Do cats always land on their feet?
I have a friend named “Danilyn” who shared a story with me which caused me to write this article. She told me that her friend “Jeff” was mourning for the loss of his kitten; it seems that the kitten had died by falling off a tall cat toy gym. When she shared this story with me it made me wonder how it could be possible for a kitten to “die” by falling off of a cat toy? I decided it was time for an answer.
Since I began writing for CatTamboo, I have become quite an investigator. I have become captivated by the idea of unraveling how many incorrect myths and stories about cats exist in the world. I also realized how little people truly knew about their feline friends; and by writing for CatTamboo I am being given an opportunity to help people learn correct information and remove all doubt about their feline friends.
Today we are going to learn another myth which has been proven to be wrong. The underlying question is: Do cats always land on their feet?
Feline anatomy that assist them in landing on their feet
Cats are uniquely built to land on their feet. Let us begin our investigation with a little lesson about the anatomy of cats. Around the age of 3-4 weeks, cats begin to develop the “righting” reflex. This innate ability helps them to orient themselves when they fall, hence, the ability to land on their feet. By 6-7 weeks they have perfected this ability and can correct themselves in most cases. What many don’t know is that cats have a very flexible backbone, and no clavicle aka “collarbone”.
Where the myth (Cats always land on their feet) comes in as “incorrect” is that cats do not “always” land on their feet. Depending on the cat and the fall, there is a potential for cats not to land on their feet. Although cats have excellent balance and are known to be great acrobats; it is the height from which the cat falls which can be potentially harmful (even fatal) to a cat.
Cats have a vestibular apparatus within its inner ear which acts as its balance and orientation compass which lets the cat know which way is up. Once it knows which way is up, it corrects its body with its flexible spine towards the correct direct and lands on its feet without ever changing its angular momentum. Cats have a low body volume to weight ratio which allows them to slow their velocity when falling. By tucking their front legs in to reduce the momentum of the front part of their bodies, and extending their rear legs to increase the momentum of the inertia of the rear half of their bodies, a cat can rotate their front (as much as 90 degrees) while the rear half rotates in the opposite direction (as little as 10 degrees), therefore performing a 180 degree turn. What many do not realize is that if a cat falls from 5 stories or higher it can correct itself; yet falling from under five stories can hurt or even kill a cat.
Bird chase epic FAIL – They really do land on their feet (well, kind of) Boomer GoProFYI -Bengals are so determined in their play or in this case going after a bird that they fall off things, especially as kittens. If this tree was any higher I'd be standing directly under it to catch him "when" he falls
Posted by CATMANTOO on Monday, October 5, 2015
The cat needs time to adjust itself, rotate its back, find its bearings and slow down its fall.
In 1987, in New York there was a study published in a journal of the “American Veterinary Medical Association” verifying what would happen to a feline falling from a tall building. 132 cats were brought to the New York Animal Medical Center in order to answer the exact question, “Do cats always land on their feet?”. What they learned is that when a cat fell from 7 to 32 stories they suffered less injuries; and the injuries weren’t fatal. They also verified that cats had experienced severe to fatal injuries when they fell from 2 to 6 stories. However, critics of the study pointed out a sampling error in that instantly fatal deaths were not included in the study. The critics were showing that since these cats were not accounted for do to their death, there was a flaw in the author’s conclusion that the injury rate declined for higher falls.
Video Evidence of Cats Falling
At one point, a study was conducted by video taping cats falling. What they observed was that during the free fall, a cat will turn on its side and extend all four paws sideways as if it were gliding. By doing this, the cat exposes its lower body to the air below, thus creating an almost parachute effect. This parachute effect slows the fall and gives the feline time to adjust itself to land safely. In this study, they verified that even the cats feet are flexed in order to absorb the shock of the fall. They also verified that the cats back muscles that join and surround its bones make for superb shock relief.
Strangely enough the cats tail does not truly play a part in its landing. They verified that even cats without a tail will land on their feet. What that they noticed was that during a fall a cat with or without a tail is relying mostly on its hind legs, and on conservation of the angular momentum in order to set up for landing.
There is something else that was shared in another study designed to answer the question: Do cats always land on their feet? The size of the cat, its fur, and its light bone structure decreases their terminal velocity. It seems that once they get their bearings they spread out their bodies to increase drag, relax, and slow their fall some.
It is said a cat’s terminal velocity is 100 km/h (60 mph) while a man’s terminal velocity in a free fall position is 210 km/h (130 mph).
Now this takes me back to the beginning of our story were a friend of a friend experienced the loss of a kitten due to its fall from the height of a cat toy. It would seem that the reason this was possible is because of the age of the kitten, the under developed muscles and possibly the amount of fur. It had not gained its cat righting reflex yet, and was ill prepared for the height of the toy. It is good to know this for those who have kittens. Although we love how beautiful cat gyms are, it would seem that it would be best to have little gymnastic gyms for kitten which are closer to the ground; at least until the kitten has reached a proper age where it has learned its cat reflex righting ability.
So another myth removed off of our list. “Do cats always land on their feet?” the answer is “no”. Instead, cats often land on their feet!