Why Are Cats So Flexible?

Cats are noted for their lithe bodies and fluid, supple movements. These physical characteristics have long fascinated us lumbering humans. What is it about their anatomy that makes them so nimble and why do they seemingly avoid injuries when performing the most daring acrobatic movements?

Every Little Detail

Cats were made to be the refined athletes they are. Almost every part of their agile bodies adds to their graceful and lightning-fast movements. Like ballerinas cats walk and balance themselves on their toes and walk with very exact, precise movements. Because of their unique bone structure and muscles, they can quickly right themselves into a landing position if they should happen to lose balance and fall off a high platform.

Felines, from the simple housecat to the extraordinary cheetah, have retractable claws. When the claws aren’t in use, they are protected by a layer of skin and fur which keeps them sharp. Their sharp claws allow them more maneuverability, giving them traction and leverage when they run or when they twist their bodies. As a result cats can climb to places that seem inaccessible.

Retractable claws wouldn’t be of any use if cats didn’t also possess a remarkable physique. Their musculoskeletal attributes are amazing, consisting of 500 separate muscles and 230 bones – including 30 vertebrae. Humans, by comparison, have 650 muscles, 206 bones, and 26 vertebrae when fully grown. The additional vertebrae, connected with highly elastic discs, provide cats with increased mobility.

The shoulder blades of cats are connected to their frames only by muscles, accounting for their ability to squeeze through tight spaces. They have floating clavicle bones permitting the limbs and torso to contract. Thus, cats can pass through any space where their heads can fit.

If you’ve ever picked up a cat, you may have noticed that it’s hard to get a grip on them. Their bodies are slippery giving them an advantage when they don’t want to be held. This fluidity is due to their loose skin, an effective tool against predators. With the loose skin and silky fur, cats can shimmy their way out of a bad situation – even if that bad situation is simply a human companion trying to cuddle.

Cats Don’t Have Nine Lives

Cats may have the ability to twist themselves into a landing position should they fall off a high ledge but they are still dainty, fragile creatures. They shouldn’t be pushed off an elevated platform such as a chair or bed. Nor should they be dropped to the ground if you are holding them in a standing position.

If they fall and aren’t ready to make a landing, they are at an increased risk for injury. Additionally, their weight needs to be held in check. Just like any animal, obesity puts a cat at risk of wearing out bones and joints – as well as the organs.

You may still hear rumors about cats falling off buildings and surviving without a scrape. While they may survive, they will most likely sustain permanent injuries from such a fall. No one believes the myth of nine lives any longer but myths still abound of the supposed invincibility of felines.

By Gabrielle Allemeier


Cat Facts and Trivia
Cornell: Why Are Cats So Flexible?

About the Author
Gabrielle Allemeier volunteers her free time as an animal rescuer and foster pet parent. As an animal lover, she enjoys sharing the knowledge she has gained from her experience with a variety of animals. Along with being an animal lover, Gabrielle is a globetrotter. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her terrier, Thisbe.