Black Dog Syndrome: How Fur Color Can Influence Choosing A Pet

Clear the Shelters

A sitting black Chow Chow puppy!A 12 weeks male puppy dog with a blue tongue on green grass.

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On Aug. 17, NBC and Telemundo stations around the country will join forces with local animal shelters in the hopes of finding forever homes for pets in need.

But for certain types of adoptable pets, making it out of the shelter can be ruff. While it’s not unusual for older pets or pets with diagnosed medical conditions to wait longer for the perfect home, a surprising factor may come in to play when potential adopters evaluate shelter pets – color. In fact, many shelters and rescues have coined the term “black dog syndrome” to describe the frequency with which dark-coated animals are passed over for lighter-colored pets.

It should be noted that attempts to study black dog syndrome have had mixed results. Some questioned whether this puppy prejudice even existed at all, while others found that although black cats and dogs were eventually adopted, it took substantially longer for them to find the perfect match than for their light-colored counterparts. But seasoned shelter workers insist the phenomenon is real, and I have seen it for myself during visits to our local shelter. Here are some theories as to why these pets have a tendency to be overlooked.

Black pets are tough to photograph
As the owner of a black dog who is often featured on our hospital’s social media platforms, I can attest to this personally. Lighting, backgrounds, and the clothing of the people in the shot all have to be taken into consideration when trying to capture that perfect shot. And once we have it, we usually tweak it by lightening, cropping or adding filters. Busy animal shelters can not often spare the time needed for such fussy attention to detail. As a result, dark-coated pets may not present well on a shelter’s website or social media platforms.

Black pets don’t stand out
Dim lighting and shadows in shelter enclosures can swallow up a dark-coated pet. And if the pet is feeling overwhelmed, shadows are exactly where they want to be. In these types of situations, a potential adopter may not notice the pet at all.

Dark faces hide eyes and facial expressions
We often search animals’ faces in the hopes of making an emotional connection. The eyes of a black dog or cat are less likely to stand out than those of their light coated counterparts. When surrounded by dark fur, their facial expressions are less pronounced and therefore harder for adopters to read.

Media and cultural bias
In many cultures, the color black is associated with evil, misfortune, and bad luck. From Harry Potter’s Grim, to the Hounds of Baskerville, to the universal Beware Of Dog sign, aggressive dogs in popular culture are often portrayed as being black. And the superstitions surrounding black cats have been around for thousands of years. It should be noted, however, that in some countries, black cats are seen as harbingers of good luck, blessings, and excellent fortune. 

Perhaps the best way for potential adopters to avoid the traps of black cat and black dog syndrome is to simply be aware of its existence. Choose pets based on temperament and suitability to your lifestyle, and make sure you have the time and resources needed for responsible pet ownership. Once we’re reminded not to judge a book by its cover, we tend to correct that tendency. The same can be said of judging a pet by its coat as we get ready to Clear The Shelters.

Dr. Kupkee is the lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic

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Clear The Shelters

Shelters near you


TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) - Thousands of pets are looking for their forever homes and News Channel 8 is On Your Side helping to make that happen in the Tampa Bay area.

We are teaming up with hundreds of shelters across the country to host Clear the Shelters, a nationwide pet adoption drive from Aug. 1 through Aug. 31, featuring virtual pet adoptions to make it easy for people to donate online to participating shelters and rescues.

More than 150,000 pets found their forever homes since 2015 and we want to add to the number.

Find a shelter near you:

  • Pasco County Animal Services, 19640 Dogpatch Lane, Land O'Lakes
  • Paw Warriors, Inc., 355 Spring Time Street, Spring Hill
  • Pinellas County Animal Services, 12450 Ulmerton Road, Largo
  • Cat Haven Rescue, Inc, 1231 Bruce B. Downs Blvd, Wesley Chapel
  • Cat Haven Rescue, Inc - Pasco, 8529 Little Road, New Port Richey
  • SPCA Tampa Bay, 9099 130th Ave N, Largo
  • Bishop Animal Shelter SPCA of Manatee County, 5718 21st Ave West, Bradenton
  • Hernando County Animal Services, 19450 Oliver Street, Brooksville
  • SPCA Florida, 5850 Brannen Rd S, Lakeland
  • Barking Out Loud Rescues, Inc, 300 N Lake Drive, Lorida
  • Precious Paws Rescue, Inc., Citrus County Florida, 5164 S. Florida Avenue, Inverness
  • Humane Society of Pinellas, 3040 State Road 590, Clearwater
  • Hernando County SPCA, 9075 Grant St, Brooksville
  • St Francis Society, PO Box 261614, Tampa
  • Humane Society of Tampa Bay, 3607 N Armenia Avenue, Tampa
  • Rebels Rescue, Petco 136 S. West shore Blvd, Tampa
  • SPCA Suncoast, 7734 Congress Street, New Port Richey
  • Friends of Strays Animal Shelter, 2911 47th Avenue North, St. Petersburg
  • Florida English Bulldog Rescue, P.O. Box 754, Odessa
  • The Humane Society of Polk County, Inc, 3195 Dundee Rd, Winter Haven
  • The Humane Society of Sarasota County, 2331 15th Street, Sarasota
  • Hands Helping Paws Rescue Inc., 53 W Bay Blvd S, Lake Wales
  • Humane Society of Manatee County, 2515 14th Avenue W, Bradenton
  • Highlands County Sheriffs Animal Services, 7300 Haywood Taylor Blvd, Sebring
  • Manatee County Animal Services, 305 25th St W, Palmetto
  • SPCA Suncoast, 7734 Congress Street, New Port Richey
  • Citrus County Animal Services, 4030 S. Airport Rd, Inverness
  • St Francis Society, PO Box 261614, Tampa
  • FLUFF Animal Rescue, 9400 SEMINOLE BOULEVARD, SEMINOLE
  • SPCA Tampa Bay, 9099 130th Ave N, Largo
  • Polk County Sheriff's Office Animal Control, 7115 De Castro Rd, Winter Haven
  • The Greener Side Haven, Inc., 3892 N Lecanto Hwy, Beverly Hills
  • Humane Society at Lakewood Ranch, 26920 Gopher Hill Road, Myakka City

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