Myth Busters: Do Cats Really Always Land On Their Feet?
Don't You Wish You Could Always Land On Your Feet?
You probably have already heard of the expression, “Cats always land on their feet.” Well, a lot of cats do land on their feet and you most likely have seen how cats always nail their landing.
However, you might wonder, “Do they really always land on their feet, 100% of the time?” Is this a myth or there’s truth in this belief?
Well, here’s the truth: the short answer is no, but they do land on their feet almost all the time. Read on to learn more.
What Is The Righting Reflex?
The righting reflex is the “magic” behind a cat’s amazing ability to land on its feet after falling. This reflex is present in cats as young as three weeks of age and is completely developed when they reach seven weeks.
What’s so impressive about the righting reflex is that it enables cats to turn their body in the midair so that by the time they reach the ground, they don’t land on their back or sides, but on their feet.
How Do Cats Land On Their Feet?
Like humans, cats have a balancing mechanism found inside their ears, specifically the vestibular apparatus. This apparatus helps cats balance their body and orient themselves to know which way is up and which way is down. Because of this, they can easily turn their head instantly to the right direction and have their body follow in the same way.
Another important anatomical feature of cats is their spinal column. They have super flexible backbones that consist of 30 vertebrae. Compare that to humans who only have 24. Having more vertebrae means having a more flexible backbone.
Using their flexible spine, cats can easily and instantly twist and turn their body during a fall. Their back arches to bring their feet under their body. They then bring their forepaws close to their face and their rear legs to their body to absorb the impact as they hit the ground.
Because of their low body to weight ratio, they can slow down the speed of their fall and improve their chance of survival. When they fall, their maximum velocity is around 60 mph which is much slower than that of humans which is about 120mph.
Once they reached the peak speed of their fall and they have already positioned themselves properly, they can now simply relax, stretch their legs out, and wait for them to reach the ground. This position creates air resistance like how parachutes work.
What Makes A Cat Not Fall On Its Feet?
If there’s one thing that decides the success rate of cats falling on their feet, it is the height. It is quite interesting to note that cats are more likely to survive a higher fall than a shorter fall. This also means that cats are more likely to land on their feet when they fall from a higher height.
A study was done in 1987 by the New York City Animal Medical Centre. The study aims to understand better the gravity-defying feat of cats when landing on their feet.
What they found out was that those cats who fell between the 7 and 32 stories suffered fewer injuries. On the other hand, those who fall between 2 and 6 stories sustained more injuries. Scientists then concluded that when cats fall from a higher height, they have more time to right themselves. So, this explains why cats are more likely to survive a higher fall.
What Else Should You Know?
One thing that is not obvious to many is that the legs of a cat also plays a vital role in their safe landing. While their legs may look long and slender, they are actually muscular and strong.
Their legs and feet serve as a shock absorber as they land on the ground. As they touch the ground, their legs bend and they distribute the force of hitting the ground to their entire body. This lessens the impact they receive from falling.
It is worth noting that overweight cats are less likely to fall on their feet when they land. Because of their extra weight, they have a less effective righting reflex and thus, they may sustain injuries when they fall.
Myth Busted, It's Real!
Yes, cats do land on their feet almost always. However, this doesn’t mean that you should be complacent in protecting your feline friend. You still need to make sure you keep your place safe for your cat.
Keep your windows closed especially when you live in a tall building. You can also add window guards to prevent your cat from exploring too close to the edge of your window. Keep things away that cats may use to climb to dangerous heights.
If your cat sustained a fall and you suspect an injury, bring him to your vet. Sometimes, even if you don’t see any visible injuries, he may have internal injuries that you can’t see.
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