Cats and their nine lives: A myth that is closer to the truth than you think

An old English proverb of unknown origin says: ‘A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays.’ Does your precious kitty really have nine lives?

Cats and their nine lives: a myth that is closer to the truth than you think
© Photo by Luku Muffin on Unsplash
Cats and their nine lives: a myth that is closer to the truth than you think

The idea that cats have nine lives is so old and so popular that it became ‘common sense’ we simply go along with it. But where does it come from? Here is all you need to know about the number of your kitty’s lives and their survival skills.

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Where did the saying come from?

The exact origin story of cats and their nine lives is unknown but is thought to stem from Ancient Egypt. At some point the sun god Atum-Ra could take the form of a cat to visit the underworld. Atum-Ra was said to have given birth to eight other gods, which, including him, makes nine lives in total. Others attribute the myth to the goddess Bastet, who could switch between the body of a cat and a human, implying she had multiple lives.

Photo by Stringer/picture alliance via Getty Images

Either way, cats were highly coveted in Ancient Egypt and revered for their dual nature. They were seen as graceful and gentle, but also fierce and threatening. Many Egyptian gods shared these same traits and were depicted as felines.

The Egyptians' obsession with cats helped the species disperse around the globe, with these beauties travelling along trade routes into Europe and beyond. And as they expanded across the world, so too did the myth of multiple lives.

Interestingly, Arab countries tend to say that cats have six lives. In Spain and other Spanish-speaking nations, cats are believed to have seven lives.

Can cats cheat death?

Stories about cats surviving huge falls are commonplace.

Last year, a viral video of a cat hanging off the roof of a football stadium in Miami went viral. The pet was holding on with just one arm when it plunged around 30 feet, with crowds stretching out an American flag in a bid to break its fall. Seconds later, a member of the crowd lifted the cat up and the whole stadium erupted in cheers.


Falling #cat saved at #MiamiHurricanes football game at #HardRockStadium#9lives#catsoftiktok @Miami Hurricanes

♬ original sound - Roberto🌪

One New York cat is known to have survived a fall of 32 stories. It suffered a chipped tooth and a collapsed lung and was sent home from the vet after two days.

Cats’ righting reflex allows them to almost always land on their feet. Along with their flexible bonesand ligaments, it cements ‘the nine lives’ belief.

Despite their relatively small size and adorable fluffiness, cats are actually very well-equipped for survival. Their whiskers help them detect and measure, their body shape and structure are ideal for squeezing into small spaces, and their speed and reaction are extraordinary.

Besides being great at escaping larger predators, cats haven’t lost their hunting instincts which means they can survive without human help.

While loyal dogs can take abuse from their cruel owners, cats neither forgive nor forget. They leave home if treated badly.

All this shows that cats can survive situations many other mammals can’t and proves that the whole nine lives idea is not too far away from the truth.

Sources used:

- Daily Paws: 'Do Cats Really Have Nine Lives?'

- Newsweek: 'Do Cats Have Nine Lives? The Myth Explained'

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