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Feline Physics: Why Cats Can Survive Falls From Great Heights

Cat image via Shutterstock

The other night, I watched a YouTube video featuring a woman standing on her bed, holding a cat upside down by its feet, then repeatedly dropping the cat onto the mattress. Amazingly, every time the cat was released, it immediately righted itself and landed on its feet.

The woman was performing the same basic experiment that French scientist Etienne Jules Marey did back in 1890. Marey, famous for investigations in which his chronophotographic camera was able to capture up to 60 consecutive frames a second, dropped a cat and filmed it. And yes, there’s a clip on YouTube:

The purpose of both of these videos was to demonstrate the cat’s unique innate ability to reorient its body during a fall. There’s even a name for this phenomenon: the “righting reflex.” Animal experts say that the righting reflex is observable in kittens as early as three to four weeks, and is fully developed at seven weeks.

How does the righting reflex work?

First, cats have supersensitive sense organs. A vestibular apparatus in their inner ear acts as a balance and orientation compass. They always know right side up. Second, cats have a unique skeletal structure - an unusually flexible backbone and the absence of a collarbone. So when a cat falls, its senses respond with lightning speed, and it is able to reorient its body and twist its head around so it can see where it’s going to land.

Beyond their amazing aerial spins, cats also have what could be called a built-in parachute. Like many small animals, they have a low body-volume-to-weight ratio, which when falling, allows them to slow their velocity by spreading out and becoming their own parachute. It’s the same kind of maneuver that flying squirrels do in mid-air.

But as amazing as their gravity-defying abilities are, cats are not invincible.

In 1987, veterinarians at New York City’s Animal Medical Center did a study of felines that had fallen from tall buildings. 90% of them survived, though most sustained serious injuries. Of those, more than one-third needed life-saving treatment, while just under a third required no treatment. What’s remarkable is that the study found that cats that fell from heights of 7 to 32 stories were less likely to die than those that fell from 2 to 6 stories.

Why? One theory is that after a certain distance, a cat reaches maximum speed and that vestibular mechanism in its ear shuts off. As a result, the cat relaxes. As any stuntman can tell you, relaxed limbs are less likely to break than unrelaxed ones. Another is that the greater height gives the cat time to adopt its parachute pose.

For those of you who enjoy physics, the “falling cat problem,” as it’s called, has been parsed in diagrams and technical language in online dissertations such as “Gauge Theory of the Falling Cat” and the Monty Python-ish sounding “Aerial Righting Reflexes in Flightless Animals.”

Then, of course, there's The Buttered Cat Paradox, which Miss Cellania discussed in great detail last year.

So over to you, cat owners. Any amazing stories of your kitty taking daredevil falls and landing on its feet?

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Smart Shopping
15 Funny Novelty Toys For Pets
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iStock

Want to get your pet a toy that shares your interests? These cute and amusing novelty creations will provide your dog or cat (and you) with plenty of entertainment, and your human friends will appreciate their strong pun game. And, they're great inspiration for funny Instagram photos.

1. STARBARKS COFFEE; $12

Starbarks Coffee DogToy
Amazon

If your dog loves going to Starbucks for a puppuccino, order a grande Starbarks Frenchie Roast so they can get their fix every day.

Find It: Amazon

2. EXCALIGRRR SWORD; $14

ExcaliGRRR Sword dog toy
BarkShop

This chew toy is worth it just to repeat the "Knights of the Hound Table" and "King Arfur" jokes that BarkShop suggests.

Find It: BarkShop

3. THE BARK POST; $10

newspaper dog toy
BarkShop

Did you know that dogs prefer print media? After all, you can't shred the internet. This newspaper toy is printed with real dog articles from BarkShop's blog, BarkPost.

Find It: BarkShop

4. CAT NIP TEA BAG; $4

cat nip tea bag toy
Etsy

If your ideal Sunday involves lounging on the couch with a good book, a cup of tea, and your cat at your feet, get your kitten its very own tea bag. This handmade toy is filled with organic cat nip and comes in four different ribbon patterns.

