Like gymnasts, cats display amazing flexibility, agility, and body coordination. No matter how high or low the jump is, cats can manage themselves upright, but they are not always landing on their feet, which begs the question: why could this be when they’re very agile?
Cats can’t land properly when the height is too high or too low. It’s also prevalent among senior cats or with an injury to not land on their feet.
Have you ever found yourself wondering the same question? This article will help you understand the answer in-depth. We will also be touching on the opposite of the question, what a cat’s righting reflex is, and if the impact of landing on the ground ever hurts their feet.
Why Do Cats Sometimes Fail to Land on Their Feet?
A cat with bad legs will cost them one of their nine lives or all of it. These small gymnasts don’t always execute a perfect landing and if you see that your cat is struggling, this could be the reason why:
- Dangerous heights. Adult cats can jump six times their height as confirmed by Janet Higginson Cutler, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. It’s important to understand that gravity plays a significant role in a cat’s reaction when hitting the ground. If you see your cat hesitating to jump for longer than half a minute, then it’s a good indication that it deems the height of the jump to be risky.
- Legs can’t extend. Because there isn’t enough space (especially at a low height) for it to spread its legs, as a result, the cat will roll upon impact.
- Being overweight. Veterinary articles will parrot the number 10 pounds (4.5 kg) as the ideal weight for cats but there are other factors to be considered such as body frame and muscle mass. Dr. Elizabeth Bale writes that in the Body Condition Score chart developed by veterinarians, your cat should fall into the 4 and 5 range. An overweight cat will find it more difficult to jump, run, and hunt.
- Effects of old age. Senior cats over the age of ten are at risk of developing many difficulties with their bodies. They will grow weaker and need assistance so make sure to make it easier for your old cat to get to places around the house.
- History of injuries or a medical issue. Repeated jumps from tall furniture and failure to distribute the weight of impact on all four paws can result in injury that your cat will be keen on hiding, particularly riskier if they have had injuries prior. When other symptoms show such as reluctance to jump, limping, stiff legs, and lameness, these are possible signs of feline arthritis.
How Are Cats Always Landing on Their Feet?
In this particular answer, we’re going to define the righting reflex that helps cats land on their feet successfully. The righting reflex is an innate ability that somehow makes the cat turn to the ground and fall on all paws, uninjured.
How do they do this? In this video, you can watch two cats perform the righting reflex. The front half of the body twists first to face the ground, followed by the back half until both paws are ready to embrace the fall perfectly. The inner ear houses the vestibular apparatus which helps with spatial awareness and balance so the cat knows which way is up or down.
There’s a page in history about this topic, thanks to the curious French scientist Étienne-Jules Marey. Until the 19th century, it was assumed that cats can only land on their feet if there was a push applied to propel them to jump. Marey filmed a cat similarly in the video and produced a series of images to carefully scrutinize how it can fall on all fours. A spark of intellectual debates and studies were conducted thereafter which deserves its separate article. On to our cat mystery!
How High Can Cats Jump Down?
As superfeline (like superhuman) as our cats can be, there’s a limit to their ability to jump and fall without acquiring an injury. The average height of an adult cat from shoulder to the ground is 25 cm. If cats can jump up to six times their height, then they can reach up to 125 cm (4’1 feet).
In a study from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 119 cats have fallen over 4 stories (43 feet), and 96% of them survived the fall with 46.2% acquiring fractured limbs. In another study involving 132 cats, 90% of them survived a fall over 7 stories (almost 76 feet) but 37% required veterinary treatment to be saved.
Based on these numbers, we can estimate that cats can jump down from a structure of 1 story (10 feet) up to 4 stories (43 feet) but with almost a 50% chance of having injuries. Around 4 feet or more, cats will be landing on their feet more successfully.
Does It Hurt Cats to Land on Their Feet?
Similar to how our knees are designed to absorb the impact of a fall, a cat’s joints absorb the shock to reduce the likelihood of injury. The pads of a cat’s paws are made up of a complicated and three-layered structure of outer skin, a thick layer of tissue, and a subcutaneous layer that cushions the body and initially deals with the impact of a fall.
If your cat jumps down from a structure more than six times its height, the pull of gravity is going to be stronger and therefore increases the possibility of hurting and injuring your cat. Domestic cats kept in high-rise buildings face the risk of falling from windows and balconies. They can survive a high fall but will require immediate veterinary care.
Does it worry you? Always make sure to keep your windows closed and other exit routes that your cat can access.
Can Cats Get Injuries from Jumping Down?
Repeated landing on the concrete or tiled floor can cause minor damage to their joints. Vetinfo states that cats leading active lives are more at risk of developing joint injuries as their cartilage wears down over the years.
To reduce the chances of injury, encourage your cat to play on the ground and jump on lower heights. A cat tower, if you’re planning on buying or making one, will keep your cat from finding adventure on high shelves in your home.
Look out for sudden lameness, swelling and suspicious heat and tenderness around the joints. If your cat has a history of bone injuries resulting from trauma, restrict active movements such as jumping and apply cold compress to the swollen joints until veterinary services are acquired.
What Is High-Rise Syndrome in Cats?
In studies regarding cats falling from a dangerous height, you’ll encounter the term High-Rise Syndrome. It’s a veterinary term referring to injuries acquired from falling from a height of more than 2 stories. It’s associated with felines.
During summer or a good day when the birds are out and prey animals take to the ground to find fallen goods, cats will sit by the window and watch. With an open window, they are tempted to jump out to catch the prey. In an unfortunate situation when they fall from high-rise buildings of over 2 stories, they will sustain common injuries found in High-Rise Syndrome.
Contrary to what many are told, cats do not always land on their feet. Certain factors can result in a disastrous fall such as jumping from a high structure or furniture, extra weight in cats, history of sustained injury, and health issues (especially in senior cats). Always consider that cats landing on their feet will always present risks despite their agile and flexible limbs .