This week, we’re actually answering two questions about black cats, so read on!
Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I adopted a cat of unknown age from the pound 2 years ago, and over the last 18 months, her fur has gone from very black, to a brown, rusty color. She spends a lot of time sunbathing, plus she gets a holistic cat food, supplemented with fresh fish and meats. I’ve taken her to the vet for her vaccines and checkups and the vet insists she’s in perfect health. I was just wondering what would make her fur change color so dramatically?
Thomas: This “rusting” phenomenon is pretty well-known, actually, and the reason behind it has a lot to do with genes.
Bella: You see, there are three variants of the black fur gene. There’s B, the solid black gene; then there’s b, which produces chocolate, and b’, which produces a cinnamon color. The B gene is dominant to the other types.
Thomas: But … the dominant pattern for cat fur is tabby, expressed by the Agouti (or A) gene. In order for a cat to be solid black, a cat must carry the recessive non-agouti (a) gene. Otherwise, a black cat is more or less a tabby in disguise!
Bella: The B gene produces a pigment called eumelanin, which is required to create black fur. But eumelanin is kind of a fragile pigment, especially in black cats with the dominant tabby gene, and heavy exposure to the sun can cause a black cat to turn brownish-red or to have tabby stripes that show in bright sunlight.
Thomas: Another reason why black cats “rust,” which is much rarer, is a deficiency in an enzyme called tyrosine, which is required to produce eumelanin.
Bella: You could ask your vet if it’s possible that a tyrosine deficiency may be the cause of your cat’s rusting, but since you said she spends a lot of time sun bathing, there’s a 99% chance that her fading black is because of sun exposure.
Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
A long time ago I was told that if a black cat had no white anywhere, there was something special about that. What was the special about? I have a stray black kitten, four months old who I’ve taken in and has no white.
Bella: Speaking as a black cat, I’d have to say that all black cats are special, including those with white spots.
Thomas: The special thing about cats with no white spots has a lot to do with genetics, too. There’s a dominant gene for spotting (S) that produces spots of white that mask your cat’s real color. This produces tuxedo cats, “cow kitties,” and cats with white boots and mittens like me!
Bella: A black cat with the recessive s (non-spotted) gene will have no white spots.
Thomas: But another thing that makes solid black cats special is that in many countries they’re considered good luck!
Bella: And rightly so: It’s been known for quite some time that black fur confers health advantages to cats because the gene for black fur apparently also brings increased resistance to disease.
Thomas: Wow! No wonder Siouxsie was healthy for so long!
Bella: I hope I live to be really old, too.
Thomas: So, do you have any other questions about black cats? Why do you think black cats are special, and do you have a rusty black cat? Let’s talk in the comments!
I saw this question once before and gave my story about the reddening of the fur. I work with an abandoned cat colony and over the years we have seen many black cats (including tuxedos) have their fur turn red. One guy had a complete area in the middle of his body an almost solid rust color. As it widened he seemed to get sick and one day just disappeared (he was feral and even antibiotic in baby food didn’t seem to help him). Recently another black cat, Skylar, was starting to turn red so we took him to a vet. He was positive for leukemia but they treated him for 7 days with antibiotics and we released him. It is 4 months later and his fur is thick and black again and he seems fine. I do think most of the discoloring is caused by a lack of the enzyme and it must occur when the animals health becomes compromised. If the vet says she’s healthy and she bathes in the sun a lot then hopefully it’s just her “bleaching out” a little. As long as she feels good I wouldn’t worry.
My 16 years old black feline had since birth 1 (one) single hair on her side. I read that this is a sign of good luck ? Who knows if it’s a myth or not ? Anyway, she is for me my good luck ! Black cats are just amazing, rusty or not; important is that they are happy and healthy.
We have a black cat and every single one of her kittens has been all black. One of them recently has begun ‘rusting’ quite a bit in his midsection which prompted me to do this search. His brother (from the same litter) also has a small amount, so it’s possible it may be genetic from their father (none of the others have that father). They’ve also been outside quite a bit, which gets them more sun but also a risk of diet deficiency if they don’t eat as regularly.
my mum has been feeding a stray kitty who has a black head and front legs but her back area and back legs are dark red with sparse fur, her appetite is enormous I reckon its thyroid issues.
As my black cat has gotten older, I’m seeing more and more single white hairs sprouting.
I have a black tuxedo cat that was a stray kitten. He gets patches of thin brownish short dry fur on his lower back and on his upper back legs. If I brush him once or twice a day it isn’t as bad, but I can’t get it to go away. The rest of his fur is shiny and healthy. He is about 4 years old now and it never completely goes away.
I’m not sure how much I can help, as I’m not a vet, but I might be able to throw a few possible ideas your way. I hope you can forgive my long-winded way of getting to the point. I go on a bit of a tangent about cleaners, cat litters and Pinesol being scum. My apologies ahead of time. :-p
The problem could be a whole host of things, but because it seems to be limited to a specific location on your cat, it might be something in his environment irritating his skin and altering the growth of his fur. Perhaps it’s an allergen, like something in his litter-box. This could be a possible contact-reaction issue and the litter box might be the first place I’d look.
