A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. She receives creative input from the Real Cats and clerical assistance from She of Little Talent (old SoLT, a.k.a. Roby Sweet). Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to old SoLt (Ms. Sweet). Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Black Cat Syndrome May Be Real, but Shelters Can Do Something About It

Black Cat relaxing (Photo via Adobe stock)
Would this cat wait longer to be adopted from a shelter than a
lighter-colored cat would?
Photo via Adobe Stock.
In recent cat news, a study of cat adoption records from a New York shelter reveals that “black cat syndrome” is a real thing, and that shelters can do a couple simple things to help combat it.

What is black cat syndrome?

“Black cat syndrome” describes the phenomenon in which mostly dark-colored cats wait longer to be adopted than cats of other colors. Miranda Workman and Christy L. Hoffman, both professors of animal behavior at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, designed a study to look for evidence of the syndrome at a shelter in western New York. They analyzed records of 892 cat adoptions between October 2012 and October 2013, comparing adoptability rates of black or smoke cats to cats of other colors. Using Petfinder.com, the authors looked at things like the number of clicks each cat received per day, how long each cat waited before being adopted, and details of the cats’ online photographs.

On the question of coat color, “The black/smoke cats received significantly fewer clicks per day and had a significantly longer length of availability," Hoffman said.

So, it seems that black cats were less popular online, got fewer looks from potential adopters, and spent more time in the shelter waiting to be noticed. In other words, they suffered from black cat syndrome.

 It's not all bad...

Black and white cat in shelter cage
A mostly dark cat photographed
in a mostly dark
cage looks ... unhappy.
Photo by Bruno Passigatti.
But that’s not all the authors found. Digging deeper into things that could influence a cat’s popularity, Workman and Hoffman also looked at several aspects of the cats’ online portraits: Were the photos taken from the front or the side? Did they show only the cat’s head or the whole body? Was the cat looking at the camera? What size were the cat’s pupils? How were the cat’s ears positioned?

Out of all the aspects of the photographs the researchers considered, only two made any difference:

Cats photographed outside of a cage and cats photographed with a toy were more popular than those photographed in a cage or without a toy.

The takeaway

So, shelters, get those black cats out of their cages to take their pictures, and give them a prop that says, “Hey, look at me! I’m playful, fun, and interesting!” Hoffman and Workman summed it up basically the same way, but a little more scientifically: “Strategic use of toys in cats’ photographs may promote adoptions of cats who are typically overlooked.” (By the way, we love that they wrote “cats who are” rather than “cats that are.” Because, you know, a cat is not an object.)

Black Cat playing with a feather toy
A dark cat outside of a cage
with a toy looks fun, playful,
says, "Take me home!"
Photo by cynoclub.
All of this raises the question of why black cats tend to be overlooked. We can see no rational explanation. Black cats are beautiful, they can make fantastic companions, and black goes with anything, so they’ll always match your outfit.

(By the way again, in a separate study, Hoffman found no evidence for “black dog syndrome”; in fact, that study found that black dogs had a slightly shorter wait for adoption than dogs of other colors. Breed and age were more important factors than coat color in dog adoptions.)


Canisius College. (2016, February 3). “No Evidence Found for 'Black Dog Syndrome.'” ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 17, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160203185534.htm

Workman, M. K. & Hoffman, C. L. (2015).  “An Evaluation of the Role the Internet Site Petfinder Plays in Cat Adoptions.” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science,

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