Black Magic. The Rarity of Feline Darkness

Introduction

A black cat is a domestic cat with black fur. The coat color is the result of one of several possible genes that can suppress the tabby pattern and result in a solid black coat. Black cats have held cultural significance and superstition throughout history, often being associated with bad luck, witches, and the supernatural.

Black cats make up a small percentage of the total cat population. While their eye color ranges from yellow to green, their fur does not have tabby stripes or other markings. The topic of how rare black cats are delves into the genetics behind their coat color, their population statistics, perceptions and superstitions surrounding them, and factors affecting their adoption rates.

Popularity of Black Cats

Black cats are one of the most common cat coat colors, yet they are often the least likely to be adopted from shelters. According to the Fundamentally Feline blog, black coats and black-and-white coats together account for about 45% of the cat population.[1] However, black cats tend to stay at shelters much longer than cats with other coat colors before being adopted.

One reason black cats may be less popular is superstition and fear surrounding them. Throughout history, black cats have been associated with bad luck, witchcraft, and Halloween. This stigma still persists today and may make some people hesitant to adopt a black cat as a pet.

Additionally, black cats can be harder to photograph for adoption profiles. Their dark fur does not show up well in photos, making it difficult for potential adopters to get a sense of their personality. Lighter colored cats often photograph better. However, with the right lighting and photography skills, black cats can take stunning photos.

While black is not the most sought-after coat color for cats, black cats can make wonderful, loving pets. With extra effort to photograph them well and promote them, many shelters have found success in boosting black cat adoption rates.[2]

[1] https://www.fundamentallyfeline.com/black-cats-most-common-least-desired/

[2] https://www.wickedlocal.com/story/chronicle-transcript/2021/10/20/people-say-black-cats-are-hard-to-adopt-out-but-salem-saberhagen-finkelstein-begs-to-differ/8500859002/

Black Cat Genetics

The black coat color in cats is caused by a gene mutation that results in an overproduction of eumelanin, which is the pigment responsible for black fur. This mutation occurs in the gene that codes for tyrosine, an amino acid involved in melanin production.

The gene for coat color in cats has two alleles – B and b. The B allele produces black pigment while the b allele produces little to no black pigment. For a cat to have a solid black coat, it must have two copies of the B allele (BB). Cats with only one copy of the B allele (Bb) will have some black fur, but may appear to be tabby or calico.

According to PetMD, while many cat breeds can have black coats, the Bombay is the only breed that is exclusively black. Bombay cats have two copies of the B allele resulting in a solid black coat.

The tyrosine gene mutation that causes black fur is incompletely dominant, which means a cat needs two copies of the mutation to exhibit the black coat phenotype. This follows basic Mendelian inheritance where a recessive trait must be inherited from both parents.

Black Cat Population Statistics

According to a 2020 study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “black coloration was the most common coat in all cats (54.4%)” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7597961/. The study analyzed coat color data for over 1.8 million cats taken in at animal shelters across the United States. Given that black is the most prevalent coat color among domestic cats, the black cat population likely represents over 50% of the total domestic cat population.

Another analysis on black cat population demographics in the US comes from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). The ASPCA estimates that about 42% of the cat population is black, making it the most common feline color. Such a high percentage demonstrates that black cats are extremely common, despite perceived rarity.

Overall, statistics clearly show black coats comprise the largest share of cat colors. With percentages hovering around 50% of the total cat population, black cats are prevalent across the United States.

Black Cat Adoption Rates

Several studies have found that black cats are adopted from shelters at lower rates compared to cats of other colors. One study published in the journal Animals looked at over 1,000 cats adopted from an urban U.S. shelter and found that black cats and older cats were significantly less likely to be adopted than cats of other colors and ages (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7597961/). Black cats made up about 18% of the shelter cat population but only 8% of adopted cats.

Another study surveyed people about their perceptions of black cats and found that many believed black cats take longer to get adopted. Some reasons given were that black cats don’t stand out as much in their kennels and don’t photograph as well, making it harder for potential adopters to connect with them (https://kindnessforcats.rescuegroups.org/info/display?PageID=7189).