What kind of cleaners do you use on the litter-box or floor around it, if any? Some cleaners are hazardous to your cat! Pinesol, in particular, is poisonous; DO NOT USE PINESOL ON ANYTHING YOUR CAT MUST TOUCH. Pine oils can cause liver-failure and neurological issues that will land your poor cat in the hospital… or just dead.
Other cleaners to avoid are Lysol, bleach and anything with listed ingredients like phenols of any kind, Ti (sometimes spelled tea) tree oil, ammonia, etc. There are extensive lists online on various veterinary and cat-blog sites I suggest having a dig through.
For household cleansers, vinegar, baking soda, lemons, borax and simple hot water are actually as good as, and for many jobs, actually better (in my opinion) than the expensive, stinky and hazardous (both to you and to your four-footed friends) heavy-chemical cleaners.
Lemons and vinegar are excellent antibacterials. Baking soda is a gentle, stain-lifting abrasive–it’s even gentle enough for exfoliating your own skin. Borax is also a good cleaner, laundry-booster, and a wonder at non-toxic pest control (it dehydrates insects, instead of poisons them). Plus, it’s CHEAP. There are cleaning recipes using any or all of these ingredients to make your own cleaners that are budget-friendly and effective–and it smells SO much nicer! I got into using these old alternatives because I was dirt poor, get migraines that are easily-triggered by the awful perfumes in most cleaners and, having asthma, I reacted badly to the chemicals in them that the horrible “floral” smells didn’t cover worth beans. So, these worked great for me. Safe for my animals and safe for me–perfect! :-)
BTW, boycott the HECK out of Pinesol–I just saw they STILL have on their “frequently-asked questions” page that their products are “safe to use around pets” with no qualifiers, explanations about which of their products are actually safe (free of the deadly pine-oils, say), or how to use said products to keep your pets from being poisoned. How lovely, spreading misinformation that could kill your cat, dog, bunny, bird, big-ass monitor lizard… Lying, money-grubbing… Grr… Please, PLEASE, spread the word.
Next would be to look at the litter itself. Personally, I’d avoid these litter types:
Clay: Dusty, messy. Hazardous to the lungs and dries out skin, especially on their wee ‘beans’. And look up feline acne sometime. Blame clay litter for that (plastic bowls for water and food, too).
Pellet litter: Uncomfortable on cat’s feet. Cheap, breaks down easily, compostable, often made with chlorophyll to limit scent. But, it’s like walking on pointy rocks.
Paper pellets: same as green pellets, except they reek as soon as you pee on it.
“Crystal” litters; Chemical monstrosities. Harder, crumblier types can have dust, that you DO NOT want in kitty’s lungs, or licking it off their paws, drying on paws like the clays. Added scents too strong human noses, let alone feline. A cat’s sense of smell is FOURTEEN TIMES as powerful as a human’s.
My suggestion is to try one of the plant-based litters made from crop-waste–usually corn or wheat. Chaff that farmers once saw as useless has been “discovered” to be salable: clumps well, holds in odour and cats don’t get ill.
So, try eliminating those two possible irritants from your cat’s environment first: cleaners and/or irritating kitty-litter.
Failing that, it’s time to look for other reasons, like allergies, illness, or simple genetics, and for those, you’ll need your vet’s help:
Think about the hair texture; thin and dry–is it easily broken, too? What do the hairs themselves look like? Thin and straight, slightly wriggly, woolly? When you touch it, does it feel kind of crispy, or dry-soft? Is he grooming a lot in that area? I mean more than you’d think is normal? Do you find small sores, does he chew or pull at the fur? Does the skin of his back kind of “roll up” toward his shoulders if you touch him there? Do you remember when you first started seeing this condition in his fur, or did it seem like it was always there?
What about food? Is he missing an enzyme or ingredient in his food that he needs? Does he have a vitamin deficiency? Ex: taurine is a nutrient carnivores like cats need in their diets. Or is he maybe allergic to something in his food? Many cats are surprisingly allergic to chicken, for example.
I don’t know of any diseases that could cause this change in your cat’s fur, but your vet might. If they do, maybe it’s something treatable.
What if it’s a genetic thing? It just might be something kitty was born with. Cats from feral colonies have really wild genetic histories and some seriously weird mutations can result. It’s where we got the first cats that formed the basis of the Manx, Sphinx, Munchkin and the Lykoi (“werewolf”) cat breeds.
Anyway,my apologies for the long-arse post. I hope at least some of it was useful. :-)
T. W. Dragon (yep, that really is my name, and nope, I’m not Armenian–I’ve been asked that a few times)
What are the brands of cat litter that is safe to use? I never knew any of this, thanks for the info!
There are quite a few “alternative” litters out there. A variety should be tried to find the one that your kitty and you agree upon. These are a few that I have been testing that I like, doesn’t get too tracked about, and my guy hasn’t disagreed with:
Chewy.com has lots of varieties to choose from. Less ingredients the better. Good luck!