Do Cats Actually Have 9 Lives Explained?

The idea that cats have multiple lives is an enduring myth that has captivated people for centuries. This mysterious feline superpower has been the subject of fairy tales, poems, songs, and films over the years. Who hasn’t heard the phrase “cats have nine lives” used to explain how a cat always lands on its feet or survives a fall that would seriously injure other animals? But where did this myth originate and what meaning does it hold?

In this article, we’ll take a look at the history behind the legend that cats have nine lives. We’ll explore some of the possible origins and symbolic significance of the myth. We’ll also examine if there’s any truth to the idea that cats can cheat death more readily than other creatures. Understanding the roots and meaning of the nine lives concept can provide insight into humanity’s long connection with our feline friends.

History of the Myth

The earliest origins of the nine lives myth can be traced back to ancient Egypt. Cats were highly revered in ancient Egyptian society and associated with the goddess Bastet. Bastet was the goddess of protection, fertility, and motherhood, often depicted as a cat or in the form of a woman with a cat’s head.[1] Egyptians believed cats were sacred animals connected to Bastet, and so killing a cat was considered a capital offense.[2]

This extreme reverence for cats in Egyptian culture seems to have given rise to the myth that cats have multiple lives. The number nine specifically was considered a magical number by ancient Egyptians. It was seen as a symbol of completeness or totality. So the myth that cats have nine lives likely stemmed from both the sacred status of cats and the mystical significance placed on the number nine in ancient Egypt.[3]

The myth endured over centuries, spreading through trade and cultural exchange to ancient Greece, China, and other parts of the world. Though the exact number of lives varies across cultures, the mystical idea that cats can defy death remains a popular myth and superstition globally.


Possible Explanations

One common explanation for the myth that cats have nine lives relates to their excellent hunting skills and reflexes. Cats have superb balance and agility that helps them right themselves in mid-air, land on their feet, and avoid sustaining fatal damage from high falls[1]. Their muscular and flexible bodies are designed to absorb impact and bounce back from accidents that would severely injure other animals.

In addition, when sick or injured, cats tend to hide away rather than show any weakness. This withdrawal behavior can give the impression that a cat has suddenly recovered after being at death’s door[2]. Owners may think a cat used up one of its mythical nine lives, when in reality it was simply convalescing out of sight.

Symbolic Meaning

The myth that cats have nine lives represents the perception that cats are extremely willy, intelligent, and have an uncanny ability to survive situations that would kill other animals. This ties into cats having an aura of mystery and almost a supernatural ability to avoid demise.

According to one source, the number nine has symbolic meaning in various cultures that could explain its connection to the myth that cats have multiple lives. In ancient Egypt, nine was considered a mystical number that represented the trinity of all trinities. In ancient Greece, nine referred to a supernatural number that invoked tradition and religion. The Chinese also associated the number nine with auspicious meaning and long life [1].

Overall, the saying that cats have nine lives speaks to their perceived intelligence, wiliness, and luck in escaping harm. It adds to their mystique as animals that seem to possess secret powers for survival.

Cats’ Actual Lives

The average life expectancy for an indoor cat is 13-17 years, while the average for an outdoor cat is 2-5 years less at around 10-15 years ( This significant difference is mainly due to the dangers posed to outdoor cats from traffic, disease, predators, weather, and fights with other cats. Indoor cats live longer on average since they are protected from these risks.

For both indoor and outdoor cats, the main causes of mortality are cancer, kidney disease, and heart disease. However, outdoor cats face additional mortal dangers like infections, parasites, accidents, and attacks from other animals. With proper veterinary care, nutrition, exercise, and a safe environment, many cats can live healthy lives into their late teens or even early 20s.

Near Death Experiences

Cats are well known for having nine lives and being able to survive accidents and injuries that would kill other animals. While the nine lives myth is symbolic, there are many real life stories of cats surviving against incredible odds and near death experiences. Some key examples include:

In one amazing story from the ASPCA, a cat named Jack survived being trapped under a collapsed house for 13 days after a tornado. Despite being buried in debris without food or water, Jack was rescued alive. Miraculously he recovered fully with no permanent injuries (

Another cat made headlines after falling 15 stories from an apartment building, hitting an awning on the way down which likely broke her fall. Though seriously injured, the cat, named Sugar, survived after emergency veterinary treatment and went on to make a full recovery (

There are several possible reasons for cats’ uncanny ability to endure traumatic injuries. They have a flexible spine and loose skin that allows them to tumble and absorb impacts. Their small size and light bones make them more resilient. Plus cats seem to have an amazing will to live. While we can’t confirm 9 lives, cats do appear specially equipped to cheat death on occasion.

