by Elisa Black-Taylor
Cassie-A very healthy cat
Cassie now and then
Midnight Whineybutt-Sole survivor
This morning as I sat and stared at our three month old black kitten Midnight, I found myself asking the question “are black cats healthier?”
My memory flashed back to a black cat I had the pleasure of adopting as a kitten over twenty years ago. Peeper was a black alley cat. Long and lean and somewhat wild. She grew into a beautiful and loving black cat who was NEVER sick a day in her life.
Then I thought of Cassie, who we rescued back in January a week after she was found wandering near the interstate after a blizzard. Cassie had a slight case of conjunctivitis that looked worse than it actually was. It cleared up quickly on antibiotics and she hasn’t been sick a day since.
So now here I was staring at Midnight, the only surviving kitten out of a litter of five. His brothers and sisters sadly passed away from feline distemper. When Midnight was being examined at the vet, she told me he had a slight fever and was fighting off the panleuk.
He had a hard battle to win, but is well on his way to leading a long and spoiled life. I continued to wonder how he lived when the rest of his family didn’t. There had to be something about him that gave him the ability to overcome an infection that had a 90% chance of killing him.
Are black cats healthier? I’d love to get some comments on this one, considering black cats are the last to be picked at a shelter. Which is sad, since research is showing black cats may have the ability to fight off infection better than other cats. One study even suggests black cats may be immune to FIV.
Stephen O’Brien, an expert in cat genetics at the US National Cancer Institute’s Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, in Frederick, Maryland, is convinced black cats are healthier because of the genes that make a cat black.
Without getting into a lot of scientific lingo (well, perhaps just a little), there’s a gene called agouti signalling protein (ASIP). This regulates the amount of eumelanin or black pigment in the coat. When two copies of this gene are present, known as recessive agouti, the coat is solid black.
This is where the research gets really interesting. Eduardo Eizirik of the National Cancer Institute did a study on these mutations and found there are 260 inherited gene mutations that affect cats. After an in depth study, scientists determined that ten of those had counterparts in humans. And humans with two mutant genes have a higher ability to fight off HIV.
So what does this mean for black cat health? A black cat is really your best choice if you want a cat who has a better chance at remaining disease and illness free.
Some even say there are so many black cats today because they are less likely to get sick and die. Survival of the fittest is more than a cliche in the cat world.
After watching Midnight Whineybutt pull through and survive an infection that wiped out his four litter-mates, I’m totally convinced genetics must play a part in black cat health.
Please keep this article and the research into black cat health in mind the next time you visit a shelter to adopt a cat. Not only will you save the most misunderstood cat color, but you’ll likely save yourself a lot of money in vet bills. And have a beautiful, loving companion for many, many years.
And make sure to leave a few comments on the overall health of YOUR black cat. I’m curious to see whether the rest of the readers here have black cats in tip top health.
Current Biology, March, 2003 (vol 13, p 448)