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Home > Cats > Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet? Righting Reflex Explained

Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet? Righting Reflex Explained

cat jumping over garden fence

If you love cats as we do, you’ve probably heard many stories about them. Some people consider a black cat crossing your path to be unlucky. Others will tell you cats have nine lives, or they will steal the breath of a baby. Another thing many people say about cats is that they always land on their feet. If this is something you’ve heard and would like to find out if it’s true, keep reading while we get to the bottom of this myth to see if it’s true, how they do it, and if it’s safe, to help you be better informed.

The short answer is yes, cats almost always land on their feet. Keep reading to learn more!


Do Cats Land on Their Feet?

Yes. You might be surprised to learn that this is one true myth. So, let’s look at how the cats land on their feet.

tabby cat jumping
Image By: rihaij, Pixabay

Righting Reflex

Cats have a righting reflex that causes them to instinctively right themselves in the air as they fall. Cats can show signs of this reflex when they are as young as 3 weeks, but it will take about 7 weeks to develop it completely.

A French scientist named Etienne Jules Marey studied the circulation of blood, experimental physiology, terrestrial and aerial locomotion, and more. He also studied why cats landed on their feet and came up with the righting reflex.

He used a special camera called a camera gun to take several images of a cat as it fell to demonstrate how cats use this instinct to land on their feet. Before this study, many people believed the cat pushed itself off the object it was falling from to get the force needed to turn its body and land on its feet.

Marey’s research proved that the cat doesn’t need to push itself. It can manipulate physics by bending its body in half to keep the angular momentum at zero, allowing it to rotate its upper and lower body on a separate axis to remain in control during the fall instead of spiraling out of control in freefall like a human would.


Is Landing on The Feet Safe?

Yes. As long as the cat isn’t very high off the ground, the cat will be fine landing on its feet, and doing so will help prevent damage to other parts of the body, mainly the ribs, head, and backbone. However, if the cat falls too far, it can still receive serious injuries even if it lands on its feet.

cat jumping
Image Credit: rihaij, Pixabay

Cat Injuries from Falling

Unfortunately, the majority of cats that suffer fractions from falling are under 3 years old, so it’s important to pay special attention to your cats during this time, especially if there are dangerously high areas in your home. Male cats are more likely to get into these injuries, possibly because they try to get a female’s attention during the breeding season.


Will All Cats Land on Their Feet?

Yes. Almost all cats have the righting reflex that will allow them to land on their feet. As we mentioned earlier, a kitten will take several weeks to develop the skill, so it might not land on its feet before it’s seven weeks old. Senior cats might also have difficulty landing on their feet due to weakened muscles and bones, and they are also more prone to injury. Even falls that don’t cause injury can be painful if the senior cat is suffering from arthritis or joint problems. Overweight cats might not be able to get their body into a V shape which the righting reflex requires, and they are also more prone to injury.

orange cat jumping
Image Credit: Piqsels

How Far Can a Cat Fall?

The distance a cat can safely fall will depend on several factors, including its age, weight, and the surface it’s falling onto. Most adult cats can safely jump about eight feet without suffering any damage, which is pretty high by human standards and is roughly the height of most ceilings. Falling from a second-story balcony is where the cat begins to risk injury. If it falls onto cement or rocks, it can very likely be injured, but it might not have a problem if the ground is soft and grassy.

Anything above a second-story balcony, and your cat is in extreme danger of suffering serious injury. However, you may be surprised by their resiliency. A study of 132 cats that fell 5.5 stories showed that 90% survived the fall, and while most of them had blunt force trauma, only 37% required emergency treatment, likely for broken bones.

How Can I Protect My Cat from Getting Injured During A Fall?

Unfortunately, there is little you can do for cats that spend a lot of time outside, but if you have an indoor cat, you can do quite a few things to keep it safer.

  • Make sure any perches or cat trees have cushions at the bottom that your cat can jump on.
  • Ensure there is plenty of room around the perches and cat trees and no clutter that might make it difficult to make a clean jump.
  • A window safety guard on the second floor and above windows can help reduce the risk that your cat might fall out.
  • If you have a second-floor or taller balcony that you like to spend time on, you might be able to enclose it with a netting that will prevent falling without blocking your view.
Image Credit: sophiecat, Shutterstock



It may surprise you to learn that cats are quite capable of landing on their feet from a fall. They do it using a special reflex they know before they are only a few months old. The reflex allows them to fold their body into a V and work the upper and lower parts of the body individually to get their feet on the ground. However, it’s important to remember just because they land on their feet doesn’t mean they won’t get hurt. Though studies show cats have an amazing survival rate, we recommend taking every possible step to avoid accidental falls.

We hope you have enjoyed reading over this short guide and found the answers to your questions. If we helped you understand your pet better, please share our look into if cats always land on their feet on Facebook and Twitter

Featured Image Credit: MabelAmber, Pixabay

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