Why Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet?

Lisa Selvaggio
by Lisa Selvaggio
You’ve heard the old saying that says cats always land on their feet. But how true is that adage?

It’s said that cats always land on their feet, but is this true? Well, sort of. What’s incredible is that these animals do have a natural means of correcting their body position while falling so that they can manage to land on their feet, at least most of the time. Below is a short explanation of how it happens.

The Righting Reflex

You search the internet to find slow-motion videos of cats falling, and they help you see exactly how a feline’s body moves to ensure they land just right.

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Put simply, what experts have discovered is that, with the help of their sight and the vestibular apparatus of the inner ear, cats can immediately figure out which way is up and which way is down while falling. That then allows a kitty to right herself in the air before she lands, even if she starts off falling with her back towards the ground.

How do felines do it? Thanks to their flexible spine, they can twist easily, and that helps them change the position of their body even in free fall. The head will rotate first, along with the upper body, before the back of the body turns so that all four paws are facing the ground.

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Once in the right position, the cat’s body will even relax and spread so that it acts a lot like a parachute. The claws are extended for gripping the ground upon landing, and the back is flexed to help prepare for the landing. Finally, the legs will be able to absorb the shock of the impact once the paws hit the ground.

Fun fact: The tail doesn’t really play a role while a cat is righting herself during a fall. This means that kitties who don’t have tails will still be able to land on their feet.

Even Kittens Can Do It!

When it comes to landing on their feet, it’s all about natural instinct. Kittens don’t need to be taught how to do this. In fact, the reflex might be seen in kittens as young as 3 weeks old, but it will usually be fully developed by the time they reach 7 weeks of age.

It Doesn’t Always Result in an Injury-Free Landing

Just because a cat has the innate ability to land on her feet certainly doesn’t mean that she’ll always remain unharmed, whether she lands on her feet or not. Falls can definitely cause injuries, from minor to severe, and they can even cause death.

Also, what’s interesting is that cats might suffer worse injuries from a shorter fall because they don’t have as much time to align the body for a proper landing. Plus, the height of the fall might play a role in how well a cat’s legs could absorb the shock when landing on the ground.

The best way to prevent an injury is by ensuring your kitty doesn’t fall in the first place, whether she’s hanging out on your outdoor balcony or she likes spending time in high spots around your house. And if your pet ends up falling, it’s a great idea to have her examined by a vet, even if there aren’t any visible injuries, just to be certain there aren’t any internal injuries that need to be treated.

An Extraordinary Skill!

So there’s a bit of science behind how felines land on their feet. You already knew that your cat is pretty awesome, but knowing about her “righting reflex” just makes her all the more special, doesn’t it?

Lisa Selvaggio
Lisa Selvaggio

Lisa Selvaggio is a freelance writer and editor, and our resident cats-pert, with certifications in pet nutrition and pet first aid. She enjoys producing content that helps people understand animals better so they can give their pets a safe and happy home.

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