Overall, studies indicate black cats face biases and misconceptions that negatively impact their chances of being chosen for adoption compared to other cat colors. Educating the public and improving shelter practices could help address this issue.

Superstitions About Black Cats

Black cats have long been associated with superstition and mythology. In Western history, black cats have often been looked upon with fear and suspicion, viewed as omens of misfortune and even as the familiars of witches. Some of the most common superstitions regarding black cats include:

Crossing paths with a black cat – One of the most well-known superstitions is that of a black cat crossing your path bringing bad luck. This belief dates back to the Middle Ages in Europe when it was thought black cats were affiliated with witchcraft and evil spirits. The fear was that a black cat crossing in front of you was a sign of a curse or evil coming your way (History.com).

Black cats as omens of death – In many cultures, spotting a black cat was thought to signify disaster or death, especially if it was seen inside someone’s home. During the Middle Ages in England and Europe, some people thought black cats were shape-shifting witches or were possessed by the devil (The Spruce Pets). This led to the mass killing of black cats.

On the other hand, in some regions such as the UK and Australia, black cats are considered good luck. Sailors in particular have a long history of believing black cats bring good fortune at sea. Then again in places like Japan and Romania, black cats are seen as symbols of prosperity, happiness, and good health.

Famous Black Cats

Black cats have become iconic in pop culture, starring in many beloved films, TV shows, books, and more. Some of the most famous black cat characters include Salem from Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Binx from Hocus Pocus, and Jonesy from Alien. Real-life celebrity black cats like Taylor Swift’s cat Olivia Benson and the viral internet sensation Grumpy Cat have massive followings. Black cats are often portrayed as magical, mischievous, sassy, and mysterious in the media. Their sleek black coat and piercing yellow eyes captivate audiences. Pop culture has embraced the black cat aesthetic, helping transform the superstitions around them into appreciation for their beauty and charm.

Care for Black Cats

Black cats require some special care considerations compared to cats of other colors. According to SurePetCare, it’s important to keep black cats indoors as much as possible since their dark fur makes them very hard to see at night. If they go outside, make sure they are supervised and wearing a reflective collar. Also provide plenty of indoor play opportunities to keep them mentally and physically stimulated.

You’ll also want to be diligent about grooming and skin care for black cats. Their dark fur can conceal small cuts, mats, rashes or other problems. Regularly brush and inspect their coat. Apply cat-safe sunscreen before sunbathing to prevent skin damage from UV rays, which The Spruce Pets notes can turn black fur reddish over time.

In terms of personality, black cats can make very loyal and affectionate companions. Many are very intelligent as well. Consider adopting a black cat from your local shelter, as their dark color unfortunately leads to longer adoption times according to Found Animals.

Conclusion

In summary, black cats are not actually as rare as some may believe. While the exact genetic combination leading to a solid black coat is uncommon, black cats still make up approximately 15% of the total cat population according to surveys. Their popularity as pets remains high, though black cat adoption rates fluctuate seasonally and some continue to avoid adopting them due to superstition. With proper care and affection, black cats can make wonderful pets and companions, regardless of the myths surrounding them. Though they stand out with their distinctive panther-like appearance, black cats are just as deserving and loving as cats of any other color.

References

[1] The Cat Fanciers’ Association. “CFA Breed Profile: The Bombay.” https://cfa.org/bombay/

[2] VCA Hospitals. “Black Cat Syndrome.” https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/black-cat-syndrome

[3] ASPCA. “Cat Coat Colors and Patterns.” https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/cat-coat-colors-and-patterns

[4] CatWatch Newsletter. “Black Cats: Halloween’s Scapegoats.” October 2020. https://www.catwatchnewsletter.com/black-cats-halloween

[5] PetKeen. “45 Perfect Names for a Black Cat.” https://petkeen.com/black-cat-names/

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