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Why Is My Black Cat’s Coat Turning Brown?

Nicole Cosgrove

Known for being good luck when spotted, black cats are truly beautiful and mysterious. There are numerous tales and stories about black cats from ancient times and some of them relate to that special time of year called Halloween. Black cats are thought to be wise and connected to the spirit world and Salem from the Sabrina the Teenage Witch comic book series and TV show is a good, rather funny example!

So, if you are reading this, you are wondering why your little black delight is morphing into a different colored cat. Cats come in all shapes colors and sizes and like humans, over time their skin or coat can change. The good news is that most of the main reasons why your feline’s coat is altering are nothing to be really worried about. If your kitty is showing other unusual symptoms, as well as coat discoloration, then even though they may not seem connected, be sure to take them to the vet for a checkup. Now we’ll cover the potential reasons for a color change from black to brown or any lighter shade in your cat.

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Reasons Your Cat’s Coat Color May Lighten

1. Nutrition and overall well-being

black cat coat turning brown
Image credit: Unsplash

A common reason for your black cat’s fur to change is related to their diet and health. Like humans, cats have the color pigment melanin present in their skin and coat. Melanin is responsible for your kitty’s hair color and style, and the amount is transferred via the genetic makeup of the mom and dad cat at conception. At birth, the kitten’s hair color is a combination of both parents, and this is unique for each cat. There is a lot of science that goes into making melanin in the body of a feline, but we’ll go over the essentials.

Tyrosine

Let’s start with amino acids, which are the building blocks of all proteins in the animal kingdom (and the plant world too). Cats require 11 essential amino acids, 9 of which humans also require but additionally arginine and taurine. Most high-quality pet food will either contain these naturally or have fortifications, such as taurine, to ensure the proper daily requirement is met.

Phenylalanine is one of these indispensable amino acids and half of its intake goes into its conversion into tyrosine. This conversion takes place in the liver and tyrosine can be hence converted again to dopamine, thyroxine melanin, and other compounds. Phenylalanine is found in a variety of sources primarily meat, eggs, and dairy. If your cat’s diet is not sufficient in this amino acid, then melanin production is decreased, and their coat may start to discolor.

There has been detailed research about the effects of this and the specific dietary requirements to support adequate tyrosine for melanin production. You must consult your vet before giving your kitty any tyrosine supplements as this may have negative health effects. Studies seem to indicate that high levels of phenylalanine are not toxic, but it is common sense to never overfeed your cat to improve its coat! If you are giving your kitty clan a balanced diet of meat and fish in a combination of wet and dry foods, then they are more than likely getting enough protein to maintain melanin levels.


2. Illness

On a more serious note, changes in a cat’s coat can indicate a deeper health issue. As we discovered, tyrosine is created in the liver, so a coat turning to a lighter shade may mean that the liver function is not optimal. As the liver and kidneys are interconnected, problems with any or both vital organs may be diagnosed via coat changes.

Tyrosine also helps the production of a hormone called thyroxine in the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland’s main function is to regulate your feline’s metabolism. So, if you notice any weight changes, lethargy, or hyperactivity, consult your vet as this may be the cause of the fur transformation.

Too much zinc or copper deficiency can also be the cause. A full blood test and further investigation by your vet should provide a specific diagnosis and treatment.


3. Genetics

Just like the red hair gene in humans, the black hair gene in cats is specific, although maybe not as rare. There is a full spectrum of possibilities for variations to the pure black coat with tints of red, copper, burgundy, and orange. It may be that these gene expressions reveal that one of the cat’s parents was a little bit tabby or bronze colored.  Whatever mixture of tones your kitty is, they are very special!


4. Physical Maturing

Certain genes may only express themselves at a particular age and so this may explain the sudden onset of a “dyed” feline. Grey-haired humans are a normal sight, and in cats, it is not any different. As they get wiser and better at catching mice, their hair color may begin to lighten to random tones. Perhaps they would go to the cat hairdresser for highlights if they could, but most remain natural and let their hair and age change as time goes on!


5. Sunshine

Everybody knows how much cats love the heat. Being by the fire or sunbathing is heaven for our feline friends! Perhaps a cat’s version of tanning is when their coat turns lighter as a result of the sun, which is a bonafide thing in the feline world. If your cat has been lounging in the garden all day or spending hours in the sun by the window, then that explains their fur change.


6. Thermo-Sensitivity

Some cat breeds change color in different temperatures and climates. This is due to the fact that the tyrosine, when formed, is heat sensitive. Certain breeds such as Himalayan cat types have this modification and Siamese cats tend to get darker in the winter and when summer rolls around, their coat returns to a lighter shade. It is quite possible that your cat is a hybrid breed and so possesses some of this thermo-sensitivity.

Again, even though most of the possibilities are nothing to worry about, it is always best to explore things fully with your vet, just in case a new hairdo represents more than just a style change for your cat.


Featured Image Credit: nuclear_lily, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.