Do Cats Really Have Nine Lives? What Does The Myth Mean And Is There Any Truth To It?

Have you ever wondered why people say that cats have nine lives? Or how about where this popular myth comes from and if there’s any actual truth to it?

You’re not alone.

Similarly to all those black cat superstitions, the nine lives myth has been raising questions and eyebrows for centuries. Literally. But before you start delving into theories, let’s get something straight. Cats of all breeds and ages have only one life. It’s scientifically proven. As much as we’d wish for our feline friends to be able live that long, sadly, they don’t.

So why do we say that kitties have nine lives?

Throughout the ages this popular expression has become somewhat of a given. Most people don’t even think about it. But what it actually means is quite simple. It’s merely a metaphorical expression regarding the fact that cats tend to slip through the cracks in otherwise deadly situations.

When it comes to life-threatening situations, such as landing from a severely high jump, kitties have this awesome agility that helps them avoid fatal injuries.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that they’re invincible or that they won’t get a potentially fatal wound. But the fact that they find ways to twist and turn and still land graciously has made people joke about how they can evade the certainty of a deadly outcome in such situations, hence the saying they have nine lives. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case with every single jump.

Where does the myth come from?

Since time immemorial people have worshipped, feared and loathed feline creatures. There are tons of superstitions from ancient times, which attribute different supernatural abilities to all cats.

The nine lives myth is just one of them and nobody really knows where it originates from.

What’s interesting, though, is that the number of a cat’s supposed lives changes depending on countries and folklore. For example, in some countries cats allegedly have six or seven lives. The number nine has long been believed to bear magical significance for various cultures. The same goes for the numbers six and seven, which is why the nine lives myth varies in different areas.

One of the most famous earlier uses of the popular saying is in William Shakespeare’s notorious tragedy Romeo and Juliet. And there’s even an ancient English proverb about the nine lives, which states: “A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays”. So does the myth come from the proverb, from Shakespeare’s works or from somewhere else? Nobody knows for sure.

Either way, the proverb and the myth shouldn’t make you take the nine lives theory serious. Scientists have already disputed it on numerous occasions.

But is there any truth to the myth that cats have nine lives?

While cats have only one life, there is indeed truth to the fact that they can evade death. Territorial behavior, curiosity, playfulness and the need to find a mate put kitties in deadly situations every single day. And yet somehow our majestically agile feline friends manage to survive. How?

The true facts behind the myth

Here’s the real truth behind all those mythical and superhuman powers. It all comes back to anatomy.

  • Heightened senses. By default cats have enviably heightened olfaction, hearing, eyesight and sense of touch. This aids them tremendously in tricky situations. Your cat can sense the danger long before it approaches. As such, it has extra time to react to a potential death threat. With each new day kitties learn how to react faster. In return, this helps them cheat the gallows on more than nine occasions throughout their lifetime.
  • Excellent hunting skills. All kittens have inborn hunting instincts. As they grow older their skills evolve. Exercising the art of stalking, lurking and attacking the prey at the right moment also improves their survival skills, even if they’re only practicing through play sessions. And when the time for running away, wriggling out of something or landing softly from a high fall comes, they have already developed the necessary skillset to do so.
  • Agile bodies. Cats are outstanding athletes and no one can deny it. Some breeds are more active and athletic than others, but all felines in general are extremely agile. Compared to most humans cats can twist and turn in ways we can only dream of. Their flexibility, as well as their inborn “righting reflex”, is a crucial aspect of their longevity.

To sum it up, your feline furball has only one life. Cherish it to the fullest and your fluffy pal will be forever grateful to you.

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Emily Parker

Emily Parker is the Content Manager at Catological. She's passionate about helping cat parents love their cats better by providing the best information and recommendations about everything you'll need to know about your cat, from kitten to senior years. She believes natural, biologically-appropriate products are best...why wouldn't you provide the best for a member of your family?!

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