- Cats famously land on their feet when they jump off furniture and trees, but they use a different technique to survive falls from much greater heights.
- Some cats have walked away from falling as high as 32 stories with limited injuries.
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Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: 32 stories above the streets of New York City, a cat fell from a window and lived. After vets treated the cat’s chipped tooth and collapsed lungs, the feline was sent home two days later.
Cats fall a lot, and they’ve gotten really good at it. Drop a cat upside down, for example, and it will almost always land on its feet. That’s because cats are extremely flexible. They can twist their bodies mid-air as they fall.
But landing feet first isn’t always the best strategy. Like if you’re falling from 32 stories up. To figure out how cats manage that perfect landing every time, a series of studies looked at over a 100 cats’ falls from two to 32 stories up.
Comes as no surprise that cats who fell from the second floor had fewer injuries than cats who fell from the sixth floor. But here is the fascinating part. Above the seventh story, the extent of the injuries largely stayed the same, no matter how high the cats fell. So, how is that possible?
Well, it all comes down to acrobatics or lack thereof. Cats that fell from two to seven stories up mostly landed feet first. Above that, however, cats used a different technique. Instead of positioning their legs straight down as they fell, they splayed out like a parachuter. And landed belly-first instead.
But this method isn’t 100% foolproof. Chest trauma, like a collapsed lung, or broken rib is more common with this landing method. But the risk of breaking a leg is much less. So, how do cats somehow subconsciously know how to land?
It has to do with a physics phenomenon called terminal velocity. At first, the cat plummets faster and faster under gravity until she’s fallen the equivalent of five stories. At that point, she hits constant terminal velocity at 100 kilometers per hour. She’s now in free fall where air friction counteracts her acceleration under gravity. At this point, she’s no longer accelerating and, more importantly, doesn’t feel the pull from gravity.
So, here’s what researchers think is happening. From two to seven stories up, cats don’t have enough time to reach terminal velocity and prep for landing feet first. But once they hit terminal velocity, their instinct changes and they parachute their limbs.
All that said, don’t throw your cat out of a window. I can’t believe I have to say this. Not only is it still very dangerous, it’s not very polite. Don’t throw your cat out the window just to see all that go down. Just watch this video again. Just hit the little replay button.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in October 2018.