a black cat. The servant then joined forces with the goddess of witchcraft.
In 1233, Pope Gregory IX announced his belief that black cats were demons in disguise. One man’s righteous declaration led to centuries of misinformation.
Black cats haven’t always been scorned, however. There were some places and some time periods where black cats were considered good luck. In Japan, for example, black cats are believed to be harbingers of economic success and true love. Many European sailors also considered black cats good luck and often sought them out to bring onboard their ships. The sailors’ wives also kept black cats at home to help ensure their husbands made it home safely.
Cats Worth Worshiping
Besides being lucky, some ancient cultures even believed black cats were gods. Ancient Egyptians believed in the goddess Bastet who helped protect women and crops. Bastet’s physical form was believed to be a woman with the head of a black cat. Every black cat, therefore, was the embodiment of Bastet. They were revered throughout the community, and killing a black cat led to a death sentence.
A Physical Advantage
Black cats have endured more than their fair share of defamation, but their genetics suggest they have a physical advantage that other cats lack. Research has found that the gene that codes for black fur color also possesses attributes that support the immune system. With a bolstered immune system, black cats have a stronger resistance to common illnesses and serious diseases. Scientists aren’t sure if there’s an evolutionary reason behind this phenomenon or if it’s a lucky coincidence that benefits black cats.
Society isn’t always kind to black cats, but they’re lovable pets that deserve good homes just as much as any other cat.