Everyone knows cats don't really have nine lives. This popular saying got its start in part because felines are a bit mysterious and otherworldly, what with all that sneaking around, leaping great heights and magical disappearances and reappearances. But when people use this comment, they're typically suggesting that cats are able to survive things other animals could not, like falling great distances. Cats are good at surviving falls, but that doesn't mean they have supernatural survival abilities. If they're dropped from a low height (say two or three stories), they won't have time to right themselves and land on all four paws – and could be seriously hurt. If they fall from the top of a high-rise building, they might also be hurt or die from the force of the drop [source: Carlson].
Cats lose their "nine lives" in other ways as well. Outdoor cats get into fights with other felines, get attacked by other animals (like dogs) or struck by motor vehicles -- all pretty commonplace deaths. And one-third of all pet cats in the U.S. will die of cancer [source: Rusk]. You can't get a more ordinary cause of death than that.