Cats are well-known for their athletic prowess. You’re familiar with this if you’ve ever watched your cat slingshot around your house, catapult from the back of the couch across the room and – somehow – to the top of your refrigerator in 5 seconds flat.
There are also official entities that have acknowledged feats of feline athleticism. In 2018, Guinness World Records awarded Waffle the Warrior Cat the world record for longest jump by a cat when he managed a 7-foot horizontal jump!
But a cat’s physical abilities aren’t a simple party trick – cats are ideal hunters, and many of their physical features make it easier to hunt and catch prey. These same features also protect cats from injury in the event that something goes wrong, like falling out of a tree or even off a building. In fact, there was a cat who survived a 32-story fall in New York City!
While cats can do many impressive things, today we’re going to talk about vertical jumps. So, how high can cats jump, anyway? Spoiler alert: It’s high, and very impressive.
How Do Cats Jump So High?
Before we get into measurements, let’s break down how and why cats are spectacular jumpers. “A cat’s ability to jump comes from their powerful leg muscles, the flexibility of their spine, excellent balance, and a strong ability to judge distances and heights,” explains Dr. Christina Montalbano, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation who works for NorthStar VETS Veterinary Emergency, Trauma, and Specialty Centers. “For bigger jumps, cats will crouch down, which allows them to use their legs and their spine in a spring-like fashion. Just as a compressed spring releases potential energy and bounces in the air when released, so does the cat in response to the forceful contractions of their leg and lower back muscles.”
Cats will often use their jumping skills to get to a high vantage point, which, according to Dr. Emily Swiniarski, medical director of the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago, is a natural behavior for felines. “Cats like to view potential predators and prey from a safe place, which is why they like to go up high,” she says. “Heights also offer a nice, comfortable, and – most important – safe resting place.”
How High Can a Cat Jump?
Dr. Swiniarski explains that the average cat can jump 9 times their height. “However, every cat is different, and factors like age, breed, and health can impact how high a cat can jump,” she adds.
Dr. Swiniarski explains that she’s seen some impressive jumps from cats over the years, but the one that sticks out in her mind was a shelter cat who managed to jump straight up from the ground and balance on top of a door. “We pulled up the security footage because we found the cat up there and couldn’t figure out how he did it. It was just crazy.”
How High Can Kittens Jump?
Kittens can’t jump as high as adult cats. This is because they are still developing their strength and balance. “As they grow, kittens start to attempt vertical or distance jumps and may have many misses before gaining enough strength, balance, and good judgment of distances [to land correctly],” Dr. Montalbano explains.
She says that kittens need opportunities to practice jumping, or it could affect their future abilities. “Cats lacking these opportunities are more likely to be land-bound as adults,” she says.
Other Factors That Impact a Cat’s Jumping Ability
Young adult and middle-aged cats have the greatest jumping prowess. “Older cats are less likely to be able to jump as high, because 90 percent of geriatric cats have arthritis,” says Dr. Swiniarski. “If their knees, backs, hips, are arthritic, that greatly reduces jumping ability.”
Further, if a cat has any medical conditions that affect their bones, joints, or muscles, that could impede jumping ability. Neurological conditions that impact balance could affect a cat’s ability to jump. There are also certain breeds, like Munchkin cats, which are bred to have shorter legs, that cannot jump as high.
How Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet?
Cats are amazing at jumping, so it makes sense that they would also be amazing at falling. Cats have a “righting reflex,” which allows them to instinctively put their feet below them when they fall.
“There are two factors that contribute to why cats are so good at landing on their feet,” says Dr. Swiniarski. “The first is that they have very specific structures in their inner ear that help with balance. There are three of them, and they are all at 90-degree angles from each other. Because of that, any direction a cat flips, their body can instantly tell that the cat is off balance and can send impulses to the brain that help the cat right herself.”
The other factor has to do with how a cat’s muscles and joints work. “Once a cat knows she’s off balance, she can deal with that information and rotate her body very quickly. Their strong muscles and flexibility are key here, but the other piece is that their shoulder joints are connected with muscle, not bone,” she adds. “That means they’re able to throw the front half of their body in the direction they need to land without much issue.”
However, Dr. Montalbano cautions that it’s not true that cats always land on their feet. There are a few factors in play. If a cat falls with her feet up, she needs a certain amount of time to flip over in mid-air to be able to land on her feet. So, a short fall may not give cats enough time to right themselves before the landing. However, if the fall is too great, there are other dangers. “While they might be able to right themselves and land on their feet from a higher fall, this can cause excessive forces to their body and cause injury,” Dr. Montalbano explains.
Cats and Jumping: Helpful Tips for Around the Home
Jumping and climbing are definitely among cats’ favorite activities, and there are ways to ensure that your feline can engage in these feats around your house safely.
“We can’t expect cats not to climb and jump because it’s a natural behavior,” Dr. Swiniarski says. “So, we need to take the initiative and create safe spots for them, whether it be a shelf or a cat tree, that lets them get up high and view the entirety of the room.”
Dr. Montalbano suggests installing cat furniture, like a sturdy cat tree, next to a window so that your kitty can enjoy the view from their high perch. But cat trees just scratch the surface (pun intended).
“For households that are all about their cats, installing shelving is another option. Commercial cat shelves are available, as are DIY instructions that can provide guidance on building your own – how many shelves are needed, and how far apart to space them,” she says. “Shelves should be sturdy and properly installed into walls. They should also offer good traction, like carpeting.”
If you can’t install cat furniture, at the very least, make sure that items like bookshelves and cabinets are securely screwed into the wall. “Even though cats aren’t that heavy, they will climb, and they will jump, and if they miss and have to scramble, it could throw furniture off balance, causing it to tip over and break and possibly injure your cat,” Dr. Swiniarski says.
Both Dr. Swiniarski and Dr. Montalbano say there’s no way to stop cats from climbing and jumping, so creating a safe space for them to do so is a good idea for your entire household.