Physics Phriday: How Do Cats Land on Their Feet?

Everyone knows that cats always land on their feet.  When they are dropped upside down from a height of at least 30 cm they can flip themselves over in mid-air so they land on their feet.  Keep in mind that falling from 30 cm up gives the cat only 0.25 seconds to get their feet under them before they hit the ground.  It’s also been documented (by vets in NY studying cats who have fallen out of high rise apartments) that injury rates per cat increased in falls of up to 7 stories, but decreased as they fell from higher than 7 stories.  The likely explanation is that the cats reach terminal velocity after a 7 story fall and start to relax and spread out like a skydiver, which slows them down and lessens their chance of injury.  One cat in Boston fell from the 19th story and merely chipped a tooth.  The highest fall I could find where the cat survived was from 32 stories up!

Here is a high-speed video of the cat righting reflex in action.  These cats look pretty compliant.  One of my cats would probably let me do this… once, but the other would scratch my face off if I tried to hold her upside down!

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