Find Out the Truth About Why Cats Land on their Feet

Find Out the Truth About Why Cats Land on their Feet

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If a person falls from a fifth or sixth floor, it’s a miracle if they survive. If a cat falls from a similar height, you might expect it would at least sprain something, worst case break its pelvis. We’ve all heard the old adage that cats always land on their feet and that they have nine lives, but how true is it?

The fact is that cats have an unusually flexible backbone and their collarbone (clavicle) is buried in the shoulder muscles rather than connected with other bones. This, coupled with excellent balance (in most cases!) allows the small felines to orientate himself or herself as they fall, thus landing on their feet.

Cat in treeI have recently experienced two cats falling from different heights with very different results which got me thinking (and researching).

A few months ago, my neighbour’s cat who is just over 1 year old fell from the 1st storey off the balcony and into the garden below. He cried and began limping. An immediate trip to the vet confirmed sprained back legs that required rest and a pain killer. Needless to say, it has not stopped him precariously balancing on high things since (there’s nothing like getting back on that horse and facing your fear!).

Just the other day, my other neighbour’s older cat, Kara, a stunning Bengal, fell from the 8th storey and landed in some scrubs. By the time my neighbour had raced down 8 flights of stairs, her cat had vanished. For three days we searched, called out and door-knocked to no avail. Just as Kara’s owner conceded that she had gone somewhere to die, we heard some faint and pitiful cries. Sure enough, there we found Kara hiding amongst some bins. An emergency trip to the vet on Good Friday revealed that she was 100% fine, just a tad bruised and scared.

Interestingly, veterinarians who treat cats that have fallen from great heights report that cats who fall from greater heights often suffer less severe injuries than those who fall from just a few floors. The obvious answer to why that is (besides luck and those apparent nine lives) is their aerodynamic ability to reflexively correct course so that by the time the cat hits the ground his feet are in position to hit first.

If you were to watch in slow motion, a falling cat starts to shift balance as soon as it begins to fall. Somehow his body determines which side should be up and he will begin to rotate his head, eyes and ears followed by his spine as he arches his back, then front feet and hind legs.

Much like a human falling, his front paws will be close to his face to minimise impact. It is the cat’s leg joints that bear the impact of his weight and as his body orients itself to the fall, he becomes not unlike a parachute, spreading out and relaxing for the landing ahead.

Whether it’s a miracle or a marvel of physics, there have been many tales of tumbling cats righting themselves to regain perfect balance seemingly without effort. In my opinion they deserve those nine lives and more!


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