Once you watch a cat clear a 6′ fence to escape a raccoon’s grasp, contort herself into pretzel-ish nap positions, or shimmy beneath the futon undetected, you’ll have an epiphany. These slinkies (and often Jell-O-like) critters must be boneless, but they’re far from it. The human skeleton has 206 bones, so how many bones do our furry friends have in their bodies?
Cats have between 230 and 250 bones, with 244 being average. Since a cat’s tail carries 10%+ of these bones as vertebrae, tailless breeds like the Manx may have 230 — the opposite is true for a long-tailed American Shorthair. Polydactyl cats have, even more, boasting up to three extra toes per foot!
Researching feline anatomy is usually a last-ditch effort to procrastinate a thesis or a dreaded grocery shopping trip. But it’s quite intriguing to discover how cats defy gravity and survive near-death experiences with predators. To learn about how many bones cats have, read on!
How Many Bones Does a Cat’s Body Have?
When those sofa cuddle sessions enter that hour-long territory, your curiosity gets the best of you. You curl Fluffy’s lips up to count those razor-sharp teeth, count her ribs as you massage her sides, or twirl her long, bony tail between your fingers.
The bones are certainly there, but precisely how many might surprise you: Between 230 and 250. Experts suggest that 244 bones are ‘average’ for the standard domestic cat.
Why Do Some Cats Have More or Less?
A 20-bone difference from one cat to the next sounds more of an anomaly than it is. Here are two common explanations for extra bones in the feline world (hint: it’s not an extra leg):
Tail Length: Yes, It Matters!
Of a cat’s 230-250 bones, about 10-20% of them are in the tail as ultra-flexible vertebrae (a spinal column extension). This structure allows cats the freedom to swish their tail to and fro, hook the tip when they’re happy, or tuck it between their hind legs when they’re nervous.
Although a classic kitty tail is about 10-11′ long, breeds with bobtails or no tail at all won’t have as many of those 20-something tail vertebrae. These breeds, with their adorably stubby tails, are likely closer to that 230-count estimate:
- Pixie Bob
- American & Japanese Bobtail
The opposite is true, as well. The longest-measured feline tail in history belonged to a Maine Coon named Cygnus Regulus Powers, whose puffy rear extremity hung 17.58′ when he clinched the Guinness World Record in 2018. These long-tailed breeds will almost certainly exceed the 244-bone average:
- American Shorthair
- Scottish Fold
- Maine Coon
- Cornish Rex
Of course, the exact bone count (and resulting tail length) depends heavily on a cat’s size, and mixed breeds tend to be more of a grab bag in the bone department. Assume your cat is within the 244-bone ballpark unless your vet suggests otherwise!
Polydactyl Cats Are One Exception
The 230 to 250-bone estimate also comes with one lofty assumption: all cats have 4-5 toes per paw (18 in total). If your fluff ball ever trusts you enough to touch those beans in an at-home ‘science experiment,’ you’ll count:
- 5 toes on each front leg (four regular toes and one dewclaw positioned higher)
- 4 toes on each rear leg
- 18 toes total
But while only 1 in 1,000 humans have extra fingers and toes (more than 20) and make for an exciting icebreaker answer, polydactylism is far less of a rarity in cats. All it takes is one feline parent with the condition to pass the gene on to 50% of the litter, continuing the trend!
However, not all polydactyl cats have a rogue sixth toe on the front paws. Some lucky kitties have as many as nine toes and claws per foot. The Guinness World Record belongs to a cat named Jake, who, in 2002, had a whopping 28 toes. Jake — and his ten extra digits — certainly had more bones than your run-of-the-mill calico or tortoiseshell kitty.
Cat vs. Human Anatomy 101
Look at that plump fluff ball twisted into knots on the couch, and then look at your reflection in the mirror. The feline and human forms couldn’t look more different from the outside perspective — two vs. four legs, no tail vs. tail, 150 vs. 12 pounds. Nor can humans survive rough-and-tumble brawls or land a 20′ leap from a tree without fracturing a bone, like a cat’s ‘nine lives’ can.
But when you shove either skeleton into an X-ray machine to compare, you’ll notice more similarities than differences. In the table below, you’ll see the estimated bone counts per skeletal region for each species (give or take a few, of course):
|Skeletal Region||Cats (Felis catus)||Humans (Homo sapiens)|
|Spinal Column||13 (thoracic)|
18-23 (caudal / tail)
|Ribs / Sternum||26 (13 pairs)|
|24 (12 pairs)|
|Forelegs / Arms||60||64|
|Hind Legs / Legs||58||60|
Do you want to learn more about your cat’s remarkable anatomy and how it works to her benefit? The video below details 15 fascinating facts about Fluffy’s ultra-flexible physique:
How Cat Anatomy Lends to Their ‘Nine Lives’
After analyzing the table above, you might have questions racing through your mind. If Fluffy has up to 44 more bones than I do, why is she more graceful, nimble, and limber than me? And how come our four-legged friends don’t break bones as often as humans (6 million a year)?
Those are all logical questions, but it’s essential to look at the whole picture! A cat’s body is the ‘perfect disaster’ in the anatomical sense. They have:
- A purely instinctual ‘righting reflex’ that ensures they land on all-fours, even as they trip from a window or slip on an icy roof
- A parachute-like response to high falls where they spread all fours like a skydiver, allowing them to survive terrifying 32-story tumbles with only minor injuries
- Floating clavicles unattached to nearby bones, letting cats sneak through tight fence gaps without becoming trapped
- Super-elastic vertebrae disks in the spine to twist up to 180° (twice that of humans), which can make shoddy landings less disastrous
- A long, fluffy tail that helps a cat balance as they tightrope on a fence, windowsill, or high-rise balcony railing
- Unusually strong muscles that absorb shock to protect the bones and joints, reducing the impact as a kitty daringly jump from a towering tree
Cats aren’t ‘seemingly invincible’ because of dense, injury-proof bones, as you might assume. The feline body and its instincts are hardwired to survive natural disasters and accidents that might prove fatal for other species, most notably dogs and humans. Cats can — and do — fracture bones from time to time.
A cat’s agile, athletic, and flexible anatomy is a survival-related blessing. But as fearless as your kitty might be in her adolescent years, tempting fate and reviving her inner-Evel Knievel, those once ‘invincible’ bones could return with a vengeance.
That’s because cats can suffer from the degenerative condition osteoarthritis. When this disease strikes, a kitty’s once cushiony joints become stiff and less padded. The nearby bones have no choice but to grind against one another when Fluffy walks, jumps, stretches, and jogs.
A healthy weight, safe home (limit daredevil-Esque opportunities), and a balanced diet can prevent (or soothe) this condition.
- Colorado State: Cat Anatomy and Physiology
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Osteoarthritis in Cats: A More Common Disease Than You Might Expect
- Guinness World Records: Cygnus and Arcturus: How the tallest cat and the kitty with the longest tail live together
- Wikipedia: Polydactyl cat
- Healthline: What Is Polydactyly?
- Guinness World Record: Most toes on a cat
- OSU: Arm Injury Statistics
- BBC News: Who, What, Why: How do cats survive falls from great heights?