Find It: Etsy

5. LICK-CROIX BARKLING WATER; $14

LaCroix dog toy
GlamourMutt

If your dog loves to ride in your cart while you shop at Whole Foods, get him his own can of LaCroix-inspired Lick-Croix Barkling Water (Pamplemutt flavor, of course). Cheers!

Find It: GlamourMutt

6. HUMUNGA TONGUE; $11

Humunga Tongue dog toy
Amazon

This giant tongue with a ball on the end will make for tons of silly photos. Just make sure you buy the right size for your pooch.

Find It: Amazon

7. DOGGO DOGGO BILLS, Y'ALL; $8

stack of bills dog toy
BarkShop

Have you already spoiled your dog with every fancy bed, jacket, and toy imaginable? Maybe with a stack of money, they can learn to finance their own doggo lifestyle. In addition to squeaking, the toy crinkles just like crisp dollar bills.

Find It: BarkShop

8. RUCKSACK; $10

Rucksack dog toy
BarkShop

Does your pup love the great outdoors? This rucksack is perfect for his travels around the yard—just don't let him chase any cars while carrying it!

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9. BOOM BOX; $11

boom box dog toy
BarkShop

When your dog picks up this boom box, he'll look like he's ready to party—or make a grand romantic gesture à la Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything.

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10. CHEWY VUITON HANDBAG; $10

Chewy Vuiton dog toy
Amazon

This Chewy Vuiton purse is perfect for any fashionable doggies, even if they're named Gucci, Prada, or Dolce.

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11. TAKEOUT DUMPLINGS; $16

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BarkShop

If your fur baby begs for a bite every time you order in, get them their own "meal" of plush dumplings, complete with a Chinese takeout box replica.

Find It: BarkShop

12. IBONE; $17

iBone Plush Dog Toy
Amazon

Does your dog feel left out when you're Snapchatting or playing Candy Crush? Get him his own "iBone," so you can each stare at your phones in peace.

Find It: Amazon

13. VANDERPUMP SANGRIA; $17

Vanderpump sangria dog toy
GlamourMutt

It's not drinking alone if your dog is drinking with you! Get your overly pampered pooch a bottle of Lisa Vanderpump-branded sangria in pink or red, and settle in for a night of looking for Giggy or Rumpy Pumpy appearances on RHOBH or Vanderpump Rules.

Find It: GlamourMutt

14. CATNIP BANANA PEEL; $7

Your kitty will be tripping all over itself to get ahold of this organic catnip-filled banana peel. And perhaps it can serve as a reminder to increase your own daily fruit intake.

Find It: Etsy

15. ERNESTO THE FISH TACO; FROM $10

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BarkShop

Not all beaches allow dogs to bask in the sun, but that shouldn't stop your pup from enjoying a giant fish taco.

Find It: BarkShop

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Catio Spaces
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Animals
A 'Catio' Gives Your Indoor Cat a Taste of Nature
Catio Spaces
Catio Spaces

Cats usually fall into one of two categories: outdoor or indoor. Now, a company based in Seattle is working to erase the boundaries between these groups. As PureWow reports, Catio Spaces sells plans for outdoor enclosures that allow your feline companions to enjoy being in nature without wandering too far from home.

Each Catio is designed to be made from a wooden frame, escape-proof wiring, and cedar shelves for cats to lounge on. The boxes can attach to a window or door leading outside, allowing your cat to wander in and out without putting itself in harm's way (or posing a threat to wildlife).

"Cats naturally want to be outside where they can breathe fresh air and experience the sights, sounds and stimulation of the natural world," the Catio Spaces website reads. "A catio, an outdoor cat enclosure or 'cat patio,' is the purrfect solution to solve the indoor/outdoor dilemma."

Plans for DIY catios you can assemble at home range in price from $40 to $70 (materials not included). You can order and download yours today, with 10 percent of your purchase price going to an animal welfare organization.

Patio for cats.
Catio Spaces

Cats in cat patio.
Catio Spaces

[h/t PureWow]

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