Many of us know the saying 'Cats always land on their feet', but is that scientifically true or just a well known myth? The truth is cats to have sort of sixth sense when they are falling from any height, but how exactly does it work?
The Righting Reflex.
A cat's righting reflex is the term used to describe this 'sixth sense' they have when falling. This reflex enables cats to orient themselves while falling, making it possible for them to land on their feet nearly every time. Cats begin developing this 'righting reflex' at 3-4 weeks of age and it is usually completely perfected by 6-7 weeks. Even though it eventually becomes second nature to the animals, there is still plenty of technique behind such crazy body bending maneuvers.
Once a cat in in the air, they use their keen senses to determine up from down. Usually by visually looking or by sensing it with their vestibular apparatus or inner ear. Once they have decided up from down they follow a few key steps to make sure they land on their feet.
1.) They bend their bodies in the center so that their front half rotates on a different path than their hind half.
2.) They tuck in their front legs and extend their back legs to create a faster rotation in their bodies. This allows them to rotate very quickly in order to land feet first.
3.) Next they extend their front legs and tuck in their hind legs and this helps them finish off the rotation and spot their landing point.
Now, even though cats to have exceptional talents for being able to fall from heights and land on their feet, that doesn't mean they never get hurt. Cats can still break bones and get seriously injured from high falls. However, according to a study by the American Veterinary Medical Association in 1987, the seriousness of cats injuries from falling out of sky scrapers in New York directly correlated with the height of the fall up to 7 stories. The interesting part is that once they got up past 7 stories, the seriousness of the injuries declined. The authors of the study speculated that after falling 5 stories, the animals reached terminal velocity and then relaxed their bodies creating drag and potentially made it possible for them to land more safely.
Cats use superior senses and quick rotational technique in order to nearly always land of their feet. Although this will not always save them from injury, the ability in itself is a huge feat. Next time you see your cat fall off your couch or dresser, just remember the righting reflex and three steps it takes to land on his or her feet. Pretty impressive to say the least. :)
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