Watching a cat as it goes about its daily bathing ritual, one can only be amazed by the flexibility they demonstrate. Similar feats of contortion may be witnessed when observing a cat slip through a tiny crack or when viewing slow motion footage of a cat righting itself mid-air. What is it that allows these masters of escape to earn their proverbial nine lives?
The answer to this question lies in a combination of three factors that work together to provide cats with their death defying abilities:-
- Skeletal Structure – The extreme flexibility of a cat is due to the uniqueness of the cat’s skeleton – they do not have a collarbone, and the bones in their backbone have more mobility than in many other animals. These skeletal attributes allow them to get their bodies through any gap that is large enough for their heads and also gives them their uncanny flexibility. Furthermore cats have shock absorbing pads on the bottoms of their paws and have unique (among small mammals) ability to land with flexed joints thus allowing them to absorb much of the shock of impact:
- Righting Reflex – from the age of approximately 3-4 weeks cats start to develop the ability to orientate themselves in the air, a skill that is perfected at 7 weeks. This righting reflex is due to the existence of a small organ in their inner ear, the vestibular apparatus, that acts as an internal gyroscope;
- Pure Physics – When falling from a high place a cat can right itself through a series of movements that result in the rotation and stretching of the body until the point at which its feet are pointed towards the ground. In addition, during falls from extreme heights cats reach a speed at which they are no longer accelerating – terminal velocity – at this point the cat starts to relax and moves into a spread eagled position thus reducing its speed and minimizing its risk of serious injury.
The regularity with which cats fall from high places resulted in the coining of the phrase in 1976 “Feline High Rise Syndrome” by Dr Gordon Robinson. In 1987 two veterinarians, Drs Wayne Whitney and Cheryl Mehlhaff of the Animal Medical Centre in Manhattan conducted a study on Feline High Rise Syndrome, the results of which were published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine and are as follows:-
- The science of falling cats is called Feline pesematology;
- Of the 115 cats who were brought into the Medical Centre having sustained a fall of between two and thirty two stories 90% survived;
- 10% of the cats which fell between 2-6 stories died;
- Only 5% of the cats which fell between 7-32 stories died – the doubling of the survival rate as the height increased can be accounted for by the effects of terminal velocity;
- The most common injury following a fall is nose bleeds.
The Pethealth Family