Can a cat really steal a baby’s breath, or is that an urban legend?

Urban legends circulate from person to person, coming from friends of friends, for years, even centuries. One urban legend that says a cat will steal a baby’s breath in its sleep. While anyone can believe this urban legend, usually people who are pregnant or have young children are most concerned with it. Although urban legends can vary in their details, this one usually consists of a cat climbing into a crib with a baby and stealing its breath. Supposedly, this happens because either the cat is attracted to the milk scent on a baby’s breath, or it is simply jealous that the owners are giving more attention to the baby. Information on this topic is found mostly on the internet. This story has been going around since the 17th century and can still be heard of today. This belief is extraordinary because not only are cats not known to do this, it also seems impossible that a cat would do this.

There are several personal reports from parents stating that the cause of death of their infant was the cat climbing into the crib and stealing the baby’s breath. While this may not be the official cause, it is kind of an “everybody knows” thing among the believers and storytellers alike. There is also a coroner report from 1791 that confirmed that this was in fact the cause of a particular baby’s death. Although this is not necessarily fact based evidence, it is enough to keep the urban legend going around. The previously mentioned coroner’s claim was later proven false. Babies can suffer from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which is what had actually happened in that case. To further argue against the urban legend, experts have said that a cat would not do this.

Various factors have contributed to the belief and spread of this urban legend. Some people are simply misinformed on the subject. There isn’t much evidence on either side of the topic, so people typically just pass the information along to others as a precaution. The little evidence that there is against the claim can often be misinterpreted. People even mistake SIDS for the cat actually stealing the breath from the baby. Any animal could potentially roll onto a child as well, which may align with other variations of this urban legend. Parents could make these misconceptions because they want to blame something for the death of their child. Another reason could be due to the common negative stereotypes about cats.

Society as a whole typically has a negative view of cats. These views have been held for centuries, regardless of how many people have them as pets and enjoy them. While this urban legend can be spread by anyone, it usually resonates more with expecting or new parents. There are different reasons as to why people maintain this belief. First, cats are usually associated with evil or the devil, making people weary of them in the first place. Second, when a coroner, or someone with some kind of first-hand experience speaks out confirming that this happened, it makes it a lot easier to believe. While social factors are a big part in maintaining these beliefs, there are psychological reasons that people may believe it in the first place.

Social support plays a big psychological role in maintaining a belief. Talking to people who also believe this urban legend further strengthens the belief. Another thing that needs to be taken into consideration is the impact that starting a story with “a friend of a friend” has. This makes the account more personal and easier to believe. There is also a fear that parents have of something happening to their baby. Even if they may not actually believe that a cat can steal the breath from their baby in the night, the stereotypes about cats alone can cause people to keep the legend circulating, just in case.


Castro, J. (2012). Do Cats Really Kill Babies by Sucking Away Their Breath? Retrieved from

Mikklenson, D. (2007). Cats Suck Babies’ Breath. Retrieved from

Turner, B. Do cats really steal babies’ breath? Retrieved from

21 thoughts on “Can a cat really steal a baby’s breath, or is that an urban legend?

  1. Wow, this was super interesting, I had never heard of this before. I can’t believe people believe this about cats. I think you are right though when you said that maybe some believe this as a way to rationalize what happened to their baby if it died from SIDS. blaming the cat shifts the blame away from the parents, and might make them feel like it wasn’t there fault, even though it wasn’t.

  2. I have heard many superstitions regarding cats but this is a new one! It’s saddening to think that people, as you said, probably want to blame something to ease their pain. Perhaps the legend persists because people coping with such a tragedy would try anything.

  3. I have never heard of this theory before either. Do you know where this urban legend originated? You said it originated in the 17th century, but it would be interesting to know where specifically. I wonder if this urban legend is in any way connected to people associating black cats as evil omens?

  4. Thank you for your sharing about this theory. I think it is very interesting that it is culture based one because the cat would be regards as a god in eastern culture, such as Egypt. In western culture, cats were always in a relation with the wizards in many stories. Thus whether the cat is good or bad depends on the culture, and the theories were built on its culture.

  5. One of the most saddening aspects of SIDS is that no one can do anything to prevent it. With this in mind, it is almost comforting to believe that the baby’s death was not due to something completely random. Again, like what we learned in class, people desire to believe that there is a reasoning for everything, that tragedy does not occur out of sheer randomness.

  6. Although the belief that cat could steal babies’ breath sound ridiculous, the motivation of those parents who lost their kids is a kind of pitiful. Babies coming along with so much love and expectation from their parents, it could be really difficult to accept when they die because of SIDS. I really understand why parents would blame their pets. However, this kind of belief may lead to some malicious harm for cats. People need more rational way to relive their emotional pressure, not comforting themselves by hurting others.

  7. When my aunt had her newborn baby, she refused to visit us often because she was afraid our cats would steal the babies breath. At that time we only had my sister’s cat which was disheartening to her because they were making it out to seem like her cat was evil. We tried to explain that our cat was harmless, this caused an attitude towards out pets within the family since this belief kind of led my family viewing cats in such a negative way. As her baby grew up, she became more a danger to our cat since she was too young to understand you don’t pull on a cat’s tail. However, I find this notion so interesting, what causes the cats to lose interest in taking people’s breath away when they grow up? Why is this only a concern for babies? Adults drink milk all the time, and I have never heard of a cat trying to steal a adult’s breath. I think this really is connected to SIDS like mentioned in the blog. It seems because a person’s baby died and they were doing everything right to keep the baby healthy; that there must be another explanation. I feel like this comforts parents into thinking they are not at fault even though SIDS can’t really be blamed on them so they blame it on old beliefs that they’ve heard before. It seems the belief comes after the death rather when the baby is born because they didn’t get rid of the cat when the baby was born. Although it is understandable and sad what these parents go through, I think in general this just creates a bad stigma that can lead to animal abuse.

