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Do cats always land on their feet?
Not always. But they'll sure try. Cats are the perfect small predator, just as comfortable stalking a squirrel from tree to tree as they are chasing a wiggly piece of ribbon across the carpet. They've evolved with some nifty high-rise survival skills, including the ability to grab onto a branch with retractable crampons if they lose their footing.
And if that doesn't work, they have that awe-inspiring ability to right themselves in midair so they can stick a perfect four-point landing.
This nifty feat would put any Olympic gymnast to shame. A falling cat will instinctively try to right himself from head to tail, first rotating his head into the proper position (to spot the ground just like all those crazy acrobats do on the X Games whether they're on skis, snowboards,
bikes or skateboards) and then sequentially spiraling the rest of his body so all his feet are oriented to the ground. As the body gains the right position, the cat will spread his legs in a sort of flying-squirrel fashion and
relax his muscles in anticipation of landing. Spreading the impact over four points is considerably better than hitting on one, and a cat's cushy joints enable him to absorb a lot more impact than we mere humans can.
A cat's ability to rotate in midair isn't a fool-proof strategy for surviving the perils of modern living, however.
Veterinarians have long noted and studied what's called high-rise syndromeùthe tendency cats have of being better able to survive falls from greater heights than lower ones. The most dangerous falls are from between two and six stories. Amazingly enough, a few urban cats have survived falls of up to thirty stories, albeit with severe injuriesùbroken legs and jaws, and collapsed lungs.
The difference may well be the cat's ability to set himself up for the best possible landing, in the way that all cats having been doing for generations. You see, that
"rotate and relax" maneuver takes time to implement.
From the lower floors, it's thought a cat hasn't enough time to prepare himself for impact by getting himself in proper landing position. From the highest floors, the fall's too great to survive. In between, however, is a margin of survivability for the cat who lands on his feet.
Urban veterinarians say they start seeing cats who've fallen out of windows and off balconies in the spring,
when people are anxious to enjoy the nice weather and
open their windows. Cats aren't stupid, but it's really not in their nature to understand the implications of being twenty stories up. They don't think about it, and go about their business as always. Some cats simply lose their footing walking on a narrow balcony railing, while others jump after a moving object such as a bird. Hundreds of cats are killed or injured each year in falls.
It's best not to test a cat's ability to land on his feet.
The answer is an easy one: Buy screens! That way, the cat can't get out easily and the bugs can't get in.