LIFESTYLE

Why Do Cats Have 9 Lives: The Facts Behind This Myth

flying with cat
Steve Corelli
Written by Steve Corelli

You have probably heard on numerous occasions that cats have nine lives, but have you ever wondered if this belief is true? Myths in many cultures can shed some light on why do cats have 9 lives and what led ancient people to regard them as immortal.

As a cat lover and owner, you can agree that cats are in many ways superior pets. To some degree, cats are just like superheroes. They possess intelligence, speed, stealth, and the ability to survive falls from great heights without a scratch and to find time to curl up next to you at the end of the busy day. That is most probably where the myth about cats having nine lives came from.

Many people wonder if this belief has roots in truth, and you will find out more about that below. We will separate facts from fiction so you will be able to understand your cat better and not take unnecessary risks.

In this article, we will deconstruct the myth of cats having nine lives and shed some light on the reasons that led people to believe that felines are immortal. We will discuss the origins of the myth by analyzing different cultures and beliefs, but first, let’s discuss whether or not this myth holds a grain of truth.

Can Cats Cheat Death?

cat in dangerous situation

The proverb “A cat has nine lives” is well-known and commonly used in today’s culture, but there isn’t any scientific evidence that supports it. So far the facts show that cats have only one life on like everyone else. However, it is also true that cats are more than able to escape from dangerous situations that prove to be deadly to other animals.

How many times have you seen a cat jump or fall from great heights, only to land safely on the ground without a hair out of place? Or what about all those occasions when you were certain that a kitty is going to be hit by a car, only to find her seconds later, looking uninterested at you from across the street?

This probably happened more times than you remember, and it shows that cats are highly intelligent animals with superb instincts that kick in when they are faced with dangerous situations.

Cats were domesticated thousands of years ago, but living with humans didn’t affect their survival instincts, and cats still rely heavily on them. These instincts can help a cat survive severe dangers like falling off of a building and, on some occasions, help her cheat death.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that a cat can die just as easily as any of us. Hence you shouldn’t put her in unnecessary dangers just to see if her instincts will help her cheat death.

The Origins of The Myth

The “nine lives” story has been around for hundreds of years, and it is one of the most popular myths regarding cats. Like all myths and legends, this one was also created in the attempt to explain the natural phenomenon without knowledge of real facts. Although this saying is used in many different cultures, no one knows exactly where this expression came from and when it first appeared, but there are a few conjectures.

#1: Ancient Egypt

cats in Egypt

Some people believe that this myth first appeared in Ancient Egypt, which comes as no surprise since Egyptians regarded cats as deities. Ancient Egyptians also believed in the concept of reincarnation.

According to reincarnation, a soul can move to another body on several occasions, and the only thing that really dies is the body itself. The Egyptians believed that animals shared this ability with humans and were able to reincarnate into a human body once their seventh life was over.

The Ancient Egyptians attributed divine and supernatural powers to cats, and they were worshiped like gods. Even though it is still unclear why exactly cats were given nine lives, there are a few possibilities.

One of them involves an Egyptian goddess Bastet that was first depicted as a warrior lioness and later as a protector goddess in the form of a cat. To some accounts, Bastet had nine lives, which is the trait she shared with the rest of the cats.

It is up to you to choose which myth to believe, but the fact remains that cats were respected and given magical powers in Ancient Egypt.

See Also: How Long Have Cats Been Domesticated

#2: England

english cat

Some people think that the saying has its roots in the ancient English proverb: “A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays”.

You will agree that this proverb describes cats accurately since they spend their kittenhood playing, adult years chasing females and fighting over territory, and golden years napping in the sun. Although this proverb depicts felines correctly, it is unclear if it is the source of the myth.

Furthermore, in 1732, Thomas Fuller wrote a book and in there he said, “A cat has nine lives, and a woman has nine cat’s lives.” Unfortunately, the proverb was wrong about the longevity of both cats and women, but it gives us a better understanding of how long this belief has been present in the English legends.

#3: Ancient Greece

cat in greece

The number nine was considered to have mystical properties for centuries in different cultures. In Greek mythology, there’s the Nine Muses who were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. They were the result of a love affair that lasted for nine months.

According to Herodotus, when a cat died in Ancient Greece, the whole family was in mourning, and the cats were embalmed and buried in a sacred city.

#4: Other Cultures

In China, the number nine was considered lucky and associated with strength and masculinity. However, not all cultures believe that cats have nine lives. In Italy, Germany, Brazil, and in some Spanish-speaking regions, cats are attributed with seven lives. On the other hand, in Turkish and Arabic cultures, it is believed that cats have six lives.