  8. My first thought when reading the article was, “but cats do not even like people that much?”. Anyone who has a cat knows that they are not affectionate most of the time and like to keep their distance from humans. Not that I have children, but I assume that logically it should be way more reasonable for a baby to die of SIDS than for a cat to physically kill a baby by STEALING it’s breath. That would make cats terrifying, extremely dangerous, and magical.

    • This was also my first thought! I had never heard this theory before but all I could think was that cats don’t want to go around most babies because they get grabbed in ways that they do not enjoy. I never had cats growing up and only a few of my friends since have had cats, it is rare that I have met a cat friendly enough to get near adults, let alone babies.

  9. Hello!
    I have never heard of this belief before reading your post! When I started reading I thought of SIDS, which you later brought up. SIDS is a cause of death that people do not have much reason for and I think that in older times, people may have given reason to it and blamed their cats! I think its interesting that an animal can take the breath of a baby because it seem almost like the cat is magical. From personal experience though, cats seem a little mischievous and potentially evil so I wont put it past them.

  10. I have never heard this before but its super interesting. But what confusing me the most is that a coroner actually ruled this as the cause of death?? How exactly did he come to that conclusion? Did the article mention the medical findings that he reported on the child

  11. Just like the person above, I have NEVER heard of this act of a cat stealing the breath of a small child. I was also astonished that there was an actual report that involved a coroner from the 1790’s concluding that this was in fact the cause of death! It really just goes to show how far we’ve come. I think parents just want to have full control over the health of their children, and rightfully so. My stepmother just delivered my baby sister on the 16th of February and ever since then, she has been constantly attached to her. She is hesitant to take her in a stroller outside, she even wants to change the way i’m holding her when the baby is in my arms! This is human nature to optimize the care for your young, but I also think because of this fact, this belief spurred.

  12. Never heard of this theory before either. Probably a way for parents to ease their pain and try to not fell not that guilty. Compared to a child with age 5 or 6, the death of newborn is more indifferent and less emotional for parents. They might seek a way to escape from the guilty feelings instead of drowning in sadness.

  13. This theory has always made me laugh a little because it just seems so outrageous. Alot of older people in my family believe this theory to be true. I personally always related it back to SIDS and the unknown that goes along with it. Much like what we have studied over the semester, people seek to explain the unknown and often their own bias plays a large role. The idea that cats could have this ability is an extraordinary belief. I appreciated you including the history of cats and humans because it is true that for many decades cats were viewed as pests, unsafe and unclean. I believe this more than likely contributed to the urban legend.

  14. Wait, this is absolutely crazy – I’ve never heard of this belief! Do people actually still believe this? I feel like this is one of those 17th/18th century beliefs that actually believes anymore, but it has entered our vocabulary because it was believed long in the past. Do you have any numbers on how many people believe this?

  15. It’s a really interesting urban legend. I have always heard that the cats are a psychic animal, and it will become the evil ghost if they are tortured and killed. I don’t know what it SIDS until I read this post, and I think the people like me don’t understand this disease will be scared if the baby suddenly died. Cats have become a popular pet in these years, and many families have both cats and baby. But I haven’t heard the baby death increase. Overall, I prefer to believe it’s just an urban legend for those people who think the cat is an evil animal.

  16. I have never heard of this urban legend, but I can see how some may believe it. Everyone I talk to thinks cats are very rude and evil. Like you said any animal could roll over onto a baby, but I feel like this urban legend may have come about if a cat suffocated a baby in its crib.

  17. Wooow, this is something I have never heard of. I personally love cats and I even have one myself, so it makes me a little sad to hear that some people think that way about these animals. I know that some cats can get jealous and feel threaten when their owner births a child because it views it as ‘competition’ but it definitely does not apply to every cat, because they are very kind and loving if raised the right way.

  18. This is a belief that I have always found so outrageous. I had a family friend who absolutely hated being at my grandparents house because we had a cat and she truly believed cats were evil because of beliefs like this that she had heard. Like someone else in a previous comment I found myself questioning why suddenly a cat doesn’t steal the breath from a child once it turns 1 or 2 years old. However, I can understand why people would create this belief from unfortunate events because my own cat sleeps curled up on my head every single night. An infant that doesn’t know to push a cat off of its face at night may end up suffocating by a complete freak accident. Sad, but definitely a reasonable background story.

  19. Wow, I have never heard this belief before, however it makes sense according to the points others have made above on the impact of SIDS. It makes you wonder about the origin stories of other cat-related beliefs/superstitions–not to be biased (because I’m a dog-lover), but perhaps its because cats are a little more shady and independent in comparison to other domesticated animals? Super interesting regardless!

  20. I have never heard of this theory before. I could see how some upset parents to believe to to be true when they have their infant die from SIDS. It gives them something to blame instead of thinking that this terrible random even could just happen. I do wonder how this originally started, probably from someone who doesn’t like cats. I enjoyed this post!!

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