Laws of Physics: How Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet?

Posted by Stacey Venzel
cat falling

Slow-mo technology and the laws of physics have helped explain cat-righting behavior.

Cats don't always land upright, but they usually do.

The moment a cat begins to fall, its body is already hard at work instinctually flipping back to a standing position. The head begins shifting first, following the direction of the ears and eyes. Arching of the spine comes next, followed by rotation of the front and then rear legs.

Mid-flight, the feline makes sure its legs are underneath, not above, the body. The kitty also strategically places its front paws close to the face to lessen potential impact.

cat falling

The spine of a cat is more flexible than other mammals, adding to its ability to master this uprighting behavior. With more vertebrae, they can bend more than dogs and humans.

Additionally, the mammalian vestibular system within the cat's inner ear allows for balance and proper orientation in reference to the ground.

Even though science suggests a falling cat will land on its feet, this does not mean the landing will be injury-free. The pressure from a fall can damage a cat's joints and bones, particularly in the legs and back.

cat falling

However, studies have shown that cats falling from greater heights--albeit not from the top of the Eiffel Tower--have less of a chance of injury because they have more time in the air to right themselves before landing.

While they're not magicians, cats do know their physics pretty well. And falling cats have proven time and again that gravity is no match for a feline.

What do you think? Tell us in the comments below.

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Laws of Physics: How Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet?