Do cats really have nine lives? It’s a myth that has persisted for generations. But where did it come from? Is there any truth to the idea that cats are the best survivalists of the animal world? And, how widespread is this old story anyway?
To be sure, our cats only have one life, which is all the more reason to love our furry little felines. But, you’ll love to learn all about this fascinating tale!
Ancient origins of the myth
If you’ve ever seen Ancient Egyptian art, you probably already know that this society loved cats. In fact, they believed that cats had special ties to the gods and the afterlife. And mummifying cats in order to help guide their Owners into the underworld was a common practice—archaeologists say that millions of cats were mummified at the height of the Egyptian empire! There were even special laws and customs to ensure protected status for cats, giving them an exalted place in society.
But, what does this have to do with our myth? Well, one important legend for the Ancient Egyptians was that of Atum-Ra, the sun god. Atum-Ra created the eight other gods who were responsible for all life on earth, from air to water to earth and more. And, whenever Atum-Ra wanted to visit the underworld, he embodied all nine gods in one, taking the form of a cat in the process.
Atum-Ra isn’t the only god related to cats. However, the story is generally accepted as the origin for the myth that cats have nine lives.
But as you already know, the story doesn’t end there. Long after the fall of the Egyptian Empire, the myth of cats having nine lives has endured. And the next iterations also tell us a lot about the influence of cats around the world!
Do cats really have nine lives? This Old English proverb says so!
There’s an old saying that could date back to at least the Middle Ages, that goes:
A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays.”
Like many well-worn sayings, this one isn’t meant to be taken literally. Rather, it’s a play on our feline friends’ uncanny ability to survive. Cats don’t have multiple lives, but they are quite adept at wiggling themselves out of dangerous situations.
Exactly what the relationship between the Old English saying and the Ancient Egyptian gods is unknown. What is certain is that during the height of the Egyptian Empire, trade routes between Europe and the Middle East were bustling. Over time, customs, beliefs, and legends were traded along with material goods. And it’s likely that the cat myth was carried along as well!
Does the old saying translate to other languages and cultures?
Absolutely. The myth of cats having multiple lives exists in many societies. And in most cases, such as in Russia, China, or the Philippines, you’ll find that cats have nine lives.
But in some Mediterranean cultures, like Italy and Spain, the myth subtracts two of them!
When and why the switch-up took place, no one really knows. But it may be the result of seven being a more prominent number in the mythology of these countries, especially as it relates to Catholicism. And, given that this version of the myth is accepted in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and other Latin American countries, it’s safe to assume that the old saying changed some time before colonisation.
Cats really do have some amazing survival tactics
Sure, we know that cats don’t really have nine lives. But still, we probably wouldn’t have the old saying if it weren’t for our feline friends’ uncanny ability to survive. So, what makes cats so special in this regard?
Let’s take a look at some reasons why cats have gained the reputation for having multiple lives:
- Cats can fall from impossible heights. In 2019, a cat in Melbourne fell from an 18-storey apartment and lived through it. While it surely shocked those who witnessed it, Charlie’s story is actually an example of feline evolution at work. That’s because domestic cats are perfectly adapted to living in trees—they have the exact surface area to body weight that allows them to fall without ever reaching a terminal velocity that would be life-threatening. And, they’ve got an incredible ability to maintain spatial awareness even as they fall, giving credence to the other old saying about cats: they always land on their feet.
- They are excellent escape artists. Whether it’s scaling a tall fence or squeezing themselves into a tight space, cats are masters at getting away. For starters, they can jump anywhere from 6 to 9 times their body length. With flexible ribs and floating collar bones, they can also wiggle themselves into spaces that are no larger than the size of their face. These amazing survival techniques are another example of why we consider them to have multiple lives. It’s also why an experienced Cat Sitter knows to keep a close eye on the kitties in their care!
- Cats are curious! While a cat’s ability to survive great falls and outmaneuver their natural predators is impressive, there’s another old saying: curiosity kills the cat. Spend enough time with a feline and you’ll wonder how they get through life without some mystical second, third, and seventh chances. Some cats climb into washing machines. Others get themselves stuck in tall trees. And if you’ve ever seen a cat face off with a bee, you’ll know that they’re just too curious for their own good.
- They tend to wander. Around the time that the old myth was taking shape, cats were far from domesticated. If a family had a cat, it was likely that their feline friend would go missing for days at a time as they left to hunt or find a mate. It’s understandable, then, that these early Cat Owners might joke that their cat had come back from the dead after a long absence.
We can’t say for sure why cats gained the reputation for having multiple lives. But, their amazing survival skills, disappearing acts, and seemingly reckless curiosity are all probable reasons why we think of cats as having more than one life.
Cats have one life, so make it a good one!
In reality, cats have only one life. And there are a few ways that you can make sure your cat is happy and healthy:
- Keep them safe. Cats that spend time outside are at risk of injury or death from cars, predators, and other hazards.
- Play with your cat. One of the best ways to ward off boredom and weight gain is with active play. Playing with your cat is akin to going to the gym or taking your dog for a long walk, so make sure that you schedule in regular playtime for your cat.
- Give them good food. As true carnivores, cats benefit from a diet filled with high quality protein.
- Provide them with companionship. Another myth we can debunk about cats is that they’re solitary animals. In reality, cats enjoy the company of humans and would rather stay in the care of a local Cat Sitter than be left alone at home.
So, do cats really have nine lives? No! But we can do our best to make sure our cats are as happy and healthy as possible in the one life they’ve got.