Since I was a kid I’ve been told that cats always land on their feet when they jump or fall. I thought it must be a special skill – unique to felines – because Lord knows I don’t land on my feet when I fall. However, it’s interesting (and important) to realize that this isn’t completely true.
For centuries people have been amazed at how cats can land on their feet when they fall. In 1894 a French scientist captured each segment of a feline falling with a special camera and realized that they have this built-in balancing system – called the righting reflex. Cat are able to quickly realize up from down when in the air – so that their feet (ideally) hit the ground first. Isn’t that cool?
However, cats are seen regularly at veterinarian’s offices for broken bones and other internal injuries because they didn’t land correctly. So are these cats just clumsy?
Do Cats Always Land On Their Feet
Nope. You see, the height of the fall determines the time available for a cat’s righting reflex to kick in. A study showed that cats who fell 7 to 32 stories suffered less injuries than those who fell 2 to 6 stories! This is because they had enough time to adjust themselves and prepare for landing. However, the surface a cat lands on also determines the extent of injuries. Their legs must be able to absorb the ‘bounce’ of a fall.
So if you’re like us and offer vertical space in your home for your kitties, this is important to know. While cats are also super agile and can usually catch themselves before falling, some kitties are more clumsy than others. The studies of cats falling also found that young (and predominantly male) cats are more susceptible to falling injuries. Our Zorro boy nearly fell 12 feet from the stair railing onto tile when he was young. I was below him and ready to catch the fall, but luckily he pulled himself back up. He’s a smart boy so he hasn’t attempted balancing on the railing since.
While it’s great to offer our kitties vertical space for stress, it’s also important to mitigate as many risks as possible to keep our cats safe.