Cats are known to have amazing physical agility, balance, ability to squeeze through tight spaces, and are especially famous for always landing on their feet, not to mention the (mythical) nine lives. An interesting, but not often-discussed, part of their physical abilities is the capability to jump relatively high.
If you have lived with a cat or know someone who has, it is unlikely that you have not seen this ability on display. Assuming they are healthy and at the proper weight, they can jump from a standing position on the kitchen counter or on top of a fence. They are able to jump as much as six times their length, and even more if they get a running start (i.e. when running after prey and jump up the truck of a tree during a chase). So what gives cats the ability to jump so high?
The basic answer is that cats combine a very flexible spinal column and extremely powerful hind legs to propel themselves upward. You may have noticed that if a cat is getting ready to make a jump that is particularly high, or if the landing spot is relatively small, she’ll take some time to get ready for the jump, and may look like she is fidgeting and nervous; in reality, because she will be making a big effort and releasing a large amount of energy in a very short burst, she will test her starting surface for stability, judge the distance to be covered, and come up with an estimation of how much force she’ll need to exert in order to make the jump successfully. During such jumps (and many other activities) a cat will also use its tail as a means for balancing herself, and maintain her body’s orientation.
The ability of cats to make big jumps, leaps, and traverse narrow pathways is left over from their days in the wild where they had to avoid predators, and chase prey across three branches.
How High Can a Cat Jump?
As mentioned above, cats have been known to jump as high as six times their length. This certainly is an impressive feat as the record for the high jump made by a human is slightly over eight feet. Since the person who made the jump, Javier Sotomayor, is 6 feet 5 inches tall, in order to match the cat’s ability, he would have had to make a 38.5’ jump—now that would be impressive!
But we humans shouldn’t feel bad about our lack of jumping ability as the cat has one advantage (aside from the physical characteristics mentioned above) on its side; namely, she is much smaller than us, and consequently has less weight to carry around allowing her body to need less bone density, making her powerful muscles even more effective.
Perhaps their physical abilities, compared to ours, is one reason why they always seem to be looking down at us.