What is the black cat personality?

I’ve been doing some research on black cat personality and it is striking to report that their personality is almost diametrically opposed to the diabolical image that they have thanks to their association with witches in the Middle Ages. I can refer to at least three good sources on black cat personality which I discuss below.

Charlie my cat
Handsome Charlie. I lived with him for several years. My photo.
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Sarah Hartwell

Firstly, a very well-known personality on the Internet who knows cats extremely well particularly their history and who has a very successful website, messybeast.com, and who, by the way, has worked at a cat shelter, calls black cats “laid-back blacks”. She knows cats and right there, we have a very strong indicator that black cats are friendly, amenable, placid and ideal cat companions particularly in a multi-cat home or in a home where there is a dog and other cats.

Black cat with greying fur around the muzzle in old age
Black cat with greying fur around the muzzle in old age. Image in the public domain.

Temple Grandin

And this assessment is supported by a New York Times bestseller, Temple Grandin, in her book Animals Make Us Human. In the book at page 76 she discusses adopting a domestic cat and in a common-sense way suggests that there are “three things you can do to obtain a cat with a friendly, bold temperament”. Adopters are generally encouraged to adopt a kitten or an adult cat with that personality. I would somewhat challenge this because I feel a tenderness towards the timid cat whose personality might need teasing out and who indeed might not truly be timid but is not presenting their best side at a cat shelter.

Always consider adopting a timid cat at a shelter to give them a life because theirs are in jeopardy at a shelter.

But as mentioned and as Temple Grandin suggests, “if you adopt a kitten from a shelter, pick one that is friendly.”

And then she suggest that you should adopt a black cat because the description that Sarah Hartwell has given to black cats “is supported by a handful of studies showing a relationship between fur colour and behaviour”.

She adds that “Black cats especially are friendlier than other cats, are better able to deal with crowding and urban life, and have greater ‘aggregative tendencies’, which means they are more inclined to live in groups of cats. Black cats are more social overall, whether it’s with other cats or with humans.”

That could not be more conclusive about the friendliness of black cats and it I think describes their personality in glowing terms.

Black Maine Coon with some rust
Black Maine Coon with some ‘rust’. Photo: Ekaterina Sansaverina Gold. Black is one of the basic self-colours.

Mexico study

I can refer also to a study which adds a bit of science to this discussion: Cat Coat Colour, Personality Traits and the Cat-Owner Relationship Scale: A Study with Cat Owners in Mexico.” Link: https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12081030

The scientists who conducted the survey state something that we all know namely that black cats tend to be the last to be adopted in shelters because of the, unfair, inherited negative image they have. However, they added the following: “Notably, despite the myths surrounding black cats, their predominant trait according to the owners’ reports is friendliness.”

However, another study that they refer to (Jones & Hart) evaluated personality against coat colour and found “that people rated black cats is less friendly and more aggressive than their non-black counterparts”. This would seem to go very much against the grain of my research in general.

Lastly, it might be interesting to touch on black cat fur colouring being caused by recessive genes. A black cat has to have both parents who carry the recessive gene to be black. The black coat gives the cat an important survival advantage and Steven J O’Brien, who worked on the feline genome project believes that the mutation that causes black fur might make these cats resistant to viruses in the HIV family.

In comparison to orange male cats, they are less aggressive. This is because, it is said, orange cats are shyer than black cats which makes them more defensively aggressive.

Temple Grandin suggest that the reason why there are lots of black cats around despite the fact that a recessive gene produces the black fur is because they are calmer and more friendly than a typical domestic cat. The survival advantage mentioned may also be a factor.

And she suggest that black cats are more successful in mating with orange cats because they wait patiently for their turn to mate whereas orange cats spend too much time fighting.

The last point to make is that you can’t equate a domestic cat’s personality directly with their fur colour. There are other influences on a cat’s personality such as their inherited personality and their experiences particularly those during the first seven weeks of their life which is described as socialisation.

Black cat looks like crow
Black cat looks like crow. Lightened up you can see the cat’s left eye and ear.

Personal

As an afterthought, I have to add in my personal experiences. In the past I lived with a three-legged black cat, a big male approaching about 20 pounds, Charlie (see the top photo illustrating this article). He was a lovely boy, amiable and friendly. He was courageous too.

He learned how to live with three legs and get around very ably. He had a very strong habit of standing up in the meerkat position which he could do very easily because his back was strengthened by all those years of walking on three legs. He had lost his front foreleg and therefore the strength of his back was a vital part of his movement.

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White cats

It might be worth checking out the opposite colour. Another survey concluded that white cats were seen as less bold and active and shyer and calmer than other colors of cat and aloof. The study is called: Human Perceptions of Coat Color as an Indicator of Domestic Cat Personality.

These studies are anecdotal

Both these studies provide anecdotal evidence as although they were managed by scientists they were based on surveys – questions answered by cat owners. In the case of the first study all the cat owners were women. And the sample sizes were small: 211 people in the first and 189 in the second (concerning white cats).

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