It is unclear if these cultures associated the mystical properties of the number nine with cats, but it is clear that felines were respected and beloved members of these societies.

People kept them because of their amazing hunting abilities and the fact that they were able to protect their home and food stores from mice and other rodents. People of different cultures were amazed by the hardiness of felines and their ability to survive dangerous situations.

As you can see, there isn’t decisive evidence that can suggest exactly when the proverb “A cat has nine lives” occurred or where. Still, all of these myths show that people noticed the superhero traits cats possess and tried to explain them the best they could.

Although the fact is that cats only have one life, there is no denying that their instincts and superior senses can help them cheat death.

The Facts Behind The Myth

Cats are sturdy, agile, and have incredible balance—these are all probable reasons behind this saying. Furthermore, they are intuitive and have an excellent survival instinct that helps them survive falls from great heights and other dangers.

Just like their ancestors the wild cats, our feline friends like to be perched on higher places to observe their prey and hide from bigger predators. Over the years, cats that were able to survive a fall from trees reproduced and passed these traits onto their children. Hence, characteristics related to this capability are the likely reasons why they were thought to have nine lives.

#1: The Righting Reflex

cat falling

This is a natural ability that allows all cats to turn while they fall and ultimately always land on their feet. By 6 – 7 weeks of age, all cats learn how to perform the righting reflex, and they can do this thanks to their flexible backbone and clavicle that don’t move.

It only takes a cat a few seconds to righten herself and prepare to land on her feet safely. Scientists also concluded that cats that fall from greater heights end up with fewer injuries than ones that have less time to reach the ground.

The ability to survive a fall from great heights is probably the biggest reason why cats were thought to have nine lives. Only thanks to studies we now know how cats can land safely, but for people thousands of years ago, this was considered a magical property and sign that cats have mystical powers.

See Also: How Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet

#2: Terminal Velocity

This also contributes to the cat’s ability to survive falls, especially ones from greater heights. In physics, this term is used to describe the speed when a falling object is no longer getting faster. For example, larger but lighter objects like balloons will fall slower than smaller but heavier objects, like rocks.

This is good for cats since they, like all other small mammals, have a slower terminal velocity. This means that they have enough time to righten themselves and fall on their feet.

However, slower terminal velocity wouldn’t be of much use for cats without the righting reflex. So there is more than one factor that contributes to their ability to land safe and sound on the ground.

See Also: How High Can a Cat Fall

#3: Flexible Legs

jumping cat

The ability to turn in the air and a slower terminal velocity wouldn’t help cats to land on their feet if they weren’t able to amortize the falls. Thanks to their anatomy and very flexible bones and ligaments, cats can absorb most of the impact that would otherwise damage their organs and body.

Their flexible legs absorb the impact and grant them the ability to land safely and minimalize their injuries.

These characteristics give cats the ability to survive on occasions when other animals or people would meet certain death. According to statistics, 90% of cats survive a fall greater than two stories, and the greater the fall, the better the chances of survival are.

All these facts are completely understandable to us, but imagine seeing a cat survive a fall thousands of years ago when, at the same time, people fell from roofs and died.

It must have looked like cats are immortal higher beings that possess powers that grant them multiple lives. And even though the mystery behind their powers was revealed, they are still able to surprise us with their survival instincts and ability to escape death more than once.

Wrap Up

mystic cat

The myths that cats have multiple lives are old, and many people believe that everything began in Ancient Egypt. Egyptians thought that cats were deities and their myths could be the answer to why cats have nine lives.

Most people think that since the number nine is believed to be lucky and has mystical properties, it was chosen because of that to showcase the cat’s amazing ability to cheat death.

However, some cultures granted cats fewer lives. According to Italian and German legends, cats have seven lives, and in the Turkish and Arabic culture, they only have six lives. All things considered, it is irrefutable that people have found cats unbelievably fascinating for thousands of years—so much so that we believed cats to have supernatural powers.

Nowadays we know that cats only have one life just like the rest of us. However, they still have excellent survival instincts that help them escape from dangers they found themselves in thanks to their mischievous and inquisitive nature.

What do you think about the story that cats have nine lives? What is your best guess about its origins? Share your opinion in the comment section below.

Remember, that testing the nine life theory can put your cat in danger and jeopardize her well-being and you should do your best to make the one life your cat has a happy and fulfilling one. Check out our article on how to make a cat happy.

About the author
Steve Corelli
Steve Corelli

Steve Corelli is a Pet Nutrition Expert from Allentown, Pennsylvania. He is the author of many nutritional strategies for different breeds and a member of some Pet Food development teams. His Maine Coon Stephan, as you might guess, is always well-fed.

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