9 lives and 3 brilliant techniques
Cats are so good at cheating death that they are said to have 9 lives. In 1987, a New York City feline fell 32 stories and managed to escape with only a chipped tooth and a collapsed lung. In 2012, a Boston cat named Sugar plummeted down 19 stories and walked away with no injuries other than a bruised chest. The main reason these lucky cats are still alive is a little gift from mother nature, called the righting reflex.
When cats take a fall, they unconsciously use a special technique to make sure they land safely on their paws. A falling feline will naturally arch their back and twist their body until their paws face the ground. Kittens develop this nifty reflex at a very early age, and by the time they are 6-9 weeks old, they are perfectly capable of righting themselves in mid-air! To reduce the impact from the fall, cats that fall from a relatively small height will use their strong, muscular legs as natural shock absorbers.
Extreme height, extreme injuries?
Cats that fall from a great height use a slightly different technique. A study conducted in 1987 by the New York City Animal Medical Center analyzed vet records of cats that were brought in after they had taken a fall. This study found that cats that fell 7 to 32 stories usually had fewer injuries than those who fell between 2 and 6 stories. Now, how is that possible?
Scientists believe that the results above have to do a with terminal velocity. When cats take a plunge, they will fall faster and faster, until at a certain point, when their speed will no longer increase. This speed is called the terminal velocity, which for a cat is about 60 mph (97 km/h). Once the cat feels it is no longer speeding up, it becomes a little more relaxed and will spread out their paws horizontally, basically turning themselves into a parachute! The same technique is used by other animals, such as flying squirrels.
Next to righting themselves and spreading out their paws to reduce their speed, there is a third technique that cats use to minimize injuries when falling from extreme heights: landing on their belly rather than on their paws. By belly-flopping to the ground, cats can distribute the immense force that hits them over their entire body, giving them a better chance at surviving.
Better safe than sorry
If your cat took a serious fall, make sure to rush them to the vet immediately, even when they seem fine. Internal bleeding is very easy to overlook and can kill in a matter of hours or even minutes. To prevent your cat from taking a fall in the first place, various solutions are available such as placing netting or special window fencing, or building a catio. It might cost you a few bucks, but that’s nothing compared to potential veterinary costs or losing your beloved cat.