When the cat casually strolls over the ridge of the roof or skilfully sneaks around the smallest obstacle on a tour of cupboards and shelves, the observer sometimes catches his breath. The serenity and elegance of the velvet paws are literally dizzying and lead to some questions: how does she do it? Which physical characteristics enable the cat to perform such balancing acts. And why is she doing it? What does the cat get out of its acrobatic skills?
How does a cat’s sense of balance work?
As with all mammals, a cat’s sense of balance is in its ear. The so-called vestibular apparatus in the inner ear works like a spirit level. The organ is filled with crystals as stimulus-receiving sensory cells and a liquid as an inert mass and is used to perceive linear accelerations. The complex system signals the position of the head in relation to the body and thus controls the appropriate reflexes. The organization of balance runs parallel to the brain activities that regulate more complicated processes such as the direction or speed of a movement.
Other physical advantages also enable the cat to move in balance: the cat uses its slender tail as a balancing pole and thus balances the movement to the left and right. However, the cat’s tail is not quite as flexible as that of other animals, which mainly master their lives by climbing. The effortless change from passing to cross-step while crawling on the balls of the toes with perfect coordination gives the cat stability.
Why do cats always land on their feet?
The flexibility of the cat’s body ensures that the cat can turn at lightning speed from the supine position even in free fall and bring its body into the correct landing position. For this so-called “righting reflex”, however, there must be a certain fall distance. If the cat falls or jumps from a height that is too low, approximately less than two meters, the cat can injure itself in the event of an unfortunate impact. In this case, there is simply no time to realign the body. In the event of a fall from an even greater height, which leaves enough time for the correct rotation, the cat’s body can even take on a kind of parachute function when spread out.
But be careful – from about the fourth floor, a fall is also dangerous for house tigers. Incidentally, the ability to climb and balance has an evolutionarily high practical value for cats: because they can also climb great heights without making a sound, the range of prey is expanded to include young birds, for example. From an elevated lookout, the cat also keeps an overview of the immediate surroundings and quickly spots prey, conspecifics, or other dangers. Last but not least, when in danger, the animal can quickly seek refuge on a higher lookout if a larger ground enemy is approaching.
What Causes Balance Disorders in Cats?
If the cat is out of balance, there are a number of possible causes: physical limitations, age-related decrease in mobility, and organic diseases. Whatever the reason: Don’t wait for the balance problems to go away on their own, but let the veterinarian clarify what the cause is and how you can give the animal relief. Our vet team of Dr. Fressnapf will be happy to help you online and get to the bottom of possible causes together with you. This saves you the hassle of a trip to the local vet and your cat. The veterinarians will give you well-founded advice on further treatment.
How can I help a cat with balance problems?
Like many other animals, cats are good at hiding ailments for a long time. Watch your velvet paw closely: frequent stumbling and falling are alarm signals. If the animal prefers to stay on the ground, avoids climbing areas including scratching posts, and occasionally has to be “rescued” from a great height, for example from the cupboard, a disturbance of the sense of balance could be behind it. The animal is no longer comfortable with the movement upwards or at height – if the cat becomes a ground dweller, something is wrong.
As already mentioned, the first way should lead to the vet, who can clarify any organic causes and, if necessary, remedy them. The methods differ depending on the trigger. If the cat’s sense of balance is irreparable or impaired, perhaps due to old age, try to provide your cat with tools. With an indoor cat, you build “bridges” to favorite places higher up and secure dangerous spots by padding the area under the usual climbing paths, for example. To be on the safe side, cats with severe balance disorders should not be left outside unattended. In the apartment, it is advisable to only provide the affected cats with safe climbing opportunities.