The connection between black cats and Halloween dates back centuries. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed that witches could turn themselves into black cats, hence the modern connection with Halloween and witchcraft. However, anyone who owns a black cat will tell you that these felines are just as sweet as any other cat. In fact, in Asia and the United Kingdom, they are even thought to bring good luck! We chatted with Vetster medical director Dr. Sarah Machell to learn more, and help debunk the harmful myths around black cats. —Noa Nichol
Hi Dr. Machell! Please tell us a bit about yourself to start.
My name is Dr. Sarah Machell, DVM. I am the Medical Director at Vetster, the world’s fastest-growing pet health platform providing 24-7 on-demand online veterinary appointments.
As Halloween approaches, we’re talking black cats. First, what are a few of the myths related to black cats and Halloween?
There are a lot of cultural superstitions surrounding black cats bringing about bad luck or danger. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed that witches could turn themselves into black cats, hence the modern connection between Halloween, black cats and witchcraft. However, anyone who owns a black cat will tell you that these felines are just as sweet as any other cat. Another myth or urban legend we often see surface is the idea that black cats are more at risk of violent attacks during Halloween. Due to their mythical connections with witchcraft and their association with Halloween, you’ll probably hear scary stories about black cats being abused, abandoned or killed when October 31 rolls around. While such stories are popular, there is no substantial evidence that black cats are in more danger on Halloween than any other time of the year. In fact, the chilling reality is that more cats die in shelters than any other animal.
And how about some of the facts, especially when it comes to stigmas around black cats?
We do know the stigma surrounding black cats commonly leads to what is known as “black dog syndrome” which refers to a pattern that many shelters and adoption centres have observed over the years that adopting black dogs and cats into new homes tends to be very difficult. Theories include that they tend to not photograph as well on adoption sites, and there are negative associations from movies and the media. Because of urban legends and fears that people will adopt black cats to use as props for their Halloween costumes, some shelters ban the adoption of black cats this time of year. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, cats account for more than half of animals at shelters who are euthanized each year, at roughly 530,000. Such bans prevent black cats from being adopted into good homes around this spooky holiday.
When it comes to pets in general, are your top tips to keep them safe and stress-free this Halloween?
First, designate a safe space. Whether it’s a crate, a bed, or even a specific room in your home, make sure that your pet has a safe space where they can retreat if things get too scary. With trick or treaters coming and going, it’s important to make sure that your pet is secure and can’t bolt through the door once the night gets underway. Next, opt for pet-friendly costumes. If you plan on dressing up your pet, it’s important to make sure that their costume fits well and doesn’t pose any choking hazards, visibility issues or mobility restrictions. Costumes that make noises or have noisy components such as bells can be scary, so try to avoid them. Just like people, not all pets are excited to wear a costume. You know your pet best and should always check in to make sure that they’re having fun, too. Keeping decorations out of reach is crucial; jack-o’-lanterns and candles can set a spooky scene, but can become fire hazards if knocked over by a curious cat. Pets can get tangled in decorations like cobwebs and lights, so it’s best to ensure they are kept out of reach and secured in place. Lastly, motion-activated decorations can scare skittish pets, so it’s best to turn them off when pets are around. Remember to hide the loot bags and keep Halloween candy far out of your pet’s reach. Chocolate is toxic to both cats and dogs, and can lead to seizures, vomiting, and diarrhea, and depending on the type and how much was consumed can even be fatal. Xylitol, a common ingredient found in hard candies, can also be fatal to dogs. Opt for treats from your local pet store or make your own at home using pet-safe ingredients. Finally, leave trick or treating to the kids. Taking your dog trick or treating might seem like a good idea in theory, but strange noises, costumes, and darkness can cause stress and anxiety, so it’s actually best to leave them at home. If you do decide to take them with you, it’s important to make sure they are wearing an ID tag and that their information is up to date and easy to read.
Advice around what to do with pets in case of an emergency this Halloween?
It’s always important to have an emergency care plan in place for your pet should things go wrong. If your pet is experiencing a real emergency, it’s important to take them to an emergency veterinary clinic where they can be seen as soon as possible.
Are there any famous black cats out there, in pop culture or currently on social media, working to change these stigmas?
Thanks to social media, many black cat pet parents are sharing content showcasing how lovable and friendly their black cats really are. In some parts of the world including Asia and the United Kingdom, black cats are even thought to bring good luck. The more we can debunk some of the myths around black cats, the better the chance we have of our darker-hued friends going to a loving home.