Do Cats Really Have Nine Lives?

The average lifespan of a cat is 12-15 years. Over the years, advances in medical science and nutrition has helped to lengthen their lifespan. But what about the common myth that cats have nine lives? What’s the origins and truth behind that myth?

The fact is that cats have just one life, like all the rest of us. This myth grew out of a cat’s unique ability to make amazing getaways from dire situations and land on their feet. They can fall out of trees, jump from rooftop to rooftop running from a predator or chasing dinner, and seemingly escape brushes with death with ease.

Cats have the ability to survive falls that may severely injure another small animal. This is due in part to the physics of their body make-up and their ability to right themselves during a fall. According to Wikipedia:

The cat righting reflex is a cat’s innate ability to orient itself as it falls in order to land on its feet. The righting reflex begins to appear at 3–4 weeks of age and is perfected at 6–7 weeks.[1] Cats are able to do this because they have an unusually flexible backbone and no functional clavicle (collarbone). The minimum height required for this to occur in most cats (safely) would be around 30 centimeters (12 in). Cats without a tail also have this ability, since a cat mostly moves its hind legs and relies on conservation of angular momentum to set up for landing, and the tail is in fact little used for this feat.[2]

Outdoor cats obviously face greater threats just from being outdoors and prey to dogs, coyotes and other wildlife. They also may be run over by cars, fall from a tree or meet with other accidents. A house cat is less likely to face these types of accidents.
 
Indoor cats tend to live longer, but they also have a tendency to be more overweight as they don’t get as much exercise as an outdoor cat and may suffer from more health issues related to their weight which in turn may impact their longevity.
 
There is of course a lot you can do to increase your cats life span and give them a few more of those “nine lives”.

  • Nutrition. Just like with your own nutrition, know what you are feeding your cat. Read the label, understand what the ingredients are and decide whether or not your cat really needs red dye in their food. Petnet has a regular series on food ingredients that looks at the benefit or possible harm for many  ingredients. Check it out.
  • Keep your cat indoors. This protects them from a wide range of accidents and diseases.
  • Get regular vet checkups. This is important for humans and all of your pets. Don’t put off that Dr. visit.
  • Lots of regular exercise and mental stimulation. Keep your cat active and engaged with cat toys, catnip and things to jump, play and climb on. This will keep them mentally stimulated and physically challenged – essential components to a healthy life.

So, while the answer to the question is that cats don’t really have nine lives, you can do a great deal to give them the best life while they are here.

Footnotes:

  1. Jeri A. Sechzera, Susan E. Folsteina, Eric H. Geigera, Ronald F. Mervisa, Suzanne M. Meehana (December 1984). “Development and maturation of postural reflexes in normal kittens”. ScienceDirect 86 (3). doi:10.1016/0014-4886(84)90084-0. Retrieved 20 August 2014.
  2. Huy D. Nguyen. “How does a Cat always land on its feet?”. Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Medical Engineering. Retrieved 2007-05-15.

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