Cats have an amazing ability to right themselves when falling and land on all four paws. Here’s a slow motion video demonstrating it:
This feline ability to right themselves is called a righting reflex. It’s been the subject of study since at least 1890. Here’s how it occurs:
- Cats have highly defined sense organs so that they can tell where they are in space and which way is up. Specifically, a vestibular apparatus in their inner ear acts as a balance and orientation compass.
- They have a unique skeletal system characterized by an unusually flexible backbone assisted by not having a collarbone.
Thus, when a cat falls their “cat-like reflexes” kick in, they sense which way is up and twist in the air so they are righted by the time they fall.
Kittens begin to develop these righting abilities at 3-4 weeks and the cat’s righting reflex is usually fully developed by 6-7 weeks. Experiments have shown a cat can right itself in as little as 12 inches of falling space!
In addition to being able to land on their feet, cats also have the ability to survive falls from great heights. They have a low body volume to weight ratio, thick fur and hen they spread themselves out they can achieve a parachute effect. A study by a vet clinic in NYC found cats that fell from heights of 7 to 32 stories were less likely to die than those that fell from 2 to 6 stories. If you are interested in the reasons and physics behind how cats can survive falls from very tall heights more readily than lower ones, check this article out: https://www.wired.com/story/how-can-a-cat-survive-a-high-rise-fall-physics/