Black Cats and Halloween: What’s True and What’s Not

Black cats have been misunderstood and accused of outrageous things from bad luck to causing disease for centuries. Finally, here's what holds true and what you should bury for good about black cats.

Centuries-old folklore goes into overdrive during the Halloween season. Scary ghost stories and eerie tales of hauntings go hand in hand with black cats with soul-piercing glowing eyes and vampire’s teeth. But why are black cats notoriously associated with Halloween? Surely, there’s no truth to those old tales, yet why are they so hard to photograph and why are there so many black cats in shelters?

Black cats are devilish

Not true: Talk about being at the wrong place at the wrong time. The black cat’s unfortunate bad rap dates as far back as the Dark Ages, when witchcraft and witchhunts were commonplace. Black cats, who were most often pets of older women living alone, got thrown into the myth and dubbed the demonic companions of witches and accomplices in witchcraft. Other tales continued for years that Satan turned into a cat while socializing with witches. From then on, the myth was perpetuated—in stories, movies, and Halloween decor of the image of an older woman dressed as a witch stirring potions in a boiling cauldron with a black cat perched nearby. Speaking of Halloween, here’s what Halloween could look like this year.

Black cats bring good luck—and bad

Not true: Superstitions abound depending on where you live. A black cat can be good luck or bad. In Celtic folklore, creatures of the spirit world took the form of large black cats with a white spot on their chest know as the Cait Sidhe. This folklore was a mixed bag. Cait Sidhe was something to fear, or one that could bestow some major blessings on your doorstep. In Japan, the Maneki Neko (or fortune cat) gold figurine, symbolizes wealth and prosperity. If the figurine is black, it’s said to ward off evil spirits.

There’s no proof black cats bring luck of any kind, but some pet parents feel lucky to have a black cat. “The luckiest thing that ever happened to me was finding my cat Coco as a kitten,” says Hannah Shaw—aka The Kitten Lady, a kitten rescue expert, and humane educator who works with Royal Canin to train active and prospective foster parents. “She changed my entire life for the better, and I can’t think of anything more lucky than having a black cat as a best friend!” Give your best friend these gifts and you’ll get a whisker full of kisses.

Black cats are all black

Not true: You might see many cats donning glossy black coats—whether in real life or Halloween decor, but the truth is, most black cats aren’t all black. If you look closely at a black cat, especially when it’s lounging in a sunny spot, you’ll notice brown highlights. “I still remember being shocked the first time I really looked at my black cat under bright sunlight: I was totally stunned to see so much brown!” recalls Christie Rogero, program manager for Greater Good Charities’ The Jackson Galaxy Project, a program which helps improve animals’ lives at risk by teaching cats new skills that promote the human-cat bond, making cats more adoptable. “Many black cats will show a faint tabby pattern in sunlight, and others will even appear a more rusty brown. It all comes down to a black cat’s genes (and which ones are dominant or recessive) and melanin,” says Rogero.” The Bombay cat, a genetic hybrid cat breed you might not know about, is the only breed exclusively all black to the roots. And it just so happens to have exquisite goldish-copper eyes too.

All black cats have green eyes

Not true: Sometimes the only way you can spot a black cat at night (or snuggled up under your covers) are their gorgeous eyes reflecting off the light. But they’re not always green. “Black cats typically have yellow eyes,” says Laura Pletz, DVM, scientific services manager at Royal Canin. “The higher amounts of melanin that contribute to their fur being so dark also typically results in irises that are golden/yellow.” Crazy as that sounds, here are 17 other bizarre and interesting things about cats you didn’t know.

Black cats cause epidemics

Not true: Way back in the day, in Europe, a falsehood took hold that when a black cat crossed your path by moonlight, death by a plague surely loomed in the future. The real reason you might walk near a cat at night is less far fetched. “When a black cat crosses your path it simply means they are going somewhere,” says Dr. Pletz. “We all are a little too familiar with the causes of infectious disease right now, but a black cat in your path is definitely not one of them.” The COVID-19 outbreak is on everyone’s minds. Here’s what you should know about coronavirus in cats.

Black cats can fight diseases better than other cats

True: At least it looks that way. “There is some evidence to suggest that black cats may be genetically more resistant to some diseases,” says Dr. Pletz. Some researchers believe that a gene that makes a cat’s fur turn black may also give them more ways to paw off disease. While more research is needed, the study published in Current Biology back in 2003 suggests that black cats may be genetically more resistant to some diseases, including Feline HIV. If you need to take your cat to the vet, here’s an easier—and scratch-free way to get your cat into a cat carrier.

Black cats don’t always look friendly in photos

True: Even black cat lovers know their lovely lumps of coal don’t always photograph well. But it has nothing to do with their feline’s mood. Their cute button nose, electric eyes, and adorable face aren’t picked up as well without proper lighting. “Be sure you have ample natural light such as sunshine coming through a window. Make sure the light is behind you—not behind the cat—so that when you snap a photo, you can see all of her features clearly, and show off just how beautiful the cat really is,” says Shaw. What doesn’t make most cats happy? Getting wet. Here’s why most cats hate water.

Black cats are adopted at the same rate as cats of other colors

True: Contrary to popular opinion fueled by bogus reports online, black cats are actually adopted more often than other colored cats. It is likely due to a matter of genetics. “Black cats may make up a larger portion of the overall shelter populations (and the general population) since the gene responsible for black coat color is dominant,” says Dr. Pletz. “The ASPCA’s Comprehensive Animal Risk Database, which includes information on about 300,000 dogs and cats, shows that black cats represented 31 percent of feline adoptions; next in line was gray (20 percent) and brown (18 percent.),” says Dr. Pletz. You’ll purr over these before and after cat adoption photos of cats that found forever homes.

Most shelters suspend adoptions on black cats in October

Not true: With the stereotype black cats had for many years, it’s no wonder some shelters suspended adoption of black cats in October for fear they would be tortured. Today, a more proactive approach is practiced by shelters to promote adoptions all year and move away from old myths that aren’t fact-based, Dr. Pletz says. An alternative to a ban on adoption is to have meaningful conversations with each potential adopter. “Get to know the adopter and what they’re looking for in a cat. If a black cat would be a great match for them at any other time of year, why not get that kitty into their home at Halloween? That’s one more family that’s joined the black cat fan club, and there’s nothing spooky or scary about that, says Rogero. Animal shelters and rescues largely depend on the kindness and generosity of animal lovers, especially during the quarantine. Next, read on to find out the truth behind 14 Halloween superstitions.

For more fun facts, costume ideas, traditions, candy inspiration, spooky entertainment, and updates on how October 31 will look different this year, check out our Halloween Guide.

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Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and Realtor.com., among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center. Follow her on Instagram @lisamariewrites4food and Twitter @cornish_conklin.