If you’ve ever witnessed a cat dart after a fleeing chipmunk or intensely chase after a laser toy, you know that cats are speedy creatures. Unless you’ve found yourself in a foot race against a feline, all you know is that cats run “pretty quickly.” So, exactly how fast can cats run?
Cats can run up to 30 mph (48 kph), yet athletic breeds like the Bengal and Egyptian Mau are more natural-born sprinters. Cats can run about twice the speed of dogs thanks to their flexible spines and sharp claws. However, cats prefer to run in short bursts — about 50-100 yards (46-91 m) per bout.
Usain Bolt — the fastest person on Earth — once clocked in at 27.79 mph (44.7 kph) during a footrace. But how does a domestic cat’s top speed compare to humans, predators, prey, and their distant cousins (the big cats)? To learn more about how fast cats can run, read on!
What Is the Average Speed of a Cat?
A domestic cat can achieve speeds of up to 30 miles per hour (48.3 kph). That’s a few miles an hour faster than the world’s quickest human and about twice the speed of the average chipmunk or squirrel. However, a cat’s top running speed ultimately comes down to weight (obese cats run slower), age (younger cats are more agile), and breed (some breeds are far better athletes).
A maximum speed of 20-30 mph (32.2-48.3 kph) is likely more realistic.
Thirty miles per hour sounds quick — and it is — but the average domestic cat won’t waste her energy on a long-distance run if it isn’t necessary. Cats typically limit their sprints to about 50-100 yards (46-91 m), which tends to be just long enough to catch up to that field mouse, escape a predator, or get the “zoomies” out of her system.
Can a Cat Outrun a Coyote?
Cats are among the most devastating predators to both local birds and small mammals. Each year, domestic cats are responsible for the deaths of nearly 4 billion birds and 22.3 billion small mammals (like chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits).
Cats also hold a central spot in the food chain — they’re both predators and prey.
Coyotes are one of the biggest threats to outdoor cats in states (like Arizona), where the coyote population is high, and cats tend to roam freely. Unfortunately, the fact that 42% of a coyote’s diet in Tucson consists of cats is a glaring sign that cats cannot outrun a coyote.
A cat’s top speed is 30 mph (48.3 kph), while a coyote can reach speeds of 40 mph (64.4 kph). In the chart below, you’ll see how a cat’s top speed compares to other animal species across the globe.
|Cheetah||75 mph (120.7 kph)|
|Lion||50 mph (80.5 kph)|
|Greyhound (dog breed)||43 mph (70 kph)|
|Coyote||40 mph (65 kph)|
|Tiger||40 mph (64 kph)|
|Brown bear||22 mph (35 kph)|
|Rabbit||30 mph (48 kph)|
|Domestic cat||30 mph (48 kph)|
|Rabbit||30 mph (48 kph)|
|Chipmunk||13 mph (20 kph)|
|Grey squirrel||12 mph (20 kph)|
It’s worth noting that the top speeds above may not be possible in all conditions. For example, a brown bear may run slower if it has to clear obstacles mid-sprint, and a chipmunk may be able to pick up the pace if running on a steep decline.
What Makes Cats Great Runners
Cats are among the quickest land creatures in many parts of America, but now you’re probably wondering what it is about these critters that make them so apt at running.
Here are four reasons cats are so fast:
Felines have some of the most flexible spines in the animal kingdom. This extra flexibility allows cats to squeeze into tight spaces, twist 180° mid-air (righting reflex), and dramatically arch their backs while running. Each flexion and extension of the spine’s supple connective tissues allows a cat to cover its body length three times with every single stride. As a result, cats can cover more ground with fewer steps.
A cat may be able to sprint at speeds exceeding 20 mph (32.2 kph) in a cornfield yet hardly top 5 mph (8 kph) when running on the hardwood floor or linoleum tile. This massive speed difference all comes down to a cat’s ability to dig its retractable claws into the ground to build traction (similar to wearing cleats during a soccer game).
The better grip a cat has on the floor, the more powerfully the cat can push off in a more substantial, more-controlled leap.
When a cat walks normally, she’ll step with each foot individually. However, when a cat picks up the pace and ventures toward her maximum speed, her gait changes to something called a “rotary gallop” (or “double suspension gallop”).
A cat will time her run so that her front legs hit the ground simultaneously, push off with the front legs, land with the back legs, and then push off with the hind legs. This running style allows a cat to spend more time with all four legs off the ground than not, which cuts down on wind resistance and drastically improves running efficiency.
Factors That Impair a Cat’s Speed
Just like not all humans can run as quickly as Usain Bolt, not all domestic cats can handle speeds of 20-30 mph (32.2-48.3 kph). An individual cat’s top running speed typically comes down to the breed, age, weight, and reason for running.
Here’s how each of these factors can make a cat either faster or slower:
- Breed: Certain cat breeds are historically more agile, athletic, and well-balanced than others. For example, the Egyptian Mau, Bengal, Savannah, and Abyssinian are relatively active breeds that reach that 30 mph (48.3 kph) maximum speed with little effort.
- Age: A cat will never be as fast as she is between the ages of two and four years old — the “sweet spot” between learning how to run fast and the eventual development of run-slowing, joint disorders like arthritis.
- Weight: For every extra pound your cat holds on her slim frame, the more effort and energy it takes to propel her forward during a sprint. A larger cat is also less aerodynamic and cannot cover as much ground with each stride.
- Reason for running: It’s incredible what animals can do when they genuinely want something or their lives are in danger. A cat may be able to reach 30 mph (48.3 kph) when sprinting away from a coyote, catching her first meal in days, or playing with her favorite toy.
In other words, being within the feline species won’t necessarily mean your cat can run faster than you on a good day. However, there are a few things you can do to ensure your cat reaches her full running potential. A healthy diet high in protein, regular exercise, and joint supplements may be able to add an extra mile an hour or two to your cat’s zoomies.
While a cat’s foot-speed may top out at 30 mph, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your cat will run this fast during a regular play session. Two things will bring out your cat’s full running potential: something on the other end worth running after (like a field mouse) or a long enough distance to accelerate fully.
However, cats do love to run, even if they’re only jogging. A laser toy, crinkle ball, or even a fellow cat in the household can help your kitty get her energy out while doing the two things she loves most (running and hunting).
- Bleacher Report: Usain Bolt MPH: Breaking Down Amazing Speed from Olympic Sprinter
- Wikipedia: Fastest animals
- Wall Street Journal: Cameron Stracher: Can Humans Run as Fast as Animals?
- Nature Communications: The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States
- The Christian Science Monitor: Outdoor cats are easy prey for coyotes
- Gaits: Rotatory Gallop
- Mercola: 9 Fastest Domestic Cat Breeds in the World
- Fetch by WebMD: Cat Arthritis Symptoms, Pain Relief, Treatments, and Types