Ever wonder why cats can fall from a great height and survive but people don’t?  Cats have amazing abilities that are built in that allow them to rotate, flex and even pose like a parachute during the fall.

Because cats are so light,  the speed with which they fall is almost equal to the upward thrust of air and the two balance off. As a result, the cat continues to fall but at a steady speed, unlike humans who hurtle down with an increasing speed to crash to the ground. Cats possess a bearing over the
situation and they spread their limbs out like a parachute.

Unlike humans, cats do not “tumble” because of an exceptional sensory system. This immediately tells the cat’s nervous system that it is upside down and falling. Therefore, the agile cat twists its body at once for a safer landing. Even its paws are flexed in order to absorb the shock of the fall.

Cats’ muscles join and surround its bones making tor Excellent shock absorbers  They also have amazing padding on the bottoms of their paws. By nature this is actually for silence while stalking prey, but it sure doesn’t hurt in relieving some of the shock.

A cat’s agility, alertness and swift reaction to emergencies have given him the reputation of surviving – it’s built in.

Thus the phrase “Like a cat, he always lands on his feet”.

A cat’s righting reflex is a cat’s innate ability to orient himself as he falls. This ability begins to develop within 3 to 4 weeks of age. It’s perfected by week 7. They are capable of doing this because of their unusually flexible backbone and a none functional collarbone! It’s believed that for a cat to do this safely, the minimum height required would be around 3 feet. Cats move their hind legs and rely on conservation of *angular momentum to set themselves up for the landing.

*Property that describes the rotary inertia of a system in motion about an axis.

This is basically how it works:

Cats bend in the middle so the front half of their bodies rotate around a “different” axis than the rear half of their bodies. They tuck their front legs to “reduce” the momentum, then stretch their rear legs to “increase” their momentum. Their front half will rotate as much as 90 degrees and their rear half will rotate in the opposite direction less than 10 degrees.

They then extend their front legs and tuck in the rear legs so they can rotate their rear half quite far, while the front half rotates in the opposite direction.

They can repeat these steps one or more times to complete an extraordinary 180 degrees.

Ok, so you are not visualizing this – so here’s a great example:

When you take a wash cloth and twist it to remove water from it, look at it!  This is what a cat is doing with his or her body during fall! Half goes one way, the other half goes the other way.

In addition to these reflexes, cats have other features that will reduce damage in a fall.  Their small size, light bone structure and thick fur decrease their terminal velocity.

Furthermore, once righted, they may also spread out their body to increase drag and slow the fall to some extent.

Still Not Quite Seeing It? Check out these videos:

Video#1

Video#2

Some Information provided by Wikipedia

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