What We Mean When We Say ‘Cats Have Nine Lives’

Written by Sammi Caramela
Published: December 5, 2023
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Cats are unique, sassy, and playful creatures that are easy to adore. Many people joke that cats can survive situations other animals (and even humans) could not. With their ability to land on their feet — even from high falls — cats are agile and adaptable animals. Not only that, but they’re also extremely curious, which can often get them into somewhat risky situations. For these reasons, many claim that cats must have nine lives.

You’ve likely heard the saying “Cats have nine lives,” but what does it mean? Of course, this myth is not actually true — cats have just as many lives as every other living being: one. But the premise of this proverb is that cats are resilient, agile creatures who can survive near-death situations like champs.

Learn about the quote “Cats have nine lives,” including its origin and some common ways to use it. 

Origin of ‘Cats Have Nine Lives’

While the exact origin of “Cats have nine lives” is unknown, many people still quote the myth to this day. For example, maybe your new kitten fell from high up on its cat perch, landing directly on its feet and seemingly unphased. You might think to yourself, “That cat must have nine lives!”

The specific proverb is actually a bit longer: “A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays.”  

Many believe the myth itself derived from ancient Egyptians, who worshiped cats. In fact, many Egyptian gods were half cat, half human. One, in particular, is Atum-Ra, the sun god, who engendered eight other cat gods — resulting in “nine lives.” In other words, he embodied the energy of nine cat lives.

Another reference to the idea that cats have nine lives is found in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (Act 3:1):

“‘Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives, that I mean to make bold withal, and, as you shall use me hereafter, dry beat the rest of the eight.’” — Mercutio 

Why Do We Say ‘Cats Have Nine Lives’?

Many people reference the saying “cats have nine lives” in various contexts. Here are some reasons we use the phrase.

Tabby cat jumping

Cats can jump up to six times the length of their body.

©Rita_Kochmarjova/Shutterstock.com

Cats Are Solitary Survivors

Oftentimes, people will joke that cats have nine lives due to their survival instincts. In fact, they are natural-born solitary survivors. While they tend to get themselves into dangerous situations, they also have a way of getting themselves out, too. They are extremely adaptable and resilient creatures that can survive completely on their own — even if they’ve been reliant on their owner for some time.

Cats (Almost) Always Land on Their Feet

Cats have a “righting reflex” that gives them the ability to survive high falls. This internal balancing system helps them land on their feet, which prevents serious or fatal injuries. However, some cats struggle to rotate in time if they’re falling from a short height. Even so, the righting reflex certainly contributes to the idea that cats have nine lives — and can survive many potentially dangerous falls.

Not only that, but cats also have the ability to lessen the impact or force of their falls. ​​That way, when they do hit the ground, it’s much less painful or dangerous than it would be for another animal.

Cats Carry an Air of Mysticism

Many people believe cats are spiritual creatures. They seem to have old souls that have lived many past lives. Due to this mystical aura, it’s no wonder we refer to cats having nine lives. Their inherent charm, intelligence, and curiosity might contribute to this concept.

Cats Are Resilient Creatures

Cats are extremely resilient animals, especially when compared to other household pets. They tend to survive dangerous situations that other animals might not, such as high falls or jumps. They also often can bounce back from trauma or physical injury quickly. 

Additionally, cats are quite adaptable. In fact, domestic cats are known to survive even when their owners abandon them. They can quickly learn how to adapt and take care of themselves. 

Do Cats Really Have Nine Lives?

Of course, cats don’t actually have nine lives (though we wish they did!) However, we often use this saying to describe their resilience, curiosity, dexterity, and incredible survival instincts. Cats are adaptable creatures that love to explore and often get themselves into sticky situations. Even so, they’re usually quick to survive, flee, and escape any sort of danger.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Rita_Kochmarjova/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Sammi is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering cats, nature, symbolism, and spirituality. Sammi is a published author and has been writing professionally for six+ years. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Writing Arts and double minors in Journalism and Psychology. A proud New Jersey resident, Sammi loves reading, traveling, and doing yoga with her little black cat, Poe.

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