Facts about the animal kingdom

Why Do They Say That a Cat Has 9 Lives?

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: July 9, 2024
Why Do They Say That a Cat Has 9 Lives?

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Cats have long captivated human imagination with their grace, agility, and mysterious character. Whether they're navigating narrow ledges or leaping from great heights, cats often seem to defy the odds and escape peril unscathed. No wonder why the saying "a cat has nine lives" has transcended cultures and languages for centuries. From Ancient Egypt, where cats were revered as divine beings, to European folklore depicting them with supernatural resilience, the myth of the nine-lived cat has captured our imagination. But where did this saying originate, and what truth, if any, lies behind it?

Ever wonder why cats are said to have nine lives? This AnimalWised article dives into the science behind this famous saying. We'll explore where the myth might have come from, how cats have been viewed throughout history, and the amazing physical abilities that help them survive in the real world.

You may also be interested in: Animals That Walk on Water - How Do They Do It?
  1. How many lives are there in cat?
  2. Why are cats said to have 9 lives?
  3. Relevance of the number 9

How many lives are there in cat?

Scientifically, cats have only one life, just like any other animal. However, their reputation for having nine lives likely stems from their remarkable ability to survive falls, navigate tight spaces, and escape danger. Let's delve deeper into the fascinating biological and behavioral factors that contribute to a cat's resilience.

Firstly, cats possess an exceptionally flexible spine. Unlike humans, their vertebrae are connected by elastic discs, granting them incredible flexibility. This allows them to twist and contort their bodies mid-air, essentially righting themselves like furry acrobats during a fall. Additionally, powerful back and leg muscles enable them to jump several times their body height. This impressive muscular strength contributes to their overall agility and ability to escape danger.

Cats' sharp claws are not just for scratching furniture. These retractable tools are essential for climbing, gripping surfaces, and defending themselves. The retractable nature keeps them sharp and prevents unnecessary wear and tear. Furthermore, a highly developed vestibular system located in the inner ear plays a crucial role in maintaining balance and spatial orientation. This exceptional balance system is another key factor in their agility and surefootedness.

Moreover, cats possess an innate righting reflex that kicks in when they fall. This reflex allows them to twist their bodies in mid-air to land on their feet, even with minimal falling distance (as little as 3 feet!). This incredible maneuver is a survival advantage that helps them avoid injury from falls. Despite their curiosity, cats are also inherently cautious. They approach unfamiliar situations and objects with care, assessing potential risks before proceeding. This cautious nature serves as a critical survival trait, preventing them from venturing into unnecessary danger.

As natural hunters, cats boast keen senses of sight, hearing, and smell. These sharp senses allow them to detect and stalk prey, but they also translate into heightened awareness of their surroundings. This heightened awareness helps them avoid predators and navigate potentially dangerous situations. Additionally, their stealth and agility are not just for hunting; they also come in handy when escaping threats. Cats can move silently and swiftly, making it difficult for predators to catch them off guard.

Even when injured, cats have an impressive ability to recover. Their high metabolic rate and strong immune system contribute to a faster healing process compared to many other animals. Furthermore, cats are meticulous groomers, keeping wounds clean and reducing the risk of infection. Their saliva even contains enzymes that aid in wound cleaning, further promoting healing. Their lightweight bodies and flexible bones also play a role – they're less likely to suffer fractures from falls compared to heavier animals.

Finally, cats are highly adaptable creatures. They can adjust to a variety of environments and conditions, from bustling cityscapes to quiet countryside farms. This adaptability enhances their overall resilience, allowing them to survive and thrive even in challenging situations.

Beyond the myth, a cat's nose is a superpower. Discover how a cat's sense of smell shapes its behavior and survival in another article.

Why are cats said to have 9 lives?

As mentioned earlier, cats are known for their impressive balance, flexibility, and knack for landing on their feet from falls. This remarkable agility may have led people to believe they possess a supernatural ability to cheat death, hence the idea of multiple lives.

The idea of cats having multiple lives appears in various cultures around the world. In Ancient Egypt, cats were revered and often associated with deities. The goddess Bastet, depicted with a lioness head, symbolized home, fertility, and protection. Cats were believed to possess protective qualities, safeguarding homes from evil spirits and vermin. Killing a cat, even accidentally, was a grave offense, highlighting their esteemed position in society.

In ancient Rome, cats were considered symbols of liberty. Roman soldiers would often carry cats to war as mascots of good luck. Norse mythology also holds significant reverence for cats. The goddess Freyja, associated with love and fertility, rode a chariot drawn by cats, underscoring their importance.

During the Middle Ages in Europe, cats, particularly black ones, were often associated with witches. They were believed to be witches' familiars, possessing supernatural powers. This connection between cats and witches likely contributed to the notion of cats having multiple lives, as they were seen as magical creatures.

The saying has been immortalized in classical literature, such as in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," where Mercutio refers to Tybalt as the "king of cats" and alludes to the idea of cats having nine lives. These literary references have helped perpetuate the saying across generations and cultural boundaries.

Finally, in modern times, the concept of cats having nine lives appears in various forms of media, including books, movies, and cartoons. Characters like Felix the Cat and the Cat in "Tom and Jerry" often escape perilous situations, reinforcing the myth. These depictions contribute to the continued fascination with cats' seemingly supernatural resilience and longevity.

Nine lives might come in handy for all that hunting. Learn more about when and how cats stalk their prey in our follow-up article.

Why Do They Say That a Cat Has 9 Lives? - Why are cats said to have 9 lives?

Relevance of the number 9

The number nine has significant mystical and symbolic meanings across various cultures.

The number nine's significance in numerology and various mythologies as a symbol of completeness, eternity, and mystical power aligns with the perception of cats as resilient, almost supernatural beings. This convergence of beliefs and observations has led to the enduring saying that a cat has nine lives, reflecting a blend of admiration for their physical capabilities and fascination with their enigmatic nature.

Interestingly, it is crucual to point out that there are variations on the number of lives across cultures. In some regions, cats are said to have seven or six lives.

If you want to read similar articles to Why Do They Say That a Cat Has 9 Lives?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

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Why Do They Say That a Cat Has 9 Lives?