“A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays."
...or so the ancient proverb goes.
It's one of those saying that we all know, but most of us have no idea what it means or where it came from. So, what's the nine lives thing all about?
Well, It's All Down To Agility!
Let's get one thing straight - cats don't really have nine lives (sorry to disappoint). In fact, the main reason that they have the reputation that they do is down to their impressive ability to jump and land.
There's a reason that cats make good outdoor pets, and it's largely because of their ability to escape death time and time again. Whether its darting across roads, climbing across trees, or jumping from high ledges, they always seem to come out unscathed.
They are able to do this because of what is called a 'righting reflex' - the ability to twist around quickly in the air if dropped from high places. They also have great balance and reflexes, and well as extra vertebrae and flexible backbones, which helps to break their fall and land comfortably.
It is from this that the old wives tale originated. No one with only one life would throw themselves around like cats do, right? So, naturally, they must have multiple lives - 9, to be exact!
But, Why 9?
What came first, the number or the proverb?
In the old English proverb, a cat is said to spend three lives playing, three straying, and the final three staying. Far from being a serious statement, however, it's purpose is more to track the progression of a cat's typical behaviour throughout their life - like humans, they grow old and settle down.
9 probably stuck because it's also a magic number, believed by the ancient Greeks to refer to the trinity of all trinities, invoking tradition and religion. Similarly, cats have long been worshipped and feared to be magical, which strengthens the association.
So, Cats Aren't Immortal?
We're afraid not - sorry.
However, that's not to say that some of them don't live remarkably long lives. Recently, one cat in Britain celebrated his 30th(!) birthday, making him one of - if not the - oldest cat in the country.
They may not be strictly magical, but we can see why the old wives tale has been going on for so long!
Summer holiday booked but still need pet care? Perhaps Tailster can help! We've a range of vetted carers across the UK, available to tend to your pet care needs as and when you require. For more information, click here.