Is It True Cats Have Nine Lives?

Science dictates to us that cats do not, in fact, have 9 lives but like us, have only 1. We must know, however, that the lightning reflexes of cats coupled with their ability to right themselves from a fall from a great distance due to their ‘righting reflex’ give us the thought that cats can survive practically any catastrophe. Cats have a huge reputation for their jumping and landing abilities. When they jump, they can jump high and when they land, they usually land upright, upon their feet!

Origin of 9 Lives

How does that old English proverb go? “A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays.”

Although the proverb is not to be in use seriously, the nine lives myth can be traced back further in history.

In ancient Egypt, the cat was respected and worshiped. The nine gods of the Ennead was composed of Atum-Ra, the sun God who gave life to the gods of the air, moisture, earth, and sky. Atum-Ra, when visiting the underworld took on the form of a cat and embodied nine lives in a single creator.

In Europe, cat worship lingered until at least the Middle Ages but the cat was no longer regarded as godly but instead was regarded as magical. Medieval Europe was known to be a tough place for a cat to live among some obscure rituals which had cats being tossed from high towers. Legend dictates the tale of Baldwin III, Count of Ypres, who threw cats from a tower in AD962. The event is still marked to this day with an annual cat festival. The Belgian town celebrates with a parade honoring the cat’s history after which cats are thrown from their 70-meter Cloth Hall Tower.


The cats’ extraordinary ability was finally explained by science in 1894 when the French photographer and physiologist Etienne-Jules Marey (who’s photographic research was a primary tool for human and animal movement) held a cat by its legs, upside down, then dropped it! The experiment was captured by a camera that took 60 images a second. The film demonstrates how a cat rights itself and lands on its feet by twisting and managing its head, back, legs and tail to lessen the impact.


Cats don’t always land the right way up which is why they sometimes return home with a limp or a bruise. So, in reality, they aren’t that strong. Studies from cats falling from varying heights suggest that about 90% survive with broken bones and bruised paws but distance is crucial. Too high and the results are messy, just like their human counterparts. Too little and the cat doesn’t have time to correct its fall.

Curiosity & The Cat

Usually, curiosity doesn’t kill the inquiring feline as they have a great knack for avoiding death by a whisker. These vigorous explorers dodge danger at every turn and why not, they have eight more lives than the common, everyday house pet… right? Wrong!

The multiple cat life myth exists in many of the world’s cultures but not all cultures cite nine lives. Some of the Spanish speaking areas believe cats have seven lives while Arabic and Turkish tales claim cats have six lives! But when you think about it even two life’s would be better than one!