Cat anatomy: why cats are so flexible

Cats jump to the ground from the highest heights, climb steep walls and twist again and again breakneckly. Flexible as hardly any other animal, we are fascinated by the physical abilities of our room tigers every day. But why are cats so flexible? Such a fascinating musculoskeletal system needs to be stretched! Cats are real athletes - Shutterstock / DavidTB

How can cats jump so high? How can they run and hunt so fast? How can they handle jumps and falls from several meters so easily? The answer lies in the special anatomy of everyday acrobats. The perfect interplay of the light and flexible skeleton with a multitude of special muscles, joints and tendons enables the velvet paws to do things that people cannot even dream of.

Cat anatomy is unique: Elastic physique makes it possible

Despite their small size, cats have more bones than humans in the body, namely around 240. The flexible spine and the tail enable the four-legged friends to be particularly flexible. Fixed anchoring between bones and joints is largely avoided, so that maximum freedom of movement is possible. In combination with muscles that are designed for quality rather than quantity and a musculoskeletal system that is geared towards efficiency and speed, cats create both spectacular jumps and surprising dislocations. Also due to the low overall weight and the cat tail as a "balancing pole", the fierce-minded hunters still manage to control their "trajectory" during the jump and, for example, turn spontaneously. The elastic cat anatomy ensures that injuries from the highest heights are often absent - but this does not mean that cats are indestructible!

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Special features of the cat's spine

The special structure of a cat's spine is one of the most important factors that make it so flexible. It consists of different vertebrae, namely the following:

  • ● 7 cervical vertebrae
  • ● 13 thoracic vertebrae
  • ● 7 lumbar vertebrae
  • ● 3 cross vertebrae
  • ● 20 to 23 tail vertebrae

The backbone is extremely flexible because the vertebrae are connected to each other in an extremely elastic way. The cervical vertebrae, for example, can be easily rotated thanks to an additional joint between two of the cervical vertebrae, so that the kitty can look in almost all directions. Thanks to the ability of the lumbar vertebrae to turn, cats almost always manage to land on their feet, no matter how they fall - this is known as the "turning reflex". Above all, the flexibility of the tail vertebrae is important, which ensures that cats can use their tail for balancing. Without the variable cat tail, balancing acts on the balcony railing as well as precise jumping and running would not be possible. In the video you can see the acrobatic arts of a young Bengal cat:

You can see how high cats can jump in this slow motion video: