How Cats Survive Falls From Great Heights

How Cats Survive Falls From Great Heights

Cats have earned the reputation for having nine lives thanks to their remarkable ability to land on their feet after falling from great heights. Although this ability might seem a mystery for many people, it is actually a simple and predictable matter of physics, evolutionary biology, and physiology.

cats landing

Cats have their bodies built to survive high falls. They have an unusually flexible backbone and no functional clavicle that helps them rotate their front paws better than any animal. Moreover, the extremely well developed cushions that coat their paws and their relatively large surface area in proportion to their weight are of great importance in reducing the force at which cats hit the pavement.

The successful landing also happens due to their keen instinct for sensing which way is down. In a split second the wonderful felines realizes how to orient themselves as they fall in order to land on their feet. This instinct is also known as the righting reflex. 

A recent TV documentary realized in Great Britain shows the full physical operation carried out by a cat when it falls from a height. The intricate twists and turns that a cat performs to land without injury were revealed using high-speed filming techniques.

As seen in the clip, the beloved felines are able to twist their bodies like a gymnast and spin their tails in order to position their feet under their bodies and land on them. The body turning takes place in two stages, the front half revolving separately to the back. After they turned the whole body, cats extend their claws as they approaches the ground to ensure they have grip when they land. Finally, just before landing they bend their back to absorb the shock of the landing.

As the documentary shows too, not only adult cats own this technique. The movement is so instinctive that even seven weeks kittens make it seem looks so simple.

Cats’ ability to survive fall from great heights surprises humans every time. One of the most remarkable known instances of a cat surviving a great drop was when a pet fell from a 19 floor flat  in Boston in 2012 and only bruised her chest.


Remi Koene
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