Do Cats Really Have Nine Lives?
Cats always land on their feet.
Curiosity killed the cat.
Cats have nine lives.
A lot can be said about a kitty's lifespan, but these musings are pretty contradictory. Most cat owners have likely found their feline friends in a compromising position miraculously come out on top through masterful contortions. But sometimes mischief leads a curious kitty to get in over their head—is there a seasoned cat owner out there who hasn't accidentally splish-splashed with Fluffy in the full bathtub when she inevitably falls in? Of course, it's preferable to believe our feline sidekicks can bounce back from anything, but is that really the case?
Do Cats Actually Have Nine Lives?
While no self-respecting cat would admit it, they are much like us mere mortal humans with only one life to live. Even worse for their pride, a long, happy life is often dependent on human intervention.
"Just like with people, cats who live a healthy lifestyle and have access to medical care have a greater chance of living a longer, healthier, and happier life," says Michelle Lugones, DVM, a staff veterinarian at Best Friends Animal Society in N.Y.
Still, it's fun to think our cats will stick around for a while, and the nine lives myth certainly has a respectable longevity of its own, dating back to ancient Egypt.
How Did the Myth Start?
The exact origin story of cats and their nine lives is unknown but is thought to stem from Egyptian goddess Bastet, who could switch between the body of a cat and human, implying she had multiple lives, Lugones says. Cats were highly coveted in ancient Egypt, revered for their dual nature, graceful and gentle, while also fierce and threatening to their prey, according to the American Research Center in Egypt. Many Egyptian gods shared these same traits and were depicted as felines.
However, other cultures believe cats to have six or seven lives, rather than the nine commonly remarked on. With so much chatter surrounding cats' supposed invincibility, there is some truth to a cat's uncanny ability to "always land on their feet," if you will.
Cat Survival Instincts Explained
"Genetically speaking, there's not much difference between our pet cats and wild cats," Lugones says. "They have retained a lot of their wild characteristics and natural survival instincts such as their ability to stalk, hunt, and pounce their prey, whether it be small animals outside, or toys that we have for them inside our homes."
Another of these instincts, known as the "righting reflex," explains why many felines find themselves feet first after a fall. They are able to right their body instinctively to land on their paws, so only their pride is wounded. But depending on the severity of the fall, kitty may not always be able to put her best foot forward, and serious injuries are possible. The righting reflex is an instinct only, and kitties are still susceptible to the dangers around them.
How Long Do Cats Live on Average?
Typically, exclusively indoor cats live 12–15 years on average, while outdoor cats live 2–5 years. Indoor cats are protected from elements of the outside world that often shorten an outdoor cat's lifespan, such as disease, being hit by a vehicle, ingesting poison, or fending off predators. However, genetics, health, and access to veterinary care all come into play.
Guinness World Records lists beloved Creme Puff of Texas as the oldest cat to ever live, passing away in 2005 at 38 years old. To give some perspective, a 1-year-old cat is equivalent to a 15-year-old human, a 2-year-old cat mirrors a 25-year-old human, and from then on, every year a cat lives is equivalent to four human years—i.e., a 10-year-old cat is 57 in human years. Most veterinarians begin designating cats as seniors when they turn 10 years old. Crème Puff was what legends are made of.
So, how can you give your feline a fighting chance to conquer old age? Lugones has a few tips.
Three Ways to Help Your Cat Live a Long, Happy Life
1. Environmental stimulation
Toys, food (a healthy diet goes a long way!), puzzles, cat trees, and scratching posts are just a few ways to enrich a cat's life, providing ample opportunity for mental and physical exercise, while preventing stress and boredom.
2. "Cat-proof" your home
"Make sure the plants and flowers in your home aren't toxic to cats, that electrical cords are covered so they can't be chewed, and that small items like hair bands, needles, string, and paper clips are out of reach so your cat can't accidentally swallow them and need a trip to the emergency room," Lugones says. Keep toxic foods and medications out of reach as well.
3. Yearly vet visits
As soon as you adopt a new cat, you should introduce them to the family veterinarian to become familiar with their needs. As much as your cat might protest, preventative care through yearly examinations ensures any health concerns are addressed early on.
Fluffy might only have one life, but you can help her live it to the fullest.