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 https://www.livescience.com/22449-do-cats-really-kill-babies-by-sucking-away-theirbreath.html.
Mikklenson, D. (2007). Cats Suck Babies’ Breath. Retrieved from https://www.snopes.com/factcheck/murderous-moggies/.
Turner, B. Do cats really steal babies’ breath? Retrieved from https://animals.howstuffworks.com/pets/do-cats-really-steal-babies-breath.htm.