Hepper is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Why Do We Say That Cats Have 9 Lives? Historical Explanation Explored

Ed Malaker

By Ed Malaker

cat walking in the fence

Cats are magnificent creatures that make wonderful pets. They are also excellent hunters skilled in stealth, and they can ambush or stalk their prey. Cats can see in near darkness and have amazing balance with no fear of heights. These characteristics have inspired many legends, like the claim that cats always land on their feet or have nine lives. This saying has its roots in an old English proverb. If you want to learn more about your cat, keep reading while we look at the latter claim to see when it started and why people say that cats have nine lives to help you learn more about your pet.

When did the Saying Cats Have Nine Lives Start?

Many people believe the saying that cats have nine lives comes from an old English proverb that could be several hundred years old. The proverb states, “A cat has nine lives, for three he plays, for three he strays, and for three he stays.” This proverb doesn’t tell us why cats have so many lives, but since the proverbs are so well known, it’s more than a little believable that this is the origin of the myth.

Other Cultures

William Shakespeare wrote about the nine lives of cats in his play “Romeo and Juliet”, and many people point to it as a strong possible source of the myth despite it not being the original. Still, the cat’s amazing abilities aren’t limited to the Europeans. The Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese, and Norse people, among others, worshipped cats and believed that they had magical powers due to their unique ability to avoid danger.

tortoiseshell cat in the grass
Image Credit: minka2507, Pixabay

Why Do People Believe That Cats Have Nine Lives?

The most likely reason people like to believe that cats have nine lives is that they are extremely adept at getting out of harm’s way. You’ve likely witnessed these skills yourself if you have owned a cat for a few years.

Cats have amazingly fast reflexes and can swiftly get out of the way of any incoming objects. They can jump extremely high when they need to, and their excellent balance allows them to jump up onto a tiny ledge without preparing first. They can accomplish these tasks in near darkness with their excellent eyesight, and they have a natural gracefulness about them. Since they can move and react much faster than humans, it’s not hard to understand how some of their escapes can be unbelievable, leading to a belief that they actually used up one of their lives and are continuing on.

Why do Cats Need Nine Lives?

Cats are extremely curious creatures that will often find themselves in trouble of their own doing. We’ve all heard stories or seen first-hand cats getting stuck in trees or abandoned houses. They like to explore and pay little attention to the way back, often getting them into life-threatening danger. Cats are also territorial, and if your cat goes outside, it will get into disputes regularly over territory.

Another risk that outdoor cats face is traffic. Many cats like to cross the road at the worst possible time, and motorists often aren’t watching for it.  A cat that spends time on the road will certainly use up its lives quickly. Despite these dangers, many cats live a full, happy life that can exceed 15 years.


Unfortunately, your cat only has one life despite any myths or legends that might suggest otherwise. We say they have nine lives because most cats are skilled at escaping danger, but they can’t escape everything and traffic, and falling from a high place can injure or even kill them. We recommend keeping your cat indoors to remove most of the dangers that your cat might face. Depending on the breed, indoor cats can live more than 20 years, with very few health issues. A proper diet and plenty of exercise will ensure you get the most out of its one life.

We hope you have enjoyed reading over this short guide, and it has helped answer your questions. If you have learned something new, please share our look into why we say that cats have nine lives on Facebook and Twitter.

Featured Image Credit: rihaij, Pixabay

Related Articles

Further Reading

Vet Articles

Latest Vet Answers

The latest veterinarians' answers to questions from our database