Often associated with witchcraft and bad luck, black cats have suffered from centuries of prejudice and general negative portrayals on film and TV. However, anyone who has been lucky enough to own a black cat knows that this just isn’t true. So, where do all of these myths and misconceptions about black cats come from? We take a deeper look into why these cats have received such bad press and find some surprising facts along the way!
Why are black cats considered bad luck?
Black cats have long been stigmatised and considered bad luck.
You might see a black cat as part of your Halloween decorations, or you may have even been told that just seeing a black cat can burden you with bad luck. So, why is it then that black cats are so stigmatised and why are they so closely associated with the spooky and the supernatural?
Much like other dark-coated animals, such as crows and ravens, black cats have long been unfairly associated with death and bad luck. The origins of black cats and bad luck probably date back to the early 13th century, when Pope Gregory IX allegedly declared black cats as associates of Satan. This perceived relationship between cats and the devil would then have fatal consequences for the feline fraternity across Europe when a Medieval cat cull swept the continent.
The connection between black cats and the supernatural is also to blame for why many feel that it’s bad luck to have a black cat cross your path. In the Medieval period, thousands of people were persecuted for being a witch. The story goes that many of these people – mostly women – were often seen to be caring for cats and they were therefore guilty by association. Soon, the idea that the now stigmatised black cats were companions of witches started to gain traction and therefore, crossing paths with a black cat would spell trouble.
6 things to know about Black Cats
When it comes to black cats, there are an awful lot of myths and misconceptions, but there are a lot of interesting facts too! Here’s a few things that you might not know about black cats and – crucially – are true.
1) Black is the most common fur colour
If you’ve ever had more than one black cat cross your path, don’t worry, you aren’t seeing double. Black really is the most common fur colour for cats and is caused by a pigment called eumelanin. This eumelanin pigment comes in three different types (or alleles), with the dominant B allele producing black fur. A cat only needs to receive this B allele from either the mother or the father to then have black fur.
2) Most black cats have yellow eyes
Black cats tend to have either yellow or amber eyes.
One of the most noticeable things about black cats are their piercing yellow or amber coloured eyes. This familiar shade is caused by the same pigment that produces black fur. The extra melanin in their bodies causes that yellow or amber eye colour, and less melanin can sometimes produce green coloured eyes.
3) Black cats can change colour
In the same way that spending a long time in the sun can turn the hair on our heads a lighter shade, black cats can also change colour. Exposed to sunlight, your cat’s black fur can appear brown or even a rust-like colour. Sunlight helps break down the pigments in a black cat’s fur, causing the colour to fade, but in some cases also reveal secret stripes or patterns in their fur!
4) There are 22 breeds of black cat
According to the Cat Fanciers’ Association there are 22 recognised breeds of black cats. These include:
- American Curl
- American Shorthair
- British Shorthair
- Cornish Rex
- Devon Rex
- Japanese Bobtail
- Maine Coon
- Norwegian Forest Cat
- Scottish Fold
- Selkirk Rex
- Turkish Angora
The Bombay cat breed was specifically bred for its black coat.
5) Black cats were once considered good luck
Although black cats have often been associated with bad luck and witchcraft, in many cultures black cats also bring good luck. In Japan, black cats are considered to bring luck and fortune.
Similarly, in parts of Southern France, a Matagot is said to bring wealth to a household if fed and watered. In Scotland and parts of Northern England, finding a black cat on your doorstep also means that you’re going to come into good fortune and wealth.
6) Black cats are more likely to be rehomed
You may have heard the sad tale about black cats in rescue centres and how they are less likely to be rehomed compared to other cats. However, this is yet another misconception.
As there are more black cats than any other colour, there are also a higher number of black cats who don’t get rehomed. The reported numbers on rehomed cats are simply the total amount and not a proportion of all of the cats being rehomed.
Famous black cats
There are a number of famous black cats who either lived incredible lives or who were portrayed on film or TV! Here are a few of the most notable black cats.
India was an all-black American Shorthair who belonged to 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush. India, who also lived with two Scottish Terriers named Barney and Miss Beazley during her time in the White House sadly passed away in 2009, aged 18.
Another political pussycat, Gladstone has been an important part of the UK government since 2016. As was the case with India, Gladstone’s official title is Chief Mouser and is currently serving his fourth Prime Minister and seventh Chancellor. Gladstone – who is named after former Prime Minister William Gladstone – was previously a stray at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and now resides at the Treasury.
Blackie became the world’s richest cat when its owner, Ben Rea, passed away in 1988. Rea, a millionaire antiques dealer, left his £7million fortune to the last surviving member of his 15 cats, Blackie. Most of his wealth was split between three animal charities on the condition that they cared for Blackie.
The statue of Hodge, featuring the empty oyster shells outside of the home of Samuel Johnson.
Hodge was the favourite cat of esteemed writer and playwright, Samuel Johnson. Hodge lived with Johnson in London during the latter part of the 18th century and was immortalised in the 1791 book, Life of Johnson by James Boswell, where he was described in Johnson’s words as “A very fine cat indeed”.
Hodge featured in further publications by writers such as Susan Coolidge and Samuel Beckett among others. A statue of Hodge has stood outside of the home he shared with Johnson in London since 1997. It depicts Hodge, sitting next to empty oyster shells – a staple of its diet that Johnson would buy himself – with the inscription “A very fine cat indeed”.
Famous Fictional Black Cats
Snowball II (The Simpsons) – The second cat of everyone’s favourite yellow cartoon family, Snowball II is owned by Lisa Simpson following the death of its predecessor, Snowball I. After its mother, Snowball I was hit by a car, the name Snowball was passed onto the new, black-coated Snowball II, even though Snowball I was an all-white cat.
Salem Saberhagen (Sabrina the Teenage Witch) – A black house cat that featured on the hit series Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Salem Saberhagen, is actually a 500-year old witch who was sentenced to spend 100 years living as a cat.
Felix the Cat – Originally appearing in newspaper strips, Felix the Cat first hit the silver screen in the late 1950’s. Complete with his magic pouch of tricks and his signature laugh, Felix became a household name in the States and even in Japan.
Sylvester (Looney Tunes) – A black and white cat who appeared in over 100 Looney Tunes cartoons as the arch-enemy of Tweety Bird, Sylvester is best known for his catchphrase “Sufferin’ succotash”. Originally voiced by Mel Blanc, Sylvester appeared in three animations to win an Academy Award – more than any other Looney Tunes character.