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Cats Took the Rap for the Black Death

Updated on January 25, 2012

Cats were blamed for the Black Plague

It may seem insane today, but at the height of the Black Plague, the common cat took the blame for the horrible occurrence and suffered for this erroneous belief.The Black Plague--Also known as the Black Death--was the most deadly pandemic in human history. It reached its most virulent peak of lethality between in the mid 14th century (Around 1350.) It was likely an outbreak of bubonic plague that began in Central Asia and was carried to Europe by rats on Merchant ships.

As we know today, the rats carried tiny fleas, and these fleas were the true transmitters of the bubonic plague germ. Areas with more rats therefore had more fleas and thus a higher instance of plague outbreak. Cats were the first line of defense against the plague. Thus, the disease was able to rage unchecked once felines began to be persecuted and killed by superstitious people who assigned blame to cats.

Cats often got a bad rap in the Dark Ages. Christian religious leader had often pointed to cats as a source of bad luck or evil. Pope Gregory the 4th said domestic cats were "diabolical"! Black cats in particular were seen as 'familiars' of Satan. Cat owners were often accused of being witches merely for owning a feline. Many cats were destroyed during the Inquisition.

And so when the deadly plague first arrived, cats became a scapegoat. People back then didn't understand about germs and were looking for someone or something to blame for the plague. The feeling that God had abandon them was spreading and religious leaders needed to curb the loss of faith. They needed to blame Satan for the plague. As physical evidence of Satan's presence, cats were singled out as agents of the devil, who were 'vessels of evil', carrying death and sickness with them wherever they went.

The desperate people of the day, frantically searching for a way to fight this invisible scourge, were glad to have a visible enemy they could lash out at. The persecution of cats began in earnest. Felines were hunted and eliminated. Some were sacrificed to God in pyres of fire.

As the feline population decreased, the rat population increased dramatically. They began carrying their flea passengers into new areas where cats had formerly driven them out of. Without cats, rats started to appear everywhere, and the fleas went with them. It seems shocking today that someone would ignore a growing army of rats and kill a cat to stop disease spreading, but that was the thought process at the time. Rats were seen as nuisances and pests. Cats were seen as demonic agents of death!

As a result of the mass cat killing, the plague spread rapidly, reaching across Europe as the rats population traveled freely, unopposed by felines. Worse still, people suffered food poisoning due to rodent droppings in food supplies. Cats got blamed for that, too.

Europeans continued to destroy cats for almost 300 years. After the plague finally faded and the Enlightenment approached, the killing of cats finally stopped. There were relatively few cats left in Europe at that point.

The Black Plague is estimated to have killed 35-50% of Europe's population at the time. Approximately 40-50 million people died. (Reducing the population of the world at the time from almost a Half Billion to somewhere around 450 million.) It wouldn't have been nearly as catastrophic if the cats had been allowed to do their job and stop the rat population explosion. It took almost 200 years for Europe's population to recover from the plague. It took even longer for the feline population to rebound from the tragedy.


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    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Flora; It's very true. What has been done to animals over the years in the name of everything from religion to science is detestable. The black cats got it the worst. Many supertitious people still consider them bad luck. People are stupid!

      Thanks for reading,


    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

      Black cats in particular get blamed for everything. I get very upset whenever I think of this. Horrible things have been done to them because of superstition. There are times when I really have no use for human beings. When they are cruel to animals is one of them.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      I don't think cats were affected by the plague. Often human diseases and animal deideases do not affect each other. For instance, the plague didn't afeect the rats. I'll have to double check that one.

    • profile image

      thaddeus buttmunch 6 years ago

      The Medievals probably saw cats Dying of the Plague. They did catch the plague from rodents spread it thru fleas and Die

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hello Jeff; glad I could help with your report, but if you're going to quote for a world history project, you may want to get a peer reviewed source. Professors prefer that.


    • profile image

      Jeff @ College 6 years ago

      FINALLY, a source I can quote for my report. I searched all kinds of academic sources and found absolutely NOTHING that supported this fact. I have known about the feline murders since long before high school, so I had thought that it would be easy to find a source to quote for my "webliography" project for World History. Your article has helped me immensely. Thanks.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      You're welcome, HH.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      I never knew that. Thank you for your interestin hub.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      So true. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions". Although in this case, I think it was just blind, stupid panic.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Ironic isn't it? So often attempts to do the right thing end up doing just the opposite of what is intended.


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