Cats have an incredible ability to twist themselves round mid-air so that they land on their feet. It’s so good, that they seem to have nine lives! So, how does it work?

Righting Reflex

The ability to turn themselves around in this way is called the righting reflex.

While humans have 34 vertebre, cats have 53. This, combined with a lack of collar bone, helps the cat to accomplish what we are unable to do; rapidly find the ground with their feet...rather than their face.

Kittens develop this reflex in their first few weeks and most have perfected it by 2 months of age. This means it is an instinctive reaction, that develops with age.

How do they land feet-first?

Step one

To begin with, cats are able to sense which way is up thanks to their inner ear and tail balance. Once they have detected which way they should face, they then need to turn themselves around.

Step two

These animals have the amazing ability to rotate their front and back ends independently and in different directions. This allows them to twist in mid air, so that they are faceing the ground.

Step three

They then stretch out, slowing down their descent like a parachute, in a way that humans are unable to do.

Step four

Finally, their paws are extended in front of them to secure the perfect landing.

Not the perfect solution.

Unfortunately, the righting reflex does not make cats immune to the dangers of falls. They can still suffer injuries.

Firstly, if the cat falls only a short distance, they will not necessarily have the time to engage the righting reflex. This means they could land in a more awkward and dangerous way.

Secondly, the cat’s feet and legs absorb the shock of the fall. In cases where the cat falls from a great height, the impact can affect internal organs such as the spleen, bladder and pancreas, cause bone breaks and shattered jaws.

If your cat has had a fall, you should consult your vet. They may be suffering from internal injuries that you cannot see.

How can I protect my cat from a fall?

Balconies and windows can be potential danger zones for cats. Have a look at our article on how to cat-proof these areas for more information.

Has your cat ever had a fall?

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