Black cats: what's the problem?

Melanie Whitehouse / 22 October 2015

With black cats taking longer to be adopted and more likely to be abandoned it seems that people are definitely prejudiced against cats of a certain colour. We look at why black cats can be so difficult to rehome.



Black cats are a bit like Marmite. You either love ‘em or you hate ‘em, but because of their colour they can be difficult to rehome.

Dr June McNicholas is a psychologist with a particular interest in animals and human health. She believes black cats still suffer from a bad press due to their past association with witches and the occult.

“Oddly, though, black cats are still regarded by some as lucky! It’s a paradox,” she says. “However, black cats do have a major drawback when appealing to humans as their total blackness detracts from the features that we, as humans, like to see, i.e. a ‘face’.

“Tabbies have lovely eye stripes that accentuate their facial expressions. We have to understand that cats do not have very expressive faces - much of the expression is to do with the markings around eyes, mouth, nose and ears, and how we ‘translate’ those through what we understand as human expressions. Hence tabbies seem to ‘smile’, pink noses are cute and babyish, white blazes accentuate eye colour.

“Putting it bluntly, ‘patterned’ cats often give off an appearance that people relate to in terms of human facial expressions. The poor black cat has nothing: no coloured nose, no stripes, no markings. He’s just black. For some people this would be a plain expression and nothing to ‘grab’ them when viewing them against other cats in the shelter. In fact, as far as adoption chances are concerned, it is probably a better ploy for a cat to be conspicuously ugly than be all black, as ugly cats get all the sympathy!

“I love black cats and for most of my life I’ve had a black cat. I work with many species of animals and I can honestly say that colour rarely has anything to do with character, temperament or loveability. Your average black cat is likely to be as loving a pet as any other cat.”

Find out how a cat can change your life when you least expect it.

What the scientists say

A study by Rachel Casey, senior lecturer in feline behaviour and welfare at Bristol University, and scientist Sylvia Vandenbussche, found that coat colour influenced how long cats remained in shelters before being re-homed. Almost a fifth of owners - 19% - said physical appearance was the main criteria for selecting a cat. Tabbies were far more likely to be homed on the first day and black-and-white cats least likely.

This ties in with research from Cats Protection, which re-homes more than 45,000 stray or unwanted cats every year. Recent figures from the charity’s four largest adoption centres show they take in more black-and-white cats than any other colour.

“The unfortunate thing for these cats is that not only do we have more of them coming in, they are also much harder to find homes for,” says the director of Veterinary Services, Maggie Roberts. “They often get overlooked by prospective owners who would rather adopt a more unusual colour, like ginger or pedigree cats.

“Our volunteer-run branches and adoption centres can really struggle to find homes for black-and-white and black cats, which is a shame as they have just as much love to give as any other cat.”

National Black Cat Day

Cats Protection’s fifth National Black Cat Day is being held on October 27. The idea behind it is to raise awareness of the many unwanted black and black-and-white moggies, many of whom wait around a week longer to be adopted than their more colourful counterparts.

“They are just as loving and fun as torties and tabbies and will make the perfect addition to any home, so now it’s time for us to stand up and show our support for them,” says Gemma Smith, Cats Protection’s Digital Communications Officer. “If you love cats just as much as we do, why not consider adopting a black cat.”

For more information, log on to www.cats.org.uk or call the charity’s helpline on 03000 121212.

To help the cats in the care of Cats Protection, why not try making a catnip mouse with this free knitting pattern?

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