Impact on Cat Care

The myth that cats have nine lives can lead some people to be careless with cats’ safety and well-being. Some may put their cats in dangerous situations or fail to take proper precautions, believing the cat will survive unharmed (1). However, a cat’s health and safety should be just as valued and protected as a human’s. Cats in reality only have one life and need attentive care from their owners (2). According to veterinarians, the myth that cats have nine lives has resulted in some owners bringing in injured cats too late for effective treatment (3). Owners should not rely on the myth but instead focus on responsibly caring for their cat’s health and safety.

Proper cat care includes regular veterinary checkups, keeping cats indoors, ID tags/microchipping, inspecting the home for hazards, proper nutrition/exercise, and attentive daily care. Owners should aim to maximize their cat’s health, happiness, and longevity through conscientious ownership. While cats may be adept surviviors, a cat’s health ultimately depends on an owner’s commitment to its wellbeing. The myth of nine lives should not invite neglect but rather remind all cat owners that cats lives are precious and deserve diligent care.

Declawing Controversy

Declawing a cat is one of the most controversial topics in veterinary medicine and cat care. Often, the myth that cats have nine lives is used to justify this inhumane procedure. However, declawing has serious negative effects on cats.

Declawing, also known as onychectomy, involves amputating a cat’s claws by removing the last bone of each toe. This is extremely painful for cats and permanently removes their primary defense mechanism. According to the Humane Society, declawing can cause lasting paw pain, back pain, infection, tissue death, and lameness. It changes the way a cat’s feet meet the ground and can lead to joint disorders later in life.

Many experts agree that declawed cats are more likely to have health issues like inappropriate elimination outside the litter box since using litter can be painful. Declawing also negatively impacts cats’ mobility and psychological well-being. Without claws, cats feel continuously vulnerable which causes chronic stress.

Declawing is banned in many countries, though it remains legal in most of the United States. However, myths like cats having nine lives do not justify putting cats through this traumatic, disabling procedure. Responsible cat owners should provide proper scratching surfaces and use humane training methods rather than resorting to declawing.

Responsible Cat Ownership

Being a responsible cat owner requires taking steps to keep your pet safe and healthy. It is important to always be watchful of potential hazards around the home that could harm your cat.

According to RSPCA, you should secure open windows with screens, keep toilet lids down, stow away any toxic chemicals or plants, and ensure your cat doesn’t have access to exposed wires or cords. Cats are naturally curious and will explore, so checking for potential dangers regularly is a key responsibility.

Outdoors, a major threat is nearby roads and cars. The Rover Blog recommends supervision when your cat is outside or keeping them indoors to avoid unfortunate accidents. Breakaway cat collars with ID tags provide an extra layer of precaution.

A core responsibility is providing regular veterinary care for your cat. This includes spaying/neutering, annual exams, administering vaccines, and bringing them in promptly if signs of illness arise. Establishing a relationship with a trusted vet will help keep your cat healthy and allow early detection of any issues.


This article has explored the origins and possible meanings behind the myth that cats have nine lives. While this legend likely began many centuries ago, it continues to impact how we care for and interpret the behavior of our feline companions today.

Cats are remarkable creatures that often survive incidents that would seriously injure other animals. However, they are also quite delicate and require conscientious care from their human caretakers. While the myth suggests cats can bounce back from anything, the reality is their lives are precious and can be easily cut short by accidents, illnesses, or mistreatment.

The nine lives myth seems to reflect cats’ unique personalities and resilience more than their actual biology. While they are agile, intelligent animals, cats do not possess any supernatural ability to cheat death. Still, the legend reminds us of their spirited nature and how they have enthralled humans for thousands of years.

Cats make wonderful pets, but also require commitment, love and responsible care from their owners. Their lives are not expendable or limitless, so we must cherish the time we have with our feline companions. Showing them respect, providing medical treatment when needed, and keeping them safely indoors allows them to live their one life to the fullest.

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