How Do Cats Balance?

Cats are agile jumpers and climbers, and their level of agility may also depend on their specific breed. These furballs can scale great heights and still land on their feet with balance and grace. If you are wondering about the magic behind this skill, read on to find out just how felines achieve it. 

How do cats balance?

Cats have superior balance and can land perfectly on the ground thanks to the vestibular organ deep inside their ears. This organ is responsible for keeping them apprised of which way is up or down. It also allows cats to instantly determine the rate of acceleration as they fall to the ground. 

The vestibular organ consists of structures and tiny fluid-filled tubes known as the semicircular canals, the saccule and the utricle.  Each of these tubes is lined with microscopic hairs. The utricle and saccule contain a fluid with tiny particles of chalk that move with the cat’s every motion. Each time the cat’s head moves, the fluid and chalk move against the hairs and the hair movement relays information to the brain regarding body position and speed of movement. 

Aside from this mechanism, cats can also twist from side to side during a fall to right themselves and assume the perfect position for landing. 

According to Vetstreet, kittens are able to right themselves in mid-air from as young as four to six weeks old. When they are about twelve weeks old, the kittens can walk across a narrow plank thanks to their long, flexible backs and detached collar bones. The cat’s tail acts as a counter-balance, tipping to either side to keep it on track. 

Cats are also able to survive falls unscathed because of their small bodies, light bone structure and thick fur. This decreases their terminal velocity and softens the impact. Some felines may also flatten their bodies like a parachute to create more air resistance and allow for a slower fall. 

What is high-rise syndrome?

The injuries sustained by cats falling a great distance from a window, open door or balcony are collectively referred to as high-rise syndrome. Cats can right themselves if they fall from the first floor up to the fourth floor, and this is seldom too dangerous. However, if they fall from the fifth to the ninth floor, they could suffer severe injuries. 

Ironically, cats may survive falls from higher than nine stories. Falls from such heights allow the cats time to relax, empty their bladder and parachute their legs. The wind then catches the loose skin in the armpits and thighs, and will slow the fall. Felines land in a spread-eagled position as it allows the chest and abdomen to absorb the shock, rather than the head and legs.

To avoid bad falls and accidents, see to it that you keep your cats away from open windows and balconies. Secure your windows and place pet-safe barriers to prevent any accidents. 

Do cats fall over?

Healthy cats may occasionally fall over, but if this happens often your cat may be suffering from a medical condition. Feline cerebellar hypoplasia is usually the culprit. Cats that have this disorder are called wobbly kitties, as they have trouble maintaining their balance. However, they are still capable of enjoying a long and healthy life despite this condition. 

Feline vestibular disease may also be instrumental in falls. It is an illness of the inner ear and the symptoms may include darting eye movements, vomiting and head tilting. To confirm the disease, your vet may have to perform blood tests, MRI and X-rays to rule out serious conditions such as cancer or neurological disorders. 

Symptoms of loss of balance among cats: 

  • Trouble standing up 
  • Falling over 
  • Stumbling when they walk
  • Tilting their head from side to side
  • Moving in circles 
  • Rolling on the floor 
  • Weak limbs 
  • Painful vocalization 
  • Hearing difficulties
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Continual eye movement

Causes of loss of balance among cats:

  • Middle- and inner-ear infections
  • Spinal cord disease or injury
  • Central nervous system diseases 
  • Cancer
  • Neurological disorders
  • Ear canal tumors
  • Exposure to drugs or toxins

Conclusion 

Cats are active and they are renowned as good climbers and jumpers. They have superior balance and can land on their feet, aided by their vestibular organ deep inside their ears. They are also aided by their tail, small bodies, light bone structure and thick fur, to maintain balance and be able to land on the ground without damage or injury.

Image: istockphoto.com / Vasil Kamalov