Cats have been hanging out with humans for thousands of years, and you know what that means – people have been making up stories about cats for just as long. Or longer! We’ve revered cats as gods, we’ve whispered about cats that are also faeries, and we’ve developed some pretty bizarre beliefs about our furry friends. Here are three cat myths in particular that need to be busted!
CATS HAVE NINE LIVES.
There’s no way you haven’t heard this old wives’ tale, especially if you’re like me and had to learn how to play “The Cat Came Back” on a recorder in grade school. The idea that cats have nine lives crops up everywhere in pop culture, from silly songs to children’s cartoons and more. However, as any cat owner well and painfully knows, cats only have one life to live – just like every other creature.
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This myth isn’t the same in all cultures – in some, cats have seven lives (notably in Spanish-speaking regions) or only six (mainly Arabic). Where does this belief in cats having multiple lives come from? It’s generally hypothesized these beliefs are due to cats’ remarkable agility and skill in escaping dangerous situations – such as the righting reflex responsible for cats often landing on their feet. Another possible source of the myth goes back to the worship of cats in ancient cultures from Egypt to Greece.
CATS STEAL THE BREATH OF BABIES.
This next superstition about cats is very dangerous, and has encouraged aggression and mistrust against cats for centuries. Some people believe that cats, out of jealousy or evil, suck the breath right out of babies’ mouths until they die. Seriously. This is a thing people repeat to other people, like it’s real and not at all ridiculous.
Snopes has done excellent work to clarify where this harmful belief came from, but the superstition’s origins are still vague: it’s appeared in print as far back as 1607, and was likely considered an accepted idea well before then. A doctor, as late as 1929, even went on record saying he’d actually seen a cat sucking a child’s breath away. It’s possible this breath-sucking belief, and the less fantastic belief that cats will simply smother babies at the first opportunity, are very old attempts to explain the devastating occurrence of SIDS.
In truth, though, cats do not suck the breath out of anything. They also don’t kill things out of jealousy. While you should, of course, supervise any pet’s interaction with an infant, you can relax and put the worry of breath-sucking cat-fiends far from your mind.
BLACK CATS ARE UNLUCKY.
My Black Foster Kitten
Is there any type of cat who’s gotten such a bad rap as the black cat? Well, maybe the Siamese, thanks to those two jerks in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp. But besides that one example, I’m prepared to say: black cats have it THE WORST. After all, you’ll have bad luck if one crosses your path. It could even mean death! Also, black cats are totally familiars to “evil witches” – they can spy and carry messages for a witch. Or Satan! The way some people behave, you’d think black cats have the devil’s home phone number.
(Just to be clear, that’s all untrue. Black cats are not unlucky, evil demonic familiars. They’re just cats.)
Surprisingly, another myth about black cats is that it’s harder to get a black cat adopted than any other color cat – the results are dated, but Dr. Emily Weiss discussed this belief two years ago in the ASPCA Professional blog with data proving it incorrect. What is true is that there are many, many black cats in need of help. I have personal experience with this one – my family is fostering a black cat right now, and he’s one of the sweetest animals I’ve met. I haven’t caught him hanging out with demons even once! All he wants to do is laze about on the porch, soaking up the sun, and then sit purring next to whoever wants to visit with him.
These three cat myths are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the superstitions, urban legends, and folklore surrounding cats. In fact, we barely touched on the differences in beliefs depending on cultural background! It’s a world of wild stories out there, with many to be enjoyed – just after we bust a few myths to make our beloved kitties safer.