Do Cats Really Have 9 Lives, or Is It 6,7, or Just 1?

Cat standing on a fence

Many people proudly quote the urban legend that cats have 9 lives. Where the number nine came from is the subject of some controversy with other nationalities claiming our fave furry felines really only truly escape death 6 or 7 times in their lifetime. Though we know each cat is only given 1 life to live, their penchant for mischief and luck when it comes to escaping disaster certainly makes it seem like cats are granted more than 1 chance at living. Do cats really have 9 lives, or is it 6, 7, or just 1?

Why Do People Think Cats Have 9 Lives?

As with most urban legends, it is difficult to determine precisely where the idea of cats having 9 lives originated. Several cultures lay claim to different numbers with some saying these beloved feline creatures are given 6 chances at life and others claiming 7.

When it comes to escaping disasters, cats certainly have all the luck. Whether they’ve thwarted meeting their eternal doom when their persistent scratching brings down the living room curtains with a resounding crash, narrowly missed the moving wheels of a car, or miraculously avoided a tumbling coat rack used as a scratching post shuffling them from this life to the next, there is no question that cats are experts at avoiding great personal peril. How is this possible?

Cats are quick moving animals that possess a natural athleticism and grace. Their bodies are both compressible and flexible, allowing them to contort themselves into unusual positions to escape the threat of danger. In addition to this, cats are born with a natural instinct to move their bodies into an upright position when falling, permitting them to land squarely on their feet more often than not. This capability helps to prevent injuries which could be life threatening were the cat to make impact head first or on its side.

A trait they share in common with many dog breeds, cats are able to run at impressive speeds, a characteristic that helps them to avoid imminent danger. A domesticated feline possesses the ability to run up to 30 miles per hour if so motivated. This inherent skill protects the cat when found in heavy traffic or caught by surprise by a quickly moving train or bus. The ability to move rapidly was of great benefit to cats living in the wild. Since cats can be both predators and prey, it is an important part of their survival strategy to sense the presence of danger and get as far away from it as quickly as possible.

When compared with their human counterparts, cats rarely succumb to illness. Their bodies possess a highly stoked immune system that protects them from disease and keeps them healthy and well. This natural immunity equates to long life for most cats, making it seem like they have been afforded more lives than simply just 1. 

Picture of a cat jumping in the air

Where Did the Idea of Cats Having More Than 1 Life Come From?

Though 9 seems to be most often repeated statistic, several countries in the world beg to differ. Italy, Germany, Greece, and Brazil assert that 7 lives are the most a cat can hope for while Turkish and Arabic nations believe 6 is the feline allotment. It would seem that since the majority of the countries in the world claim 9 as the correct number, that numeral has become the standard in this urban cat legend.

What is the significance of the number 7? In Cabal culture, the number 7 is believed to have mystical powers while 9 is associated with longevity and material wealth.

The concept of cats having multiple lives may traces its roots as far back as the Middle Ages. During this time, cats and witches were intricately linked together, particularly felines with the misfortune of having a black coat. An ancient novel called Beware the Cat, authored by Mr. William Baldwin, purported that witches had the capability to inhabit a cat’s body a maximum of nine times. In addition to this, a 1546 collection of proverbs compared a woman to cats in her ability to escape mortal trouble up to nine times. When these pieces of literature were translated into Arabic and Turkish, it is possible that the number 9 was replaced with the more culturally significant 7, a number believed to denote magical powers.

But what about the cultures that claim cats are given 6 lives? This particular number is more difficult to explain. A plausible concept is the thought that since cats were commonly linked to witches and witchcraft that the number 6 was applied to them. In the Bible, the number 666 is given to the AntiChrist, a figure foretold of in the book of the Revelation who is responsible for ushering in 7 years of tribulation that will plague the earth and its people. Though Bible numerology claims 6 as the number of man, many people associate this number with the devil and evil works in general. Though there is no proof that this is why these cultures claim cats are given 6 chances at life, it is a reasonable explanation, particularly when applied to black cats with a penchant for mischief making.

How Many Lives Do Cats Actually Have?

Though the old adage about cats having 9 lives is often repeated, the truth is everyone knows that these beloved furry felines are given the same opportunities at life as their canine and human counterparts, receiving only one life to live. However, cats seem particularly good at cheating death thanks to their instincts, build, and unique talents, making it seem like they’ve been given more and more kicks at the can.

An ancient piece of English prose claims, “A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays.” Though we have no way of knowing if this can be the authority from which this urban legend rose, it certainly would make sense. 

How many lives do cats have—9, 7, 6, or just 1? While cats are very good at preventing their own demise, they are given only one life to live. They are just exceptionally good at living it!

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