Are Black Cats and Dogs Really Less Likely to Be Adopted?

Black cats bring bad luck. Black dogs are omens of death. Black cats and dogs are less likely to be adopted at animal shelters. The first two are myths derived from folklore. But what about the third?

Do black animals really struggle to find homes just because of their color? Here’s why this belief isn’t such a black-and-white issue.

What is Black Dog (or Cat) Syndrome?

Black Dog Syndrome — or sometimes Big Black Dog Syndrome — is the term animal shelters use to suggest that black dogs often are passed over for adoption. (Black cats are thought to have this same problem, as well.) Some people add “Big” to the expression because smaller dogs and puppies (and kittens) tend to have a higher adoption rate, regardless of coloring.

“It is possible that there may simply be more black pets in the shelter and rescue population,” according to the Petfinder blog. “However reports from across the country seem to illustrate the problem, and multiple national organizations have long recognized BDS as an issue that adversely affects the adoption rates of black pets.”

But why is it that people might pass over adoptable black dogs and cats?

Factors working against black animals

black Labrador in an animal shelter

There are several factors that could contribute to Black Dog (or Cat) Syndrome. Some of it might have to do with superstitions associated with black animals, according to the American Kennel Club. Black cats have ties to witches and misfortune. And there are many stories about evil black dogs, sometimes painting them as omens of death or even incarnations of the devil. Even if you don’t consciously believe these myths, they might have helped to shape your pet preferences.

But another factor does actually stem from black animals’ coloring: They can’t be seen very well in their kennels or photographs. Many animal shelters don’t have stellar lighting or professional photographers to take photos of the adoptable pets. So the black dogs and cats all tend to blend together — their unique features lost in the dim environment.

So even though a black dog or cat might have to work harder to catch a person’s eye, are they really adopted less? Let’s dig into the statistics.

Here’s what the data says

black cat looking up

According to the ASPCA, the prejudice against black cats and dogs is just another myth surrounding these animals. It’s all about perception. Because black dogs and cats make up the largest groups of shelter intake by color, it’s going to appear as though more are passed over for adoption.

“Let’s say 4 black dogs and 1 white dog enter the shelter, and the next day 1 white dog and 1 black dog are adopted — that leaves just 3 black dogs in kennels, shifting a perception of risk,” the ASPCA says. “However, the same number of black and white dogs were adopted!”

ASPCA data of about 300,000 animals from 2013 drive home this point:

  • Black dogs made up 30 percent of the total canine intake. The next highest group was brown dogs at 23 percent. Consequently, 32 percent of canine adoptions were black dogs, and 22 percent were brown dogs, followed by the other color groups.
  • As for felines, black cats made up 33 percent of intake, followed by gray cats at 22 percent. And black cats accounted for 31 percent of the feline adoptions, with gray at 20 percent.

So even though black cats and dogs represented the largest color population at shelters, their adoption rates also remained the strongest. Unfortunately, that also meant their euthanasia rates were the highest — though other colors actually saw higher individual euthanasia rates compared to their adoption rates.

Furthermore, another study of shelter dogs in the Pacific Northwest found black dogs actually had a slightly shorter length of stay versus other colors. “The study also concluded that age and breed group were more important than coat color when it came to adoptability,” according to Science Daily.

However, a separate study showed black cats received fewer clicks on their Petfinder photos and had longer shelter stays. The research suggested the cat’s pose in the photos didn’t matter, but cats who were photographed with toys or outside their cages tended to get more views. So that does give credence to poor photos working against black animals.

Regardless, these numbers suggest simple color prejudice is not the main issue black animals face in shelters — though that might vary on a local level. But like any homeless pet, they do still need all the help they can get.

How to help adoptable animals

four puppies in a crate

There’s plenty you can do for homeless animals. Donate your time, expertise or resources to your local animal shelter. Fostering, dog walking, cat socializing, fundraising, cleaning — there’s always a need for various volunteers. Plus, educate your friends and family about pet overpopulation, and encourage them to adopt.

Finally, the obvious way to help shelter animals is by always adopting your pets. Don’t worry about purposely picking a black cat or dog. Just find the animal who’s right for you, give them a home for life and everyone involved will be lucky creatures.

Main image credit: AwaylGl/Getty Images

84 comments

Edith B
Edith B13 hours ago

Adopt, don't shop.

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Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D9 days ago

That's so sad. I think they are just as beautiful as any other color pet.

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Val P
Val P9 days ago

fascinating

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beba h
beba h10 days ago

I have a black dog and a black cat I rescued. It is a type of prejudice that people have against black pets that seems so unjust to me.

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Shirley S
Shirley S12 days ago

I love them all no matter what color they are.

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michela c
michela c14 days ago

Love them, no matter their colour!

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michela c
michela c14 days ago

One of my adopted/rescued doggies is black, and three of my already passed sweet dogs where black.

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Janis K
Janis K14 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Debbie F
Debbie F15 days ago

I have 3 black cats. They were all dumped out on the street. They are very sweet and lovable.

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Leo C
Leo C16 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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