Cats: The Great Gymnasts
Does your kitty always land on her feet? Because of their flexible back and lack of a true collarbone, cats are built for balance. Most people think that cats always land on their feet, but a safe and graceful landing is not guaranteed.
An old wives’ tale tells us a cat’s sense of balance is in her whiskers, but this is not true. Whiskers act as feelers that help kitties decide whether they can squeeze through tight spaces. Whiskers are also good for sensing air movement and helping felines detect if something (or someone) is approaching.
Their flexibility helps them turn, so they are usually in position to land on their feet, says Dr. Elizabeth Cottrell, DVM, a Baltimore veterinarian. When they fall back-first, they are able to twist around so their front end is first, followed by hips and back. Their front legs touch the ground first, but all four legs absorb the shock. The tail helps realign kitty’s legs and body as she falls, keeping her level.
Cats’ inner ears are important. When they’re off balance, their inner ear kicks in, letting them know they must right themselves. This body-righting reaction is present at birth, but other reactions take time to mature.
In spite of their ability to balance, their natural curiosity can get them in trouble with open second-story or high-rise apartment windows. Falls can result in serious injury to kitty, especially to younger cats, who are easily distracted by birds or wildlife.
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