Have you ever seen a cat get into a very small spot and wonder how it can fit without hurting itself? Cats are very flexible and seem to fit in spaces that defy reality. But why are they so flexible?
Cats are so flexible because their shoulder blades are attached to their bodies with muscle, not bone like other species. Their spines rotate further than other species’ spines, which help them move into unique postures. Because they lack a collar bone, they can squeeze themselves into small spaces.
If you’ve ever marveled at the many postures your cat gets into, read further to find out why and how they can sleep in a ball-like position without excruciating pain.
They Are Predators and Need to Be Flexible
Domestic cats evolved from wild cats and are natural predators. Because domestic cats usually live indoors and are fed pre-packaged cat food, they don’t need to hunt for their survival.
However, they are still wired, mentally and physically, as predators. Their ancestors’ flexibility allows them to take extra long strides and can run up to 20-30 mph (32.2-48.3 kph) for short periods.
As a hunter, cats need to squeeze into small spaces to get mice or rats. They accomplish this by narrowing their shoulders and necks, and since they don’t have a collarbone, they are not hindered when going in extremely small spaces.
Another thing that allows cats to be good at hunting is that their flexibility allows them to jump up to nine times their height, which becomes necessary when chasing a bird. If they weren’t so flexible, they would not jump as high. Think of a metal or plastic spring—it has nothing to stop it from bouncing or compressing. A cat has muscles and bones, but it is built more like a spring with a large jumping range.
Cats also are flexible enough to clean most of their bodies to keep their odor to a minimum, so their prey doesn’t smell them coming. If their prey smelled them coming, cats would not be successful in their hunts, and they would starve.
Their Shoulder Blades Are Attached With Muscle
While a human’s shoulder blades are attached through a joint connecting the arm to the rest of the body, a cat’s shoulder blades are attached with muscles. As muscles can contract, cats can squeeze in places that neither a dog nor a human can get into. Because they are attached by muscles, they can run up to 30 mph (48.3 kph) for short bursts.
This works because they can stretch further for a longer stride, which enables them to go faster. Whether this gives a cat an advantage depends on whether the prey is faster or slower than the cat. Since domestic cats are descended from wild cats, it stands to reason that they would be faster than most of their prey.
The flexibility that cats have in their shoulder blades also comes from being loosely attached to their very small collar bones instead of one large bone. That is why your cat seems to be able to fit in very small spaces, such as a large bowl or small box, or under your dresser with mere inches to spare.
When you pet your cat next time, be sure to feel around their shoulder blades and neck to feel for a collar bone. You won’t find it, but instead, you will find soft areas mixed with muscles and a few bones.
Their Spines Rotate Further Than Most Other Species
A cat’s spine has 53 vertebrae compared with humans, who have 33. If you think this doesn’t mean anything, consider that the more vertebrae animals have, the more flexible they are. These vertebrae are connected to a cushion that acts somewhat like elastic on their discs and spine, allowing cats to sleep in strange positions that are impossible for humans.
Because their spine is more flexible, that means they can twist 180 degrees in either direction, while humans can only twist 90 degrees in either direction. If you’ve observed your cat grooming itself and turning all the way back to get near its tail, you might have wondered how it can get in those positions without hurting itself. Since cats have an almost elastic spine, it’s natural for them to get in those positions.
Their spines might also explain why they can turn mid-air while falling and land on their feet. With their inner ear providing a compass and balance and their skeletons providing flexibility, they can fall from most distances without getting seriously hurt or killed. Supposedly, up to 90% of cats that fall from tall buildings survive, even though they’ve sustained injuries.
Cats have very little mass, so their speed when falling from at least seven stories can go up to 60 mph (96.6 kph). Because of their flexible spine, they can slow themselves down by the time they get to the ground, which protects them from dying.
They Lack a Collar Bone
While cats don’t have full collar bones as humans or dogs do, they still have tiny collar bones loosely attached to their shoulder blades. This allows cats to fit in small areas or under the brush to hunt prey, as well as curl up in a ball to sleep or rest. Small collar bones allow cats to turn their heads to groom themselves in hard-to-reach areas, such as behind their heads or necks.
Because they have no large collar bone, they can also right themselves when falling from most heights. As mentioned above, a flexible spine and tiny collar bones mean that they can relax when falling to avoid breaking their bones, since relaxed limbs break less than tense limbs.
It seems that, while cats are invincible, they still get injured if they fall hard enough or from very high distances.
Their Abilities Are Related to Their Flexibility
Cats’ abilities are often topics of memes, speculation, blog posts, and several articles. However, have you ever wondered why they could jump nine times their height, squeeze into tight spaces, or even run super fast up and down your stairs? As this article has already pointed out, cats are flexible due to how their bodies evolved as a predator.
Flexibility allows them to do the following:
- Jump nine times their height from a seated position
- Run up to 30 mph (48.3 kph)
- Curl up in a tiny ball to sleep
- Groom themselves in several hard-to-reach areas, such as their necks and nether regions
- Squeeze into small spaces or under furniture
- A fat cat can fit into a small box because it is flexible
- Fall from a great height without dying, most of the time
Sometimes, people become worried that a cat that falls from a tall space will get hurt severely when, in reality, they are usually fine. Still, to be sure, check your cat carefully if it falls from a high space.
Cats are contortionists who can accomplish positions that are difficult for humans to do. When they roll around on the ground, they put half their body in one direction and the other half in another direction that happens to be further than what humans can do. It’s a feat that not very many animals can accomplish, and they seem to be snake-like in the positions they can achieve.
Because of how flexible they are, some people are now practicing cat yoga, which is yoga that allows cats into the yoga space. Maybe people need the inspiration to become more flexible?
- Cornell.edu: Why Are Cats So Flexible?
- The Cat’s Inn: Why Are Cats So Flexible?
- Litter-Robot Blog: Cat Pose: Why Are Cats So Flexible?
- Catster: What Makes Cats So Flexible?
- Cuteness: Why Are Cats So Flexible?
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.