Why Do Cats Have Good Balance?

4 Questions With Dr. Elizabeth Cottrell, DVM, a Veterinarian at the Cat Hospital at Towson in Baltimore, Maryland

Q: When a cat doesn’t land on its feet, what’s the cause?

A: It’s often because they didn’t have time to right themselves. If they fall from a shorter height, they may not have time to flex and turn around to land on their feet.

Q: What role do cats’ tails and claws play in their balance?

A: Tails help cats counterbalance when they’re walking on fences or shelves. But cats born without tails often do fine because the signals in their spinal cord are fully functional, so they can still walk a thin line. Cats use their claws to scale tree limbs and grip branches, helping them maintain balance.

Q: Are smaller, lighter cats more graceful?

A: It depends. Cats meant to be large, like Maine Coons, balance fine. But overweight cats will probably have more trouble balancing. However, some individual cats, just like people, are just more graceful than others.

Q: Does poor balance mean health issues?

A: It can. Many cats with inner ear disease will have a head tilt, and some will circle because they can’t balance when walking in a straight line. They also may struggle to jump on and off objects. Other reasons for poor balance include problems in the brain or in the spinal cord.

An Important Safety Reminder

Although they are known for landing on their feet, it's important to remember that cats, especially kittens who haven't developed the sense of balance that older cats have, can injure themselves if they are dropped by humans or fall from chairs and other household objects. Don't assume that your kitty will always land on his feet — no matter how acrobatic she appears.

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