Black cat lounges on wooden surface

Why are black cats bad luck?

Most of us have heard the superstitious tales—don’t walk under a ladder, don’t break a mirror, and whatever you do, don’t let a black cat cross your path—all will lead to bad luck. So, how did black cats get such a bad rap? And how has superstition affected the very real pet adoption statistics for black cats? 

How Did Black Cats Become Associated with Bad Luck?

The mythological link between black cats and misfortune seems to trace its origins to a folk tale that made its way around England during the 16th Century. Apparently, two travelers—a father and son—came across a black cat along the road. Startled, they attempted to chase the animal off by throwing stones at it. To escape, the cat sought shelter in the home of an old woman who lived alone. The next night the pair passed the house again, but this time only the woman was in view. They noticed she was limping and concluded that she was the cat they’d encountered on the previous night. (At the time, it was common to believe that some old women were not only witches but could also alter their form at will.) And while nobody seems sure why the travelers threw stones at the cat in the first place, the association between black cats and danger has endured. 

Myths & Misconceptions about Adopting Black Cats

Unfortunately, the quaint 16th century folk tale has had some very real (and lasting) impacts on black cat adoptions, at least here in the U.S. Huffpost reported that black cats are less than half as likely to be adopted as their non-black counterparts. Also, over a quarter of people surveyed said that color was an important factor to consider when adopting a cat. Thirteen percent of those surveyed also admitted that they were superstitious about black cats. All this spells bad news when it comes to euthanasia. Black cats are not only less likely to be adopted, they’re also more likely to be euthanized than other cats.  

Why Adopt a Black Cat?

While they may have lost the fight for folk hero status, black cats do have some solid science in their favor. The combination of all-black fur and orange eyes is associated with some wins in the genetic lottery. A 2003 study published in New Scientist used melanin mapping to sequence the genes associated with an all-black coat in cats. They found that the combination black coat and orange eyes (found in big cats like jaguars as well as in domestic cats) boost immune resistance to some diseases.

Black Cats in Other Cultures

Outside the U.S. and Western Europe, the myth that black cats are bad luck loosens its hold. In many places—such as Russia, Egypt, and China—black cats are actually seen as signs of good fortune.  
 
In ancient Egypt, the goddess Bastet (daughter of Ra) was portrayed as having a human body and the head of a black cat. 

And In Chinese and Japanese culture, the “Maneki Neko” (beckoning cat) is a common symbol of good luck. And while the cat’s raised paw might look threatening to Westerners, it’s actually a welcoming gesture. 

Famous Black Cats

Fortunately, superstition has not stopped celebs from adopting black cats. From Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway to Bob Dylan and Cher, celebs have long loved their onyx felines. And a few black cats have achieved their own degree of notoriety, including “Binx” (from Hocus Pocus) and “Salem” (from Sabrina the Teenage Witch). 

Black Cat Appreciation Day

To help untarnish the reputation of these beautiful onyx cats, the US annually celebrates a National Black Cat Appreciation Day. While it’s not a day off from work, it is an opportunity to adopt a black cat into your family, as many shelters offer reduced adoption costs on all-black felines on this day. So when you’re considering a pet adoption, check with your local shelter to see if they’re celebrating National Black Cat Appreciation Day, and remember that black cats are just waiting to bring you the good fortune of their love and companionship!  

Friday the 13th is Coming—Why Not Adopt a Black Cat?

If you’re not one who places value in superstition, Friday, November 13 is a great time to adopt a black cat in need. Even with the recent increase in pet adoptions sparked by the Coronavirus lockdown, animal shelters are still struggling to find forever homes for many of their black felines. You can help. Adopting a pet helps reduce the burden on shelters and lower the euthanasia rate for overall. 


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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