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How Fast Can a Cat Run?

Kathryn Copeland

We’ve all seen our cats get the zoomies on occasion — those almost frantic short bursts of speed-running when our cats are seemingly excited about something. While they can seem quite speedy during these bursts of energy, have you ever wondered how fast cats can actually run?

Domestic cats can reach up to 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour) when they run at full speed. That’s fast for such tiny felines!

Let’s investigate what makes cats so fast and why all that speed is necessary. Cats are endlessly fascinating creatures, aren’t they?

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What Determines a Cat’s Speed?

Domestic cats can run up to 30 mph, but how fast they run also depends on their age, motivation, breed, and health.

Age

How old a cat is will definitely be a huge factor in how fast a cat can run. A very young cat (or kitten) or an older cat will not be able to reach the same top speed as an adult cat in their prime.

Cats are not fully mature or physically and mentally developed until they reach about 1 to 2 years of age. Once they are about 4 years old, their running speed will start to decline. Cats that are between about 2 to 4 years of age are at their physical peak, and this is around the time that they can reach top speed.

cat running on grass
Image Credit: Piqsels

Motivation

Motivation particularly affects stray and feral cats as a means for survival. Running away from danger and chasing down prey are all huge motivators for a cat to run fast. A cat motivated to live can be quite a fast cat under the right circumstances.

Breed

Certain breeds are more athletic and have streamlined physiques and are therefore much more likely to be faster than other breeds.

The faster breeds include:

Abyssinian cats
Image Credit: Dmitry Tsapenko, Pixabay

In fact, the Egyptian Mau is listed in the Guinness World Records as the fastest cat breed.

The slower cat breeds tend to be the larger and heavier cats or the ones with flatter faces, which can lead to brachycephalic issues. If the cat has more problems with breathing, they just won’t be able to run as fast.

The slower breeds include:

Health

The healthier the cat, the faster they can run. A cat that is suffering from a health condition or is injured won’t be able to run that quickly.

Similarly, a chunkier cat won’t be able to run as fast as a slimmer cat.

Cats are quite good at hiding injury and illness, so if your cat is ever acting out of sorts and no longer getting the zoomies, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Cat checked by Vet
Image Credit: Stock Asso, Shutterstock

Wild Cats vs. Domestic Cats

We know how fast domestic cats are, but how do they compare to their larger and wilder cousins?

Cats Running Speed (mph)
Cheetah 75
Lion 50
Mountain Lion 50
Snow Leopard 40
Jaguar 37
Bobcat 30
Domestic Cat 30
Sand Cat 25
Tiger 24

Look at that! Our little felines can outrun a tiger!

What Makes Our Cats So Fast?

American Polydactyl cat walking outside
Image Credit: Jenny Margarette, Shutterstock

It’s all in the physical design of the cat. For starters, their body shape is aerodynamic, particularly the fastest cats, which makes them more resistant to the drag of the air around them as they run.

Cats are also digitigrade, which essentially means that they walk and run on their toes (as opposed to humans, who walk on their feet, also known as plantigrade locomotion). The advantage of being digitigrade is that it enables cats to react with much more speed.

The back legs of cats are also muscular and powerful, which helps propel them to much faster speeds while they run.

In fact, if you watch your cat walking, you’ll notice that the left hind leg is followed by the left front leg, and the right hind leg is followed by the right front leg. When running, the hind legs are used together, followed by the front legs, which is what gives them so much power to run.

Lastly, the cat’s spine is quite flexible and has the ability to compress, which gives it an almost spring-like action. If you watch a cat running in slow motion, you’ll notice that the entire body bunches up and stretches out, which is what gives it speed, and the spine moves with it.

Let’s Talk About Those Zoomies!

It’s not likely that your cat can reach top speed while running inside, but if you have a particularly long hallway, it might sometimes seem like they can outrun a cheetah!

You probably already have an idea as to why our cats suddenly start racing around the house: due to pent-up energy or out of pure excitement.

cats running on grass
Image Credit: Piqsels

Pent-Up Energy

It can happen more often with indoor cats because they don’t have the same opportunities for hunting or playing as their wild counterparts. Since house cats are predators but also domestic and don’t need to hunt for survival, some of that energy can build up until your cat feels the need to release it.

The more often that your cat seems to race around, the more likely you need to spend extra time playing with your cat.

Excitement

If your cat seems to race around shortly after you get home or get out of bed, this could just be that pent-up energy bursting out due to good old-fashioned excitement! These excitement zoomies have a nice reason behind the bursts of energy.

Health

Some cats might be dealing with stress or anxiety, or there might be an uncomfortable health issue. Things like fleasallergieshyperthyroidism, and something called feline hyperesthesia syndrome (also known as twitch-skin syndrome) can all lead to a cat having sudden bursts of speed.

If your cat seems to be scratching and licking frequently and their skin is twitching, it might be a health problem, so a visit to your vet is in order.

cat and vet
Image Credit: Stock-Asso, Shutterstock

Litter Box

How often have you noticed your cat zooming around after a visit to the litter box? There are several theories out there, but if your cat doesn’t have any issues with pooping and the litter box is clean, it might be a bit of euphoria.

There’s a nerve (called the vagus nerve) that runs from the brain down to the anus and stimulates feelings of euphoria after defecation. Essentially, your cat is just happy after pooping. Do be aware of how your cat is acting, however. If you suspect that the running is from pain or illness, see your vet.

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Conclusion

The cat’s breed, age, health, and motivation are all clear factors in a cat’s need for speed. The more athletic and svelte the cat, the faster they are more likely to be — and 30 mph is pretty impressive!

While our cats might be super-fast, they are sprinters and just don’t have the endurance to run at top speeds for long stretches. Their bodies and their instincts are built for speed, and a cat in motion is a beautiful thing to see.


Featured Image Credit: Jeannette1980, Pixabay

Kathryn Copeland

Kathryn was a librarian in a previous lifetime and is currently a writer about all things pets. When she was a child, she hoped to work in zoos or with wildlife in some way, thanks to her all-consuming love for animals. Unfortunately, she's not strong in the sciences, so she fills her days with researching and writing about all kinds of animals and spends time playing with her adorable but terribly naughty tabby cat, Bella. Kathryn is hoping to add to her family in the near future – maybe another cat and a dog.