Updated: August 9, 2022 by Kristen Chapple
The million-dollar question everybody asks about cats is how do cats always land on their feet. That magical ability our feline friends have, of always landing on their feet, is called the cat righting effect. Or at least that’s how scientists call it.
But we can agree on the fact that all of us are impressed on how are our little furry friends able to achieve that and not hurt themselves while falling from quite great heights. Some say it’s myth, others say it’s miracle, some bet on physics to explain everything. We chose the latter to elucidate the mystery.
So How Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet?
Well, let’s first establish the facts. Most of the time, a cat will be able to twist its body and land on their feet. But that doesn’t always occur without harm, and sometimes, some cats, especially the older and less agile ones, don’t survive a great fall.
This innate ability to orient itself in the air and fall in the right position is given by a cat’s way of life, which revolves around – at least in cats living into the wild – a lot of hunting, running, jumping, and catching prey, including birds. And hunting birds means being able to catch them in mid-flight, which leads to a cat’s secret landing abilities.
The main movement a feline makes in mid-air to reorient itself in the right position and land on its feet is twisting its spine in opposite directions at the same time in order to create the necessary force to gain back balance and turn the body around, feet ready to hit the ground first.
The shift in balance begins right in the first moment of the flight or fall. The cat first rotates his head, led by his eyes and ears, until facing the right way. Then the spine follows the movement along with the front feet, making the front half of the cat’s body rotate at a different angle and speed than the rear half.
The hind legs and the back of his spine first rotate a little bit in the opposite direction to help the front half of the body and then join the corrective movement, twisting to follow the first part of the cat’s body.
The cat then positions his legs underneath him, ready for impact, with the front paws close to the jaw to protect the head from the impact of the fall. The whole body of a cat then relaxes and spreads out to absorb the impact.
The Little Secrets Behind
The other features that help cats always land on their feet are their small size, shock-absorbing leg structure, flexible backbone, light bone structure and a thick fur that helps with reducing the speed of the fall.
Some studies even show that cats are less injured when falling from higher stories because they have more time to reorient their bodies. But still, a study doesn’t guarantee anything, so be careful when your cat is on the windowsill watching pigeons. Make sure the window is closed. She might not be just watching.