How do cats land on their feet?

Published on April 3rd, 2012
How do cats land on their feet?

It’s one of a pet’s most awesome party tricks: cats have an almost magical ability to land on all four paws, even if they’re upside down when they start the jump! But how do they do it?

Scientists found out by filming cats as they fell short distances (no animals were harmed in the busting of this myth), and then watching it in slow motion. What did they find? That cats use four simple steps to pull off the perfect landing every time:

  • Step 1: Head first: The cat turns its head to face the ground. It knows where the ground is thanks to a finely tuned organ in its inner ear called the vestibular apparatus. This tiny structure is filled with fluid, which moves when the cat falls (thanks to that good old downward force called gravity), and this movement bends millions of sensitive hairs inside the vestibular apparatus… just like kelp moving with the ocean currents. The brain uses this info to work out which way is down.
  • Step 2: Legs up: The cat pulls its front legs close to its face, to protect its head from the impact.
  • Step 3: Spine spiral: It then twists its spine so the front half of the body is also facing the ground.
  • Step 4: Back legs last: The cat brings its back half in line with the front, bending its back legs and arching its back to absorb the impact of landing.

But it isn’t just about good technique. The cat also comes with a few skeletal secrets that help it to twist and turn.

First, it has tiny collarbones that aren’t fixed to the rest of the skeleton. Secondly, its shoulder blades are only attached via muscles, which allows them to move in just about any direction without causing physical damage. And thirdly, the bones of a kitty’s spine are thickly padded with a substance called fibrocartilage, which is tough but flexible. Now imagine what you could do if you had a skeleton like that…

IMPORTANT NOTE: Just because cats can land on their feet, that does NOT mean they’ll survive any better that you would in a fall from something high. Sure, they may land very nicely, but their bodies still won’t be able to handle the force of a serious impact. Remember: pets are amazing, living creatures that should always be loved and respected.

Wanna see it in action?

Check out this amazing video…