Cats Landing Orientation
Date: Spring 2013
Why do cats always land on their feet?
Unfortunately, they do not always land on their feet. However most often the do especially if they fall a short distance. That does not mean they cannot get injured. A possible explanation appears on Peteducation.com. Here is a partial explanation.
"The uniqueness of the cat's skeleton is one of the reasons they can right themselves so quickly. Cats do not have a collarbone, and the bones in their backbone have more mobility than in many other animals. For these reasons, cats have free movement of their front legs and they can easily bend and rotate their bodies. This allows them to land feet first. Their feet and legs can cushion the impact. This righting reflex begins to appear at 3-4 weeks of age, and is perfected at 7 weeks"
Stephen R. Dunn
Ass't Professor of Medicine (ret.)
Dept. Medicine/ Div. Nephrology
& Cancer Genomics
Kimmel Cancer Center
Thomas Jefferson University
Thanks for the question. I think that cats tend to land on their feet due to air resistance orienting the cat as it falls. The air resistance could provide a way to orient the cat so that its paw are downward.
I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have more questions.
As it was explained to me years ago, cats have a keen ability to sense their relationship to their environment, especially the horizon. Not all cats can land on their feet, but those that can do so for their brain and spinal column can automatically respond to the fact they are not aligned to the horizon, feet down with head and tail horizontal. This is one reason why cats do not like to be cradled as you would hold a baby because their sense of position is keen to feet down and they will often get upset when in this cradled position. Some cats do not even want to be picked up because the head and tail orientation is not horizontal. I am not sure why this characteristic has evolved, but it may be a defensive adaptation as well as a protective feature to land on the feet where the cat can cushion the fall best.
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