ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Why Do Cats Usually Land on Their Feet?

Updated on November 20, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob has been in the pet supply business and writing about pets, livestock and wildlife in a career that spans three decades.

Source

Physics, Physique and Reflexes

We all know that when cats fall, but not feet-first, they still land on their feet almost every time. Most of us just assume that's the end of it. The fact is they often suffer horrific injuries.

But first, a few words about how they manage to land on their feet. Cats have an exceptional sense of balance, which is why they can walk so easily on a narrow ledge. They also lack a collar bone, and their spine is extremely flexible.

Those skeletal advantages give cats freer movement of their front legs, and the ability to bend and rotate their bodies. When they do fall they can right themselves in less than a second, a reflex developed usually by the time they're seven weeks old.

Although this righting reflex gives them the ability to somewhat cushion a hard landing from dangerous heights, it doesn't necessarily protect them from injury. And veterinarians are seeing more and more cats with injuries incurred in long falls.

High-Rise Syndrome

They call it high-rise syndrome, and it's more common now for several reasons. More and more, people are keeping their cats indoors. Cats love to sit in the windowsill, but if the screens aren't secure they can fall out.

The proliferation of apartment buildings, condo complexes, and loft units has created much more housing above the second floor, and much of today's new construction features balconies, decks and porches.

The most severe injuries generally occur in falls from two to seven floors. That's because of the laws of physics, which I couldn't grasp in high school. I can't grasp them now, either.

Source

I do know this, though. A falling cat is not a textbook example of aerodynamic perfection. Its loose skin, haircoat, and tail create considerable drag.

A blackboard diagram would show an arrow pointing downward representing gravity. This force causes the cat to fall at a rate of speed determined by its body weight. Another arrow pointing upward would represent the force of the air against which it is falling. That would be the drag, created by the righting reflex.

The cat's rate of descent accelerates between the second and seventh story. Once it has fallen about seven stories it achieves terminal velocity. That's when the force of air against its outstretched body equals the force of the gravity that's pulling it earthward.

Although the cat may fall several more stories, it isn't traveling any faster than it was when its fall reached the equivalent of seven stories. The cat relaxes because it has lost the sensation of falling.

With its joints loose and its legs flexed instead of extended, the impact of hitting the ground is more evenly distributed throughout its body. The cat is more likely to survive a fall of greater than seven stories because it had time to reach terminal velocity.

But the injuries cats sustain can be terrible, and even fatal. Skeletal injuries include broken facial bones, jaws, teeth, ribs, legs, and spine. The lungs, liver, diaphragm, and other organs within the abdominal cavity can be damaged, as well. While they may survive the fall, their injuries may be so severe that euthanasia is the only option.

As reported on webmd.com, veterinarians at the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital see approximately three to five cases a week during the warmer months. There is some encouraging news, though. There is a 90-percent survival rate for cats that are high-rise syndrome victims if they receive immediate and proper medical attention.

As is so often the case, prevention is the key. Make sure screens are secure and that cats can't get onto the railings of decks, balconies and porches. It’s also a good idea to plant soft shrubs beneath windows and decks, a few feet from the foundation; just in case.

© 2012 Bob Bamberg

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Willow, your headline is more appropriate than mine! We had to attach some wooden lattice panels to our deck railings so our indoor cat could get some fresh air.

      When we first let her out on the deck, she jumped up on the rail and was not hesitant about making the the leap to the ground, about 15 feet below. So we "cat-proofed" the deck, festooning it with lattice work so she couldn't get through or over the railing. Sadly, she's gone now, so our deck is back to normal, but she showed no fear at all.

      Your experience with Mrs. N is one that I'll bet is shared by many. You're right...they do it with such dignity. Even if they fall off, they pick themselves up and cop that "I-meant-to-do-that" attitude.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting; nice to see you again. Regards, Bob

      Hi tobint44, glad you stopped by. If your cat is like most, she's probably mocking you..."If you think this is scary, you should see how I"d handle an 18th story rail." Cats favor heights while many of us are afraid of heights, so we usually react with a degree of alarm. To them, it's no biggy. Thanks, again, for voting and commenting. Regards, Bob

    • tobint44 profile image

      Tyler Tobin 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      My cat is definitely not afraid of heights. Being an indoor cat, she decides frequently to test walking the 2nd story stair rails. Interesting information, voted up!

    • Willow the Wisp profile image

      Willow the Wisp 

      6 years ago

      Ha! The title should read "Much to their owners peril cats aren't afraid of heights"

      My childhood cat Mrs.N jumped off the window ledge of my bedroom (which was about 25ft off the ground). She landed like she had just jumped off the couch, on all 4 paws, totally dignified. Amazing. The image of her doing that has stuck with me for years.

      Thanks for a really well written and interesting article Bob!

    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Peggy, thanks for stopping by, voting, and commenting. I guess we figure that cats are so sure-footed, we never think of them falling from anything. And one wouldn't think that they have a better chance at surviving an 8 story fall than a 4 story fall. It's always nice to hear from a Level 8; thanks for taking the time to weigh in. Regards, Bob

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      This was very interesting to read about the terminal velocity being reached at a certain point and also that cats do not have collar bones. I agree with you in that cat owners should do everything within their power to keep their feline buddies safe and secure from inadvertent falls. Up, useful and interesting votes! Also tweeting.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)