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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.

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.

Righting reflex

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?

Parachute cat

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.

Parachute cat

Belly flop

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 

Belly flop

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.