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Why do cats have 9 lives? The origins of the saying

Here's what we found out about cats and their many lives

A black and white cat lies upside down with paws out
Milada Vigerova / Unsplash

Whether you’ve lived with cats in your home all your life or have never even gotten close enough to pet one, there are a few feline facts, myths, and stereotypes that you’re bound to have heard. Cat characters in TV shows and movies are great at perpetuating this knowledge, though no one can confirm or deny these feline fun facts and generalizations quite like the pets we know and love.

It doesn’t take long to learn that cats can have a huge attitude, for example, or that they don’t always get along well with other animals like dogs do. It’s easy to understand why cat owners and feline fans alike can get caught up in these stereotypes. But at the same time, other feline fun facts — like why cats are said to have 9 lives — remain shrouded in mystery.

Until now! We’ve done some digging into the origin and accuracy of the old saying: “Why do cats have 9 lives,” and here’s what we uncovered.

Owner scratches her cat's chin
Yerlin Matu / Unsplash

The origin of cats’ 9 lives

So far, historians haven’t been able to confirm the precise location or population where this myth first emerged, but according to Hill’s Pet, what we do know is the proverb it came from: “A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays.” There’s no way to know for sure how long this saying has been around, but we do know that it’s been around since before Shakespeare’s lifetime in the 16th century. That’s because he references the proverb in his play Romeo and Juliet! 

There have been several major civilizations that domesticate and even worship cats since as early as 12,000 years ago. These include the English, the Chinese, and even the Greeks. Potentially most notable, however, were the Egyptians.

In Egypt, people saw cats as divine beings with supernatural abilities and a connection to the goddess Bastet. She was said to switch back and forth between her feline and human forms, which may have also had an influence on the idea that cats have multiple lives. But the question remains — why 9?

A tabby cat looks up eith blue eyes
Krysten Merriman / Adobe Stock

Why do cats have 9 lives?

In many of the countries where cats are considered divine, including China, Egypt, and Greece, 9 is considered to be a magical number. In a few other countries, the saying slightly differs (in some Spanish-speaking areas, cats have 7 lives, while in Middle Eastern countries, cats are said to have 6 lives).

As Hills Pet reminds readers, 9 is also a significant number in numerology. It’s a structure comprised of three groups of 3 and is considered sacred in several religions. Whatever you believe, though, the reality is that no cat really has 9 whole lives. They are incredibly graceful and always seem to land on their feet somehow, but nimbleness isn’t a replacement for immortality.

All pet owners wish that their cats truly had 9 whole lives to live — we get it! Who wouldn’t want more time with their furry friend? The sad truth, though, is that cats only have one life, so it’s up to each of us to give them the best lives possible.

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Gabrielle LaFrank
Gabrielle LaFrank has written for sites such as Psych2Go, Elite Daily, and, currently, PawTracks. When she's not writing, you…
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