Can cats really always land on their feet?
Cats do have a ‘righting reflex’ that operates when they fall. First, the brain commands the head and neck muscles to put the head ‘square’ with the ground.
Then the rest of the body aligns itself with the head and, hey presto, the cat ends up in a perfect position for a soft landing. Newborn kittens don’t have this reflex, as it depends on a combination of eye and inner ear messages
It might seem reasonable to assume that the greater the height of the fall, the worse the injuries. This is, however, only true up to a level of seven storeys; after that the fracture rate actually decreases.
This is because after dropping for a distance of about five storeys, the cat reaches maximum speed, the so-called terminal velocity of a falling body.
At this point, the speed is constant and thus the inner ear is no longer aware and stimulated by acceleration. So the cat relaxes and spreads its legs out just as a freefall parachutist does when he is stabilising his descent.
On landing, relaxed bodies are much less likely to fracture, which is also true of infants, and adults who are drunk.