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How Do Cats Always Land On Their Feet?

You’re a good cat parent, right?

You know what your cat’s saying with his various meows and squawks. You know when he likes a quick petting and when to back off. But do you know how your cat can defy physics?

Neither did we! So we decided to do some research to find out.

Cats are known for being able to somehow always land on their feet, even from the most awkward falls. And we finally figured out just how they do it.

Special Equipment

People used to think that cats were such great fallers because of their tails. But not so! Even tailless cats are able to pull off this stunt.

Cats have special equipment that most other mammals - humans included - don’t have. Cats actually have a special internal gyroscope located in the inner ear that allows them to detect their position in space.

To give you some perspective, imagine your evil friends blindfold you and spin you around and around and around. Without the use of your sight, it’ll be a few moments before you can figure out which way is up and how to avoid crashing to the ground.

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Now imagine the same scenario, but when your friends finally let you go you know exactly where you are. No dizziness. No awkward stumbling. Just graceful awareness.

That’s your cat.

While most mammals have to rely on sight, your cat’s internal gyroscope gives your cat a Yoda-like awareness of all things physics.

Cat Physics

cat physics

Newton’s the one who said “an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an external force.” If Newton were alive today, we’d point to our feline friends and say, “Nuh uh!”

Somehow cats are able to change the physics of their fall despite having no external force (like a human, a diving bird, etc.) help them adjust their position.

Thanks to Dustin the human and Gigi the stunt cat at Smarter Every Day, we got a slow-motion look at the trick cats use to pull off this feat.

If you’ve ever been a kid on a playground (or maybe even as an adult, we’re not judging), you’ve probably hopped on the spinning platform of death. It’s a rotating (usually metal, of all things) platform that you can stand on and adjust your spin speed based on how tightly you hug the platform. Hang off as far as you can and you’ll slow down; tuck your arms and legs in and you spin faster and faster to migraine-inducing speeds.

Cats use the same law of physics to pull off their perfect landing.

As a cat falls, his body wants to stay in the same position the whole way down. So in order to generate enough momentum to twist his body so his feet end up beneath him, your cat pulls his front paws in close to his body and extends his back legs out as far as possible. Now the front half of his body is falling faster than his back half.

Once your cat’s front legs and head are facing the direction he wants, he pushes his front legs out and tucks his back legs in. This allows him to stop the spin of his front body and allows the back half to spin faster and catch up with the position of his front half.

To watch the whole thing in slow motion, check out Dustin & Gigi’s video.


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