The True Reason Cats Have 9 Lives

Apart from agility, here are the reasons why cats have 9 lives: For three they play for three they stray, and for the last three they stay.4 min

cats and 9 lives
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Every so often we get to hear that cats have 9 lives, which literally means they DIE 9 times and are REBORN 9 times.

Question is, how is this even possible? No animal dies and gets to see another day. Not even humans – at least not yet!

But cats do!

Well, let us not get ahead of ourselves by questioning the agility in cats. Instead, we should be asking why they have the immortality tag of up to 9 times in the first place.

According to an old English proverb, the steady agility and flexibility displayed by cats predispose them to numerous trials and tribulations.

Interestingly, they come out unscathed and only sometimes with minor injuries. This is the reason they escape the numerous near-death experiences. 

This English proverb probably explains it well:

Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back!

English proverb

Cats are nosy little fellows but extremely cautious and learn a lot from the first mistake they make. They will stare death in the face but somehow get their wits back, and usually want to avoid the same near-death experience.

The Popular Myths Why Cats Have 9 Lives

Cute cat with a story to tell
Cute cat with a story to tell

A couple of ancient traditions have used the 9 lives teaser for one reason or another. They associate the belief to traditional and supernatural myths that claim cats can reinvent themselves under strenuous and complex situations.

1. Atuma-Ra

Ancient Egypt believed cats were endowed with supernatural powers, which made them resurrect even in the event of death. It was believed the Egyptian god Atum-Ra evolved into a cat whenever he visited the underworld.

While there, he gave birth to 8 other gods. This in addition to his own life made a total of 9 lives.

2. Shakespeare and the 9 lives

William Shakespeare alludes to cats having 9 lives in his famous play, Romeo and Juliet written between 1591 to 1596. One scene features Mercutio ranting madly at Tybalt. Mercutio labels him a rat-catcher and challenges him to a fight.

Here is the exchange:

Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you go fight me?

Mercutio still:

What do you want from me?


I want to take one of your nine lives, and, depending on how you treat me after that, I might beat the other eight out of you, too.

(Romeo & Juliet) William Shakespeare 

3. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays

An old proverb also reads,

A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays. 

English Proverb

The 3 stages of a cat are explained from its existential abilities decoded in threes.

It starts with three lives of vigorous activity, followed by three lives of straying. They all involve taking lots of chances and risks yet continue to survive. The last three lives happen during old age.

The period is marked by calmness because it is a time to lay back and savor the adventurous years gone by.

Other Lives for Cats

The concept of 9 lives for cats is popular in China where the number is associated with luck.

But cats do not have 9 lives everywhere: Arabic traces only 6 lives while a few Spanish countries associate them with only 7 lives.

The Real Meaning of the Cats’ 9 Lives

cat on tree at night
A cat will withstand a fall from far up

Multiplicity in cat life is majorly attributed to its uncanny ability to land on its feet, even in the event of calamitous falls. However deadly the fall, and distance, even from far up in skyscrapers, somehow a cat will land on its feet and live to see another day.

Physical therapist Sally Morgan too, has a say:

 believe that the ability to right themselves during a fall is the main origin of the nine lives idea

A clumsy fall that would lead to the death of man or other animals, does no harm to the agile cats.

They are born with extremely flexible backbones and ligaments. They are also blessed with excellent righting reflexes which allow them to tweak and twist their bodies for balanced landing.

Finally, the bodyweight of a cat is light compared to its surface area. This helps reduce the impact of landing that may prove calamitous to heavier animals.

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Alfred Amuno

I don’t exactly look like this emoji - in real life at least, but somehow, maybe I do. The emoji spots a visual head, eyes, mouth, and hand, just like the real me. These are tools I use to flip and write my notes about what I see in the world. In all fairness, the world is weird, interesting, and a bagful of stories